A foundation of sustainability

by Jeff Gelski
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Industry reports and convention speakers throughout the year have touted the benefits of promoting sustainable business practices. Organic ingredients may fit in several of the practices. The organic industry has followed a formula of sustainability for decades, said Grace Marroquin, president and chief executive officer of Marroquin Organic International, Santa Cruz, Calif.

"The whole basis of organic is that sustainable practices are put in place," Ms. Marroquin said. "That is the premise that we started on."

An absence of pesticide use makes organic ingredients a natural fit for processed foods and beverages aimed at consumers interested in sustainable environmental practices. Food and beverage companies also may promote how they source ingredients from companies that treat workers and farmers fairly. Some ingredients are certified both organic and Fair Trade.

TransFair USA, Oakland, Calif., is one of 20 members of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International and the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. Until about two years ago, Trans Fair certification was offered for whole foods and beverages, such as sugar and tea, but not for ingredients, such as tea extracts.

Tony Moore, then owner of Moore Organics, said after an organic dairy customer inquired about using tea flavor extracts, his company approached Trans Fair USA about setting up an ingredients program. TransFair USA now offers a Fair Trade Certified Ingredients logo that has been used with coffee, cocoa, vanilla, tea, rice, sugar, herbs and fresh fruit.

In 2007, A.M. Todd, Kalamazoo, Mich., purchased Moore Organics and named Mr. Moore chief flavorist and director of product development. A.M. Todd, under the Mooreganics brand, now offers such ingredients as coffee extracts and herbal extracts that are certified both organic and Fair Trade.

Wholesome Sweeteners, Sugar Land, Texas, offers both Fair Trade and organic sugar and sweeteners.

"It means that growers can compete with factory farms, send their kids to school, develop the quality of their crops, practice sustainable agriculture and build thriving communities," Wholesome Sweeteners said of Fair Trade.

Manufacturers may use Fair Trade sugar in such applications as ice cream, cereals, chocolate, ready-to-drink teas, coffees, juices, baking mixes and jams, according to Wholesome Sweeteners. The company plans to launch Fair Trade Certified Organic Honey at the retail level in September. Bulk and industrial quantities of the honey should be available in 2009, said Karen Stevenson, marketing communication manager.

Marroquin Organic International has not sought Fair Trade certification, but the company has valued its relationships with farmers and manufacturers since it was founded in 1991, Ms. Marroquin said.

Relationships are continual trails that go from the farm to the manufacturer to the retailer and finally to the consumer, she said.

"I think with Fair Trade coming along and being in the spotlight, it’s reminded everybody this is really what’s important," Ms. Marroquin said.

‘Food miles’ may be hard to avoid

The sustainability issues of greenhouse gas emissions and the "food miles" used to transport product may involve Fair Trade and organic ingredients since they often are sourced from overseas. The Soil Association, the United Kingdom’s marketing and certification organization for organic food and farming, has taken an interest in "food miles." The Soil Association’s Standards Board recommends organic product should be air freighted only if it also meets the association’s Ethical Trade of the Fairtrade Foundation’s standard.

"Organic production is all about sustainability and the balance this implies between social, environmental and economic objectives," said Anna Bradley, chair of the Standards Board. "By addressing concerns over air freight in our standards, we aim to make it easier for consumers to make informed and sustainable choices, allowing poor farmers in developing countries to achieve the social and environmental benefits of organic production along with the economic benefits achieved by selling in developed country markets."

Consumers may prefer to buy local product, thinking it is fresher. Local and organic are flipping in terms of importance to consumers, said Laurie Demeritt, president of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., at the F.M.I. Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. In some instances food and beverage manufacturers may be able to source closer to home and cut down on "food miles."

"Where it makes sense, do it," Ms. Marroquin said. "Where it doesn’t, don’t."

For example, she said such products as coffee, bananas and spices mostly are grown outside the United States.

"People get too micro when looking at food miles," she said. "They don’t realize how connected everything is."

Using organic ingredients from developing countries may help farmers and the economy there, Ms. Marroquin said. It also may allow a manufacturer to tell a story. For example, profits from the sale of certified organic and Fair Trade Shaman Chocolates from Shaman Chocolates, Soquel, Calif., support the Huichol Indians, an indigenous tribe living in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.

Consumers want to hear stories about safe working conditions, good wages and benefits, Ms. Demerrit said. They want to buy products from those companies.

Ms. Marroquin said, "It’s little pieces of feeling good. It trickles all the way back down to the farmer."


Trade in the U.S.
Imports of Fair Trade certified products into the United States in 2007: lbs

Coffee 66,339,389

Sugar 8,931,364

Fresh fruit 7,250,275

Tea 1,134,993

Cocoa 1,084,892

Rice 436,456

Vanilla 149,460

 Source: TransFair USA


Going over $100 million in organic sales (in millions)

52 weeks ended July 12, 2008 July 14, 2007 % change

Refrigerated milk $637.9 $520.1 22.7% Refrigerated yogurt $148.2 $118.7 21.6%

Fresh eggs $140.0 $108.0 29.6%

Canned soup $134.1 $113.6 18.1%

R.-T.-E. cereal $130.0 $122.9 5.7%

Fresh carrots $118.6 $111.9 6%

Strained baby food $116.7 $101.4 15.1%

Tortilla chips $101.4 $97.5 4%

Total U.S. food, drug and mass merchandiser stores, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Source: The Nielsen Co.


Organic companies join sustainability association

EUGENE, ORE. — Nineteen organic companies signed an 11-point action plan put out by The Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association (F.T.S.L.A.), a new nonprofit business association designed to provide a hub for businesses to network, share best practices and work toward solutions to shared challenges.

"The unprecedented scale and speed of global climate change combined with rising energy inputs puts into stark view the vulnerabilities of the food system," said Natalie Reitman-White, executive director of the F.T.S.L.A. "Our vision is for the organic sector to lead the way in the transition toward a sustainable food system, by demonstrating successful sustainable business models that will, in time, become the beacon for the entire food industry."

The F.T.S.L.A. launched an 11-point action plan to promote education and action toward sustainable business practices in the natural food trade. Companies that sign the pledge commit to continual improvement and transparency in their practices, and in return the companies receive the education and tools needed to support their efforts.

The F.T.S.L.A. wants to recruit 50 new companies to sign the pledge over the next year. Nathan Morr, director of social and environmental responsibility for SunOpta, Inc., Brampton, Ont., is president of the F.T.S.L.A. board.


The 11-point action areas include:


●climate change







●animal care


●consumer education

The 19 companies that have signed the pledge include:

 ●Adina for Life

●Albert’s Source Organic

●Amy’s Kitchen

●CF Fresh

●Charlie’s Produce

●Coop Partners

●Frontier Natural Products Coop.

●Glory Bee Foods

●Heath and Lejeune

●Hummingbird Wholesale

●LifeSource Natural Foods

●Nature’s Path Foods

●New Harvest Organics

●Organically Grown Co.

●Organic Valley Family of Farms

●PCC Natural Markets

●SunOpta, Inc.

●The Wedge Coop.


This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, August 19, 2008, starting on Page 25. Click here to search that archive.

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