Going green has speed bumps

by Jeff Gelski
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TOLLAND, CONN. — Companies wanting to offer organic products in food and beverage industries may have to import to meet demand, according to an industry report from Nerac, Inc., a research company based in Tolland. Sourcing product outside the country, however, could have a negative influence on consumers interested in the environment or on those who want to buy local, according to the report titled "It’s not Easy Being Green: The Future of Mass Market Organics."

The report cites the term "food-miles," which refers to the distance and fuel required to transport organic product. The report points out Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., imports ingredients for its organic yogurt, including milk powder from New Zealand, strawberries from China, apple puree from Turkey, blueberries from Canada and bananas from Ecuador. The report estimates 80% of the organic pork sold in the United States is imported although the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not track organic imports specifically.

The future of mass market organics appears financially solid. Nearly two-thirds of consumers who purchase organic foods buy them primarily through supermarkets, according to the report. About half of the supermarket chains in the United States are experimenting with natural/organic formats.

Food corporations continue to acquire smaller organic companies. The study points out Healthy Valley, an organic company, is owned by The Hain Celestial Group, Boulder, Colo., whose investors include tobacco company Philip Morris and Monsanto, involved in bioengineered food.

Last year Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark., decided to start offering organic fare.

"Wal-Mart will squeeze suppliers after they have invested heavily to boost production for Wal-Mart," the report said. "Suppliers will then be forced to cut corners to meet Wal-Mart price targets, which could put added pressure on companies that need Wal-Mart to distribute products and on new manufacturers and processors with fragile bottom lines."

Agricultural corporations entering the organic arena may have a financial edge over small farmers, according to the study. Since farm revenue is reduced during a three-year transition period when switching to organic production, well-financed industrial agriculture operations could handle the hardship.

"Large-scale agriculture operations will have to persuade consumers that non-local organics provide the same quality as locally grown products," the study said.

The report added ethical consumerism has become a broader trend than organics. Ethical consumerism refers to eco-friendly, locally grown, sustainable and Fair Trade products. The report gave Clif Bar Inc., Berkeley, Calif., as an example of a company interested in ethical consumerism. Clif Bar has hired a staff ecologist, initiated changes to eliminate shrink wrap and switched to biofuels in place of diesel in its trucks.

For more information on the Nerac report, visit www.nerac.com/food/organics-report-download.

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