The 5 largest organic retailers in the country represent a gigantic and growing corporate success story. According to the Organic Trade Association, 2009 U.S. organic sales, including organic food and non-food products, totaled $26.6 billion.
The ongoing consumer interest in organic products begs the question; which of the largest organic retailers currently rule the organic roost?
Wal-Mart serves more than 200 million annual consumers, through more than 8,446 retail units. The company continually has outstanding financial success, with fiscal year 2010 sales estimated at $405 billion.
NPR notes that Wal-Mart may deserve a chance due to their current partnerships with local farmers. Plus, the sheer size of Wal-Mart allows them to lower organic food costs for consumers. With their world-wide reach, Wal-Mart has the potential to create significant positive change in the organic market if they play their cards ethically
Whole Foods Market arguably offers more organics than any other large retailer. Thousands of organic items, including private-label organic products are offered at Whole Foods and sales are estimated at 8.0 billion for 2010. The company employs 54,000 team members and runs more than 270 stores in North America and the UK.
A recent consumer survey by World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) voted Whole Foods the most "Humane" grocer. However, the company is involved in the controversial sourcing of organics from China and many consumers joke about Whole Foods' "Whole Paycheck" costs. Whole Foods will need to continue to step up their game if they want to keep hold of their successful organic retail standing.
3. Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe's is an anomaly in the organic market because they don't market organics products specifically, but rather, "Innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting food" products at a reasonable price. With estimated sales of 8.0 billion, Trader Joe's offers upscale grocery fare, including a popular private-label brand, in 325 stores across 25 states.
Organic advocates note that Trader Joe's needs to step up and provide greater transparency about their organic food sources. They've been accused of carrying factory farmed organic milk vs. real organic milk. Still, Trader Joe's scored the No. 3 spot in a 2007 ImagePower Green Brands Survey. Trader Joe's friendly customer service and admirable prices will likely bring consumers back, no matter the organic issues they face.
Safeway is one of the largest U.S. food retailers and sold 40.8 billion in 2009. The company operates 1,712 Safeway stores, along with many regional supermarket companies and employs more than 186,000 full and part-time employees.
O ORGANICS is a private-label Safeway organics line that launched in 2005. O ORGANICS includes more than 300 certified organic food items such as milk, chicken, salads, juices and entrees.
Safeway is far from perfect though. For example, Safeway often has little organic produce available and has been accused of carrying factory farmed organic dairy products. Still, Safeway's growth in organics is steady and O ORGANICS is often cited by consumers as cost-effective alternative to other organics.
Costco revenues include sales of $69.9 billion and membership fees of $1.5 billion. The company runs some 527 stores and employs over 103,000 team members.
Costco is a top 5 organic retailer by virtue of their sales records and a wide consumer base, but it’s hard to say if consumers trust Costco organics. Costco has been accused of factory farmed milk and a hit or miss organic selection. The chain also lacks an abundance of organic produce.
Still a report by the Hartman Group notes that organic purchases are growing at club-style stores, plus Costco notes that they're doing their organic homework. If they can infiltrate the organic market, bulk-style organic purchases do have the potential to save consumers money.