Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-36) 31 pp

May 2008

The U.S. Organic Handling Sector in 2004: Baseline Findings of the Nationwide Survey of Organic Manufacturers, Processors, and Distributors

The organic sector has expanded rapidly over the last decade, as retail sales of organic food increased to $15.7 billion in 2006. As sales have grown, so have the number and types of outlets selling organic products. USDA's Economic Research Service surveyed certified organic intermediaries in the United States to collect information on basic characteristics of the sector in 2004, as well as its marketing and procurement practices. This report uses the survey findings to present a baseline view of the organic handling sector. A large share of organic handlers are mixed operations that handle both organic and conventional products, and most began as conventional firms that converted to handling organic products. Most organic products are sold domestically, with nearly three-quarters sold nationally or regionally. More than three-quarters of the firms are independent, and most are small. Handlers seek suppliers with a reputation for providing high-quality products. Most transactions between handlers and suppliers occur under contract, reportedly so that handlers can procure ingredients essential for their businesses.

Keywords: Organic agriculture, handlers, intermediaries, marketing organic products, procurement of organic products, agricultural contracts, distribution of organic products, National Organic Program, organic label, food labels

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