The scoop on “organic.” How big is it?

DSC00361 (400x369)It’s big! Sales of organic food in 2016 jumped more than 8% from the previous year and now account for 5% of the total food sales in the U.S.

Consumers, especially those in the millennial age group, have embraced “organic” to such an extent, sales reached $43 billion last year and promise to keep growing at a “healthy rate,” if you pardon the pun.

Seventy-five million parents in the 18-34 age bracket are the largest group of organic buyers in America, according to the Organic Trade Association based in Washington, D.C. When surveyed, millennials who embrace healthy food choices said they didn’t care what organic food cost, as long as they felt they were doing everything they could to raise healthy children.

Compared to the 0.6% growth rate in food overall, organic is booming, but still has a long way to go. From the looks of things, it appears the interest in organic products is due to a more conscientious consumer who may have more disposable income because of a robust economy. But looking at the “lifestyle customer” at Green Acres, it may just be because people want to live longer, healthier.

DSC00346 (600x450)At GreenAcres, there are customers who want excellent health, and customers who have food sensitivities and allergies and are looking for grocery products that taste good but don’t disrupt delicate bodily systems.

For much of the country, the most popular organic items are produce—fruits and vegetables. But here in the heartland, where we’re more or less known to be the fast food capital of the world, and people don’t cook like they did even 20 years ago, Midwesterners are looking for good, honest nutrition, but at the lowest cost possible.

Not everyone is educated as to what constitutes “organic” (and what it costs to produce it) as opposed to signage that reads “organic” and food that may not be organic at all but that is cheaply priced.

According to HelpGuide.Org., The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

“Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.”

With the above restrictions, comes a larger price tag. Still, committed consumers who are more desirous of good health embrace nutritious, less chemically-laden food and are willing to pay more to get it. GreenAcres customers have been heard to proclaim, “I’d rather pay more now for food than health-related medical bills later in life.”

A recent study by the Hartman Group, a food and beverage firm in Bellevue, Washington, reported 44% of organic shoppers are willing to pay an additional 20% or more for fresh, organic food, and likewise 20% more for free-range, organic poultry.

DSC00359 (600x450)This discovery by the food industry has caused Kroger, Walmart, Target and other big box stores to convert a larger portion of their shelves and aisles to organic produce and groceries. And it’s put pressure on health food stores to monitor their prices carefully so as to stay competitive and yet offer the best nutrition to their customers possible.

With diversification has come a raid on “all natural” startups.

Again, according to the Organic Trade Association, in the last couple of years, “Campbell Soup has bought out Bolthouse Farms salad dressings and juices, Coca-Cola, organic Honest Tea, and Hormel, Applegate Farms, all of which we carry at GreenAcres.

“General Mills’ organic-only portfolio has grown more than 350% over the past five years. Natural and organic sales were $1 billion this year, growing at a double-digit clip since 2000 when the Minneapolis-based cereal maker first ventured into organic with the purchase of Small Planet Foods, which produces a variety of organic foods, from ketchup to granola bars. In 2014, General Mills acquired Annie’s, which features fruit snacks, cereal, cookies and more.”

DSC00357 (600x450)This development has made GreenAcres a watchdog of sorts, making sure our customers continue to get the nutrition they’ve been used to from products now absorbed by an industry not heretofore known for good nutrition. So far, so good. But if GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives or anything else not considered up to our standards show up in these bought-out company products, you can bet GreenAcres will quit carrying them all together.

That’s why it’s important to know your grocer–someone you can trust to provide the most nutritious, organic food from the most reliable local and national sources; vitamin and mineral supplements from long-time partnerships; and sustainable laundry and cleaning agents from companies that deliver what they promise.

Because in the “organic” industry, while it may be big, it’s far from equal.