Taking Off: What Is Behind The Current Organic Trend?
News As the debate over food labeling continues, consumers are opting for organic as a trustworthy choice.
When Gerhard Latka and his wife, Gabriele, decided to break into the organic food industry in 1989, grocery stores did not look like they do today. Shelves were not lined with competing brands labeled “all-natural” and “organic,” and the Latka’s organic fruit spread was among the first of its kind to be introduced in the market. Latka, who grew up in Germany, had been exposed to the food production business since childhood and has always valued clean eating. For that reason, deciding to make a mark in the organic food industry was a no-brainer.
“When you start any new business, you don’t know how it will turn out,” says Latka, founder and president of Canada-based Crofter’s Organic, which offers preservative-free, certified organic fruit spreads. “But we felt strongly about it. All we did was hope for the best.”
One of the pioneers of organic products, Crofter’s has contributed to a steady growth of organic sales in North America. Indeed, the value of the Canadian organic food market has tripled in the past six years, with sales climbing from an estimated $1 billion in 2006 to $3.7 billion in 2012. In the U.S., sales have reached approximately $11.2 bilion, says Stephanie Wells, senior regulatory affairs advisor of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA). COTA helps shape organic regulations through legislation and public initiatives.
Beyond personal health
The spike in sales can be credited to an increased awareness of the health benefits of organically grown and produced foods; studies abound that support this notion. Research published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 2010, for example, revealed that children exposed to a commonly used agricultural pesticide were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
"Organic practices can remove about 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year and save about an acre of land in North America alone."
Furthermore, a majority of people now believe organic farming is better for the environment, Wells cites. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico shows how non-organic farming practices can have a deleterious impact the environment. The zone has been formed by runoff from non-organic farms, which has depleted the oxygen from the water, thus exterminating wildlife. Research from the Rodale Institute also reveals that organic practices can remove about 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year and save about an acre of land in North America alone.
Opting for organic
With this knowledge, consumers with a conscience are seeking out the brands that embrace environmental sustainability and that ethically source their ingredients. In response, leading brands are partnering with suppliers that truly embody these values – ones that are affecting positive social change on a local level and that are promoting a healthier planet.
Both So Delicious and Crofter’s have formed partnerships with The Green Cane Project, a sugar production operation in Brazil. The plantation has effectively restored the fertility of the soil and encouraged greater biodiversity by abandoning “slash and burn” methods. Instead, The Green Cane Project uses specialized equipment to cut, load and transport its organically grown sugar cane. Rather than burning the leaves after separating them from the stalks, they are distributed through the fields to protect the crops from being scorched by the sun and to prevent erosion. Their breakthrough harvesting method is estimated to prevent 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere annually.
Clamoring for proper labeling
Adding preservatives to products trails back to the 1950s. Back then, food processors would supplement even the most common foodstuffs with artificial ingredients to improve appearance and to increase the shelf life. Peanut butter producers, for example, would add stabilizers to prevent natural peanut oils from separating in the jar in order to make the product look more pleasing to the eye.
Fast forward to today, the U.S. is embroiled in a fierce, ongoing debate about labeling of food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This has become a growing concern, with Americans and Canadians alike clamoring for more transparent labeling, says Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project. Westgate pointed to a New York Times poll conducted earlier this year, which indicated that 93 percent of Americans said they want to know whether their food had been genetically modified.
“GMOs are still a very experimental technology,” Westgate says. “Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers' and consumers' rights.”
Currently, all truly organic products are labeled with a certified organic seal (e.g. USDA Organic, Canada Organic). Recently released, the “non-GMO” label marks those products whose organisms haven’t been genetically modified. Little known to the general consumer is that organic codes do not allow for GMOs in the first place, but there is still a growing trend toward adopting the label among organic brands for the sake of transparency and to make the choice easier for consumers.
More bang for your buck
And yet there are still misconceptions about organic produce that discourage people from choosing it while shopping, Wells explains.
“People believe it’s more costly than it actually is,” she says. However, people who buy organic spend only $17.50 more per week than those who do not purchase organic, according to research from COTA.
Crofter’s spreads cost an average of $3.49, and the sizes are 10 oz., 11 oz. and 16.5 oz. Latka points out consumers who opt to buy his jam over the alternative brands share the same values: their personal health and the health of the planet, and for these things, the additional cost is nominal.