In a popularity contest , organic dairy would win every time . In fact, organic dairy, led by milk, is one of the fastest growing segments of the organic foods industry, and is driving sales within both mainstream and natural grocery segments. Nielsen Label Trends reports that the segment experienced $1,475 million in sales, up 20 percent from the previous year.

Organic dairy products ”primarily organic milk”are a gateway for consumers who are just beginning to choose organics, because dairy products are produced without the use of synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, consumers perceive them to be healthier for their families.

Recent news of melamine-tainted milk from China is helping drive organics as well. There is definitely a growing interest from customers about what they are eating and who made the food. Therefore, organic everything is on the rise.

Spending on Essentials

Even as consumers become more focused on their budgets, the organic milk market ”which is made up of a handful of national brands, local dairies and a growing array of private labels” continues to attract attention.

“To the consumer, milk is the epitome of purity and wholesomeness,” says Eric Newman, vice president of sales for Organic Valley cooperative of farms, based in La Farge, Wisc. “Sales of organic milk have remained strong because consumers are not willing to trade down on milk when times are tough.”

At Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op, St. Paul, Minn., sales of organic milk remain strong, even with the increase in conventional products that are produced without growth hormones,” explains Dave Olson, grocery manager, who believes it is the concept of a fresh product made with care that helps sustain sales in the category. “The grass-fed organic milk we offer is so popular that our local supplier has a hard time keeping up with our demand.”

For Straus Family Creamery in Marshall, Calif., it is the organic lifestyle consumer who is helping drive sales of the company’s dairy products. Rich Martin, vice president, sales & marketing, notes the hint of the grass that the cows consume gives the company’s milk a distinctive flavor. “It may be the most expensive milk on the shelf,” says Martin, “but our glass-bottled organic whole milk is our best-selling item.”