In recent years, the consumption of organic food has gained momentum in Canada, with Canadians becoming increasingly aware of the impact their food choices have on their health and the environment. More people are paying more attention to where their food comes from and how it has been produced.
In this article, we explore the statistics of organic food in Canada. You will find information on the Canadian organic food market, exports and imports, and organic food consumption in Canada.
Organic Food Statistics for Canadians
- The Canadian Organic Standards have been effective since June 20, 2009.
- In 2019, only 2% of agricultural land was used for organic farming in Canada.
- At 35% most of the organic land in Canada is in Saskatchewan.
- In 2021, there were approximately 7,300 organic operations in Canada.
- The Canadian organic food market was worth over $6 billion in 2021.
- Canada accounts for around 4% of the global annual organic food revenues.
- Only 1% of all food exports from Canada were organic foods in 2019.
- Almost half of organic food imports come to Canada from the United States.
- 74% of Albertans regularly buy organic food compared to 66% nationally.
- Younger Canadians are more willing to pay more for organic and GMO-free food.
- Only 24% of Canadians check the food label to see if the product is organic.
- Almost 80% of Canadians who buy organic food buy organic foods and vegetables.
When is Food Organic?
Organic food has been produced using farming systems that replenish and maintain soil fertility. It does not use toxic and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming encourages practices that reduce negative effects on the environment and increase biodiversity. It also supports animal health and welfare.
Food products cannot be called organic in Canada if they contain, for example, artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives. Neither will they be organic if the farming process has used, for example, genetic engineering in part of the process, including feed, growth hormones, or routine use of antibiotics.
Even more important, is the positive practices that improve the fertility of the soil and support animal welfare, while producing healthy food. Key elements of organic farming include crop rotation to prevent pests and to balance nutrients in the soil, composting, using beneficial insects to control pests, and using green manures to add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil.
The standards for organic farming are not limited to the farming practices. They also apply to handling, preparing, packaging, and transporting of organic foods. There are rules regarding, for example, the ingredients used, cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing, and separating organic products from non-organic products during handling.
How Do You Know if Food is Organic in Canada?
In Canada, you can tell if food or beverages meet the Canadian Organic Standards by looking for the Canada Organic logo. This logo means the food has been produced by the principles of organic farming and it is at least 95% organic. The standards have been in effect since June 20, 2009, and have since been used to define the requirements for food as well as feed and seed products that can be labelled as organic.
Organic Food Production in Canada
In 2019, 2% of agricultural land in Canada was used for organic farming. While it represents a very small portion of the total agricultural land in Canada, the portion of farming land used for organic food production has increased. In 2015, only 1.5% of the total farming land was used for organic farming.
When compared to other countries, Canada is ranked 11th for organic land use and is behind countries that have less farmable land. Most of the organic land in Canada is in the west with 35% in Saskatchewan, 25% in British Columbia, and 17% in Alberta.
Canada Has over 7,300 Organic Operations
In 2021, there were over 7,300 certified organic operations in Canada, which accounted for just 3.3% of all operations. Although the portion of organic operations is still small, the number of certified producers of organic food increased by 5.4% between 2019 and 2021. Out of the 7,300 organic operations, around 5,600 were certified primary producers, while 1,700 were processors, manufacturers, or retailers, and 810 were livestock operations.
Quebec had the most organic operators, followed by Saskatchewan and Ontario. Most organic food processors, handlers, and retailers are found in Quebec (690), Ontario (491), and British Columbia (325). The Territories have only three organic processors across the three of them.
Ontario has the most organic livestock, but Quebec is not far behind with 295 and 249, respectively. British Columbia is third with 133, while there is only one certified organic livestock operator across the three territories.
Organic Food Market in Canada
The organic market in Canada was worth approximately $6.5 billion in 2021 compared to $5.4 billion in 2017. Globally, Canada accounts for approximately 4% of annual organic trade revenues. The United States has the largest share of the revenues at 47% followed by the European Union at 37%. However, the organic market is growing in Canada and the country has a lot of potential to increase its share of the global organic food market.
The demand for organic produce in Canada has grown quickly. In the past four years, the growth rate has been over 8% annually, and in 2020, the sales of organic produce were around $7 billion.
However, at present, there is not enough domestic supply. Many Canadian processors of organic food are having to rely on imports and face difficulties in finding consistent and reliable Canadian ingredient producers.
Exporting and Importing of Organic Food
In 2019, Canada exported $461 million worth of tracked organic goods. This is only 1% of the total tracked exports. However, organic foods are exported to a wider range of countries than non-organic exports.
Exports to the United States represented around 18% of organic food exports from Canada. More than half of the exports to the United States consisted of blueberries and roasted coffee. Other main markets were Japan and the European Union, with products including, for example, wheat, lentils, soybeans, sunflowers, hemp, spelt, and barley.
During the same year, Canada imported $789 million worth of tracked organic food products. Almost half (45%) of the imports were horticultural products from the United States. Organic foods imported from the United States include strawberries, spinach, lettuce, and carrots.
While the United States was the largest importer of organic produce to Canada, in total products were imported from 127 countries. Main imports include unroasted coffee, bananas, and olive oil. These accounted for approximately $216 million of the imports.
Organic Food Consumer Market in Canada
The demand for organic food has grown in Canada and 66% of Canadians now buy organic food. Provincially, the largest organic market is in Ontario, while British Columbia has the highest per capita organic sales.
Albertans are the most likely to buy organic produce with 74% of the province’s population buying organic products every week. On average, Canadians spend $184 per week on organic products, with organic foods making up 3.3% of total food sales in Canada.
How Often Are Canadians Eating Organic Food?
32.13% of the Canadian population eat organic produce twice weekly on average. 18.39% eat organic food every day, while 16.67% eat it once or twice per month, and 19.62% less than once per month. 13.29% of Canadians say they never eat organic products.
Organic Food Consumption is Higher Among Younger Canadians
Canadians aged between 18 and 24 are the most likely age group to buy organic foods. On average, almost half (46%) of their weekly shopping is organic products. In the 25-34 age group, organic products make up 32% of the weekly food shop while the portion is 25% among 35-44-year olds.
Younger Canadians Are More Likely to Spend Extra on Organic Food
18-34-year-old Canadians are more likely to be happy to pay more for organic food. On average, 41% of Canadians would pay more for organic food. For the 18-34 age group, the portion that would be willing to pay more for organic food increases to 77%, while 57% of Canadians aged 55 or over would be happy to pay more for organic food.
The majority of Canadians are also willing to pay more for non-GMO food. Only 31% of Canadians would not pay extra for food that was free from GMOs. The younger Canadians are again more willing to pay a premium for non-GMO food, with only 22% saying they would not pay more. Among the over 55s, the portion of people who would not pay more is 38%.
Residents of Quebec Are the Most Likely to Spend More on Greener Food
The residents of Quebec are the most likely to pay more for food that has been produced by companies guaranteeing lower greenhouse gas emissions. In Quebec, 72% of the population would pay more for more environmentally friendly products. In Ontario, the portion was 65%, and in British Columbia 63%. The willingness to pay more was the lowest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 42% in both provinces.
Less Than a Quarter of Canadians Check for Organic Logo on Food Labels
Only 24% of Canadians check the food labeling to see if the product is organic. Around 23% will check the label to see if they are non-GMO. Canadians are more likely to check the origin of the food they buy than whether it is organic or non-GMO. Around 33% of Canadian consumers frequently check the food labels to see which country or province the food originated from.
Fruits and Vegetables Are the Most Common Organic Food Category
In Canada, fruits and vegetables are the most often bought category of organic food products. 78% of Canadians who buy organic products buy fruits and vegetables. While fruits and vegetables are the most popular category, meat and poultry are the fastest growing. Between 2016 and 2020, the purchases went up from 26% to 32%.
Most Canadians Get Their Organic Food From Grocery Stores
82% of Canadian consumers who purchase organic food regularly buy it from regular grocery stores. The next most common location is mass retailers such as Walmart or Costco at 45%. 32% also get organic food products directly from the farmers and 25% from natural health stores. Pharmacies are used only by 12% of organic food shoppers and online retailers by 8%.
Over 50% of Canadian Consumers Trust the Canada Organic Logo
Just over half (55%) of Canadians say they trust that products labeled with the Canada Organic logo and regulated by the Canada Food Inspection Agency are authentically organic. This shows improvement compared to 2016 when only 39% of Canadians trusted products with the Canada Organic logo. Between 2016 and 2020, trust in products labeled as ”Made in Canada” also improved from 53% to 63%.
Canadian consumers are becoming more conscious about what they eat and how their food is produced. Because of that, the popularity of organic food in Canada is growing. Younger Canadaians are more likely to buy organic food and they are also more willing to pay extra for organic produce than older Canadians.
Based on trends from recent years, it is likely that the portion of organic foods in Canadians’ weekly shopping will continue to grow. To meet the growing demand for organic produce, there needs to be more Canadian supply as currently producers are relying heavily on imports.
Frequently Asked Questions
Organic food is popular in Canada and its popularity is growing. Around a third of Canadians buy some type of organic food products every week.
There are over 7,300 certified organic operations in Canada.
Food that is at least 95% organic will have the logo Canada Organic to show it meets the strict standards for organic food in Canada.