According to a transcript from a recent earnings call, Costco's chief financial officer Richard Galanti estimates the retailer has made "at least" $4 billion annually from organic sales alone, up from an estimate of $3 billion he said he gave six to nine months ago.
Neither Costo nor Whole Foods returned a request for comment from The Huffington Post, but if the estimate is true, BMO Capital Markets analyst Kelly Bania predicts Costco is "possibly now already eclipsing" Whole Foods. The organic market chain averages about $3.6 billion in organic sales, according to Bania.
"[Costco is] pretty good at getting out there and working with suppliers, both here and around the world to commit more to [organic], whether it is raising eggs or ground beef processing or produce,” Galanti said on the call.
Though the news for Costco is favorable, the research backing the benefits of organic food is controversial. While some studies find that organic foods have higher antioxidant loads and less pesticide residue, at least one major -- though hotly debated -- study at Stanford University found little connection between the organic label and healthfulness.
According to a definition provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, for food to be classified as "organic" it must follow these guidelines:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.
Despite the controversies, businesses continue to make money in this growing market -- and it shows no signs of slowing.
Update, Jun. 5: Chief Financial Officer of Costo, Richard Galanti, told confirmed to The Huffington Post "Our current annual sales of organic products totals around $4 Billion."