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Organic Valley’s parent cooperative continues to move toward $1 billion in sales, logging an 8.5 percent increase in 2013.

The La Farge-based Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool’s sales last year were $929.5 million, according the co-op’s report released Thursday during its annual meeting at the La Crosse Center.

The increase came in spite of supply-and-demand challenges and a fire in May that leveled much of the co-op’s headquarters, said CEO George Siemon.

More than 500 of Organic Valley’s 1,844 farmers are attending the three-day meeting, hearing optimistic reports such as a 30 percent rise in butter and cheese sales and the brand’s becoming the top-selling organic milk in China.

“Butter is back, domestically and internationally,” said sales vice president Eric Newman.

The largest organic farmer co-op in the world, Organic Valley represents about 50 percent of the organic milk sales in the United States, Newman said.

Sales of conventional fluid milk have been declining, he said, partly because of the popularity of plant-based fluids such as almond milk, he said.

“That is disappointing, because we want people to drink milk — and we hope they drink organic,” Newman said.

Produce is becoming more fertile ground, he said. “Even though produce is a small part of our business, it grew 30 percent last year,” he said.

The company built a refrigerated warehouse near Hillsboro that has attracted 150 producers, notably Amish in Vernon County, Newman said.

The co-op also is seeking more exports to Asia, the Mideast and Europe, Siemon said.

“The world is changing rapidly,” he said, noting that organic foods once were sold only in co-op stores but have made major inroads in mass markets.

“Grass-fed beef is becoming a big, big deal now,” Siemon said.

Helping meet that demand is one of Organic Valley’s new member groups, Australia-based OBE Organic, Siemon said.

Dalene Wray, OBE’s general manager who traveled with a group from Down Under to attend the meeting, said her co-op supplies 500,000 pounds of trimmings to Organic Valley. That can include every meat part of the animal except steaks, she said.

The United States is the only country in the world where the trimmings can be processed into products such as organic hamburger and meatballs, she said.

“Our supply complements what their farmers are doing,” Wray said. “Our supply supports a product they don’t have a supply of.”


For more about this story, see Friday's La Crosse Tribune.

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