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Monday, November 7, 2011

Is organic now the newest marketing gimmick?

 
I couldn't help but notice the new sections in the local Giant supermarkets that now have a very visible organic section when you first walk in.  Organic products that used to be spread out throughout the store are now all together in a mini market section in front. After browsing the section you couldn't help but notice that the products in this section were two to three times the prices of many similar non-organic products sold elsewhere in the store.  I know that organic products can come from smaller producers and consumer price is impacted by economy of scale but I couldn't help but wonder if this isn't a way to market products at a higher profit margin than their non-organic products? Should we always expect to pay a premium for organic products? I somehow feel that stores know that organic products are more likely to be purchased by consumers with higher incomes and they take advantage of this in their pricing of organic products.  It is similar to how gas stations in Columbia can get away with charging prices 30-40 cents higher than stations 5 miles outside Columbia.  I know that rents are higher in Columbia but I can't help but think that there is a little price gouging in there too.

So as someone who is disgusted with how we seem to be polluting our environment and food with chemicals my desire to encourage a more earth friendly food production system will always balance this desire against feeling I am being taken advantage of by a system of price gouging.  I would hope that someone would figure out how to build economy of scale into organic food production.  Is it too much to ask to like safer food and a good price?

One final thought.  Don't be sold on "organic" meaning "healthy."  I couldn't help but noticing that many of the organic products had high amounts of fat and sugar.  Both of those are of course "organic."  Made me remember how many low fat products are loaded with sugar. Anyone else see the commercials out lately telling parents how their sugary kid's cereals are a good source of fiber? What cereal manufacturers produce for kids should be criminal.  Should we allow them to poison our kids?  I know they would say in a free market the consumer determines what products are made but what cereal manufacturers make is no different than the candy manufacturers once making candy cigarettes.

For everyone who wants to know what the organic standards are I will share what I copied from the USDA site on organic food:

What is Organic?  
Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.
 How Are Organic Products Overseen?
The National Organic Program regulates all organic crops, livestock, and agricultural products certified to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. Organic certification agencies inspect and verify that organic farmers, ranchers, distributors, processors, and traders are complying with the USDA organic regulations. USDA conducts audits and ensures that the more than 90 organic certification agencies operating around the world are properly certifying organic products. In addition, USDA conducts investigations and conducts enforcement activities to ensure all products labeled as organic meet the USDA organic regulations. In order to sell, label, or represent their products as organic, operations must follow all of the specifications set out by the USDA organic regulations.
How Do I Know if My Food Is Organic?
Look at the label. If you see the USDA organic seal, the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content. For multi-ingredient products such as bread or soup, if the label claims that it is made with specified organic ingredients, you can be confident that those specific ingredients have been certified organic.
What About Other Labels?
There are other voluntary labels for livestock products, such as meat and eggs:
Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.
 Cage-free. This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.
Natural. As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.
Grass-fed. Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain. Also USDA regulated, the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Meat products may be labeled as grass-fed organic.
Pasture-raised. Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a labeling policy for pasture-raised products.
Humane. Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. These labeling programs are not regulated.
Protecting Organic Integrity
30,000 on-site inspections per year by certifying agents to monitor compliance with USDA organic standards
Certifying agent audits to ensure appropriate monitoring
Residue testing program to verify that prohibited pesticides aren’t being applied to organic crops
Robust compliance and enforcement activities
Issue-based investigations (e.g. country- or commodity-specific)

P.S.
Watching the New York Marathon yesterday my mind said "Wouldn't it be neat to see if you could still do one of those every year?" and my body said "Are you crazy--- don't you remember how you felt after finishing one of those?"

2 comments:

Brent The Brewer said...

Yeah I noticed that too Duane. The Safeways and Giants in the area are starting up these organic market sub-sections of their stores much like Wegmans has been for years. Why not? It works great for Wegmans.

I agree the prices are very high though, especially at these big stores. With that said, I'd recommend going to to a place like My Organic Market (MOM) for organic items that are a little bit cheaper. I go to the one in Jessup all the time and that place is great. There's a much better selection of organic and natural items than you'd find in Giant. Plus, the best part is that the staff there at MOM is very knowledgeable and helpful. Ask them anything about an organic product and they'll be able to help you on the spot or know of a coworker who can help you. Try getting that level of customer service at most Giant or Safeway store!

Just this past Friday night my wife and I were in the Wilde Lake area and stopped by David's Natural Market. Holy cow! This place is packed from floor to ceiling with all sorts of organic and natural products. The prices there are very reasonable as well. When my wife and I found out they had Bove's of Vermont spaghetti sauce, we could hardly contain the excitement. Yup this is what my Friday nights consist of for excitement now that we are ready to take a step into parenthood. Haha!

Anyways, you might want to try MOM or David's if you haven't already.

Holly said...

To add to the debate. Many corporations are lobbying congress all the time to lessen the strickness of 'organic' labeling. 10 years ago the term organic was much more meaningful, now and every year its becoming different. Before you know it, it will mean nothing and yes, it will then be paying for something that is just inflated prices. Some free range eggs are labeled that b/c they 'have access to pasture' but can't get out the little door the farmer puts in the coop and they never see the light of day. Luckily here in San Francisco, we can meet the local farmer and ask about the farm's individual practices. Farmers markets are spreading. Oh I could keep going on...
~Holly Pepper