getting fresh: Growth vs. integrity
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the National Organic Program back in 2002, a milestone many thought impossible just a few years earlier, it seemed that the matter of what was and was not organic had been resolved.
Oh sure, there were all sorts of hiccups with the program’s passage, but in essence, the USDA had set up fairly straightforward standards for farmers, food processors, certifiers and consumers. The explosive growth that followed – double-digit gains through the next seven years – only attests to what sensible government programs can do to nurture a fledging industry.
Such success, however, can bring forth its own problems, as a recent Washington Post article by Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton points out. As the two reporters note, many major food manufacturers quickly swallowed up smaller organic food companies to get on board the organic gravy train that took off in 2002. I
n doing so, they began pressuring government to expand the definition of “what is organic, in part because processed foods offered by big industry often require ingredients, additives or processing agents that either do not exist in organic form or are not available in large enough quantities for mass production,” the authors wrote.
Given that under the USDA’s definition of organic, an organic-certified product can contain 5% of non-organic ingredients, as long as they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board, it’s worthy to note that the list of approved non-organic ingredients has grown from 77 to 245. Moreover, at the time the list was introduced, the idea was to reduce the number of non-organic ingredients, not expand it.
In addition, Kindy and Layton report that there are other issues involving organic certification that need addressing. For example, meat, dairy and baby food processors have seemingly pushed the limits of what organic stands for, ranging from introducing synthetic fatty acid additives designed to help neural development in infants to feeding livestock non-organic fish meats. Then there’s the interpretation behind dairy cows having “access to pasture,” which some conglomerates translate into having cows merely see open grazing spaces.
The two Washington Post reporters also detail the lack of uniformity amongst companies certifying organic manufacturers, with some allowing certain fertilizers on fruits and vegetables while others do not.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has promised to protect the integrity of the organic label, and the USDA inspector general’s office has even launched an investigation to ensure products carrying the organic label meet the standards. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who gave the keynote address at the All Things Organic show organized by the Organic Trade Association several weeks ago, also shares Vilsack’s view and said the feds will pump up enforcement.
There’s no doubt that the “spirit” of the law behind organic standards is minimal alteration. After all, consumers are paying more money for purer foods. And although evolving food ingredient technology can complicate standards and parameters – such as at how many parts per billion is something GMO-free – it’s better to err on the side of purity. Fostering growth at the expense of integrity renders that growth meaningless. Long term, purity will draw more consumers to the organic fold.
Survey reports consumers are going 'green,' despite confusion
Results from a consumer survey conducted by the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Shelton Group indicate that “most Americans are trying to buy more green products, but many don’t have enough knowledge to make meaningful choices.”
In responding to the question, “Which is the best product description to read on a label?” nearly one third (31%) chose “100% natural,” while one quarter opted for “All natural ingredients.” Slightly more than one in seven (14%) selected “100% organic” for the same question, while 12% voted for “Certified organic ingredients.”
Suzanne Shelton, founder of the Shelton Group, says many consumers don’t understand green terminology. “They prefer the word ‘natural’ over the term ‘organic,’ thinking organic is more of an unregulated marketing buzzword that means the product is more expensive,” she says. “In reality, the opposite is true: ‘Natural’ is the unregulated word. Organic foods must meet government standards to be certified as such.”
In addition, the study found that 60% of those polled look for greener products. Dubbed EcoPulse, the survey was conducted in April and May of this year and polled 1,006 consumers.
For more information, visit www.sheltongroupinc.com/ecopulse.
Blommer to offer Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa/chocolate line
Beginning next year, Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate Co. will offer a line of Rainforest Alliance Certified (RAC) cocoa and chocolate ingredient products. All the cocoa for the new line will come from RAC farms in Latin America, which meat standard for sustainable farming.
“Blommer’s step to buy cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms will make the option of sourcing cocoa more readily available to U.S. chocolate makers large and small,” says Tenise Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance. “It will spread sustainability even further into the homes of U.S. consumers and allow them to choose products that benefit the environment and help support cocoa farmers and their families. “
Last year, the Rainforest Alliance’s cocoa program saw a 272% jump in sales, jumping from an estimated $4.5 million in 2007 to $16.75 million in 2008.
Enter BRANDPACKAGING'S 2010 Design Gallery competition
Got an interesting packaging initiative? Send it in for consideration in BRANDPACKAGING's 2010 DESIGN GALLERY, the magazine's hardbound December issue, which has become the definitive brand packaging design annual. The deadline for all entries is August 22, 2009. BRANDPACKAGING is a sister publication to Candy Industry and Retail Confectioner.
For more information, visit www.brandpackaging.com.
Sweet of the week: Dove Peanut Butter Promises and Singles
It was bound to happen, Dove hooking up with peanut butter. Earlier this week, Mars Snackfood
launched Dove Peanut Butter Promises and Singles. The 8.5-oz. laydown bags are priced at $4.49, while the 1.3-oz singles bars will go for $.79. US
"Our customers are passionate about real, authentic silky smooth chocolate, but also want to explore new flavor combinations in addition to the solid milk chocolate that they know and love," says Thomas Pinnau, v. p. of indulgence for Mars. "We believe that combining the richness and smoothness of peanut butter and milk chocolate will not only help meet our customers' increasing desire for new tastes, but will also entice consumers who have not yet had a chance to try our products. We are convinced that anybody who tries our new Dove Peanut Butter Promises and Singles will agree that this is our most indulgent chocolate experience to date and become a loyal follower of the Dove Chocolate brand."
For more information, visit www.dovechocolate.com.