Natural and local food choices gain ground on organics

Articles
November 25, 2008

Natural and local food choices gain ground on organics

America’s consumers who’d been flocking to organics—witness their product penetration in most supermarket aisles—suddenly wondered this year whether their food-buying decisions were harming the food system. Were their organic fruits from Chile burning up jet fuel unnecessarily? Could conventionally grown produce from their own states compare well by taste and nutrients? Would people be better off trusting cows or chemists to produce their food, to borrow a phrase from Columbia University nutrition professor Joan Dye Gussow? Even better if those cows were close by. This shift of consciousness to locally grown and natural foods was already underway when a 2007 Time magazine article, Eating Better Than Organic, helped move people to reach a similar conclusion. One only has to look at the results of Whole Foods to see how quickly times have changed. The bellwether of the organic movement has suffered from the convergence of three trends: less household spending on organics in tough times, widespread consumer consideration of less expensive healthful alternatives, and high economic barriers for farmers to become and remain organic.

America’s consumers who’d been flocking to organics—witness their product penetration in most supermarket aisles—suddenly wondered this year whether their food-buying decisions were harming the food system.

Were their organic fruits from Chile burning up jet fuel unnecessarily? Could conventionally grown produce from their own states compare well by taste and nutrients? Would people be better off trusting cows or chemists to produce their food, to borrow a phrase from Columbia University nutrition professor Joan Dye Gussow? Even better if those cows were close by.

This shift of consciousness to locally grown and natural foods was already underway when a 2007 Time magazine article, Eating Better Than Organic, helped move people to reach a similar conclusion. One only has to look at the results of Whole Foods to see how quickly times have changed. The bellwether of the organic movement has suffered from the convergence of three trends: less household spending on organics in tough times, widespread consumer consideration of less expensive healthful alternatives, and high economic barriers for farmers to become and remain organic.

Across the nation, local groups like San Francisco’s Locavores have sprouted up. They aim to eat only foods grown within 100 miles of their beautiful city by the bay, and urge all to “Celebrate your foodshed. Eat locally. Plant your gardens now. Get to know your local farmers’ markets. Cozy up to your neighbors who have chickens and fruit trees. Share the food sources that you find with others.”

When a former community organizer was just elected president of the United States, can one doubt the power of this local and natural food movement?

New figures from SPINS document the strength of the natural products industry: sales grew by 12.2% to $13.4 billion in the 52 weeks ended October 4, 2008. (This is still less than the 13.0% sales growth of organic products measured by SPINS, a pace that’s down from recent higher-flying periods.)

As long as natural products manufacturers and retailers commit to authenticity, sustainability, the environment, nutrition and consumer health and wellness concerns, the  sector “should begin to accelerate once the consumer and the economy regain their stability,” said Tony Olson, SPINS chief executive officer, according to an account in foodnavigatorusa.com.