Market for organic food shows signs of growth

Grocery shopping at Kroger, Tina Sestan, senior, walks straight through the conventionally grown produce section and proceeds directly to Nature’s Market – a section of the store that offers organic and vegetarian products.

“My whole family is into eating all-natural foods, and it makes me feel like I am making healthier choices when I buy organic,” Sestan said. “For me, the price difference is so worth it in the end.”

Organic food is the fastest-growing sector in the retail food industry, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

Studies have found organic price premiums that range from 35 percent to 53 percent for baby food, 72 percent for frozen broccoli, 94 percent for spring wheat and 177 percent for soybeans, according to government research cited by the Food Marketing Institute.

In a similar vein, the February issue of Consumer Reports said that organic foods cost consumers an average of 50 percent more than conventional foods, but some organic foods such as milk and meat, may cost twice as much.

Chris Haar, director for dietetic internships on campus, believes the growing popularity of eating organic comes from people’s perception that an organic lifestyle is a healthy alternative.

“There is no direct research that looks at health benefits of organic foods in the sense that they reduce the risk of developing cancer or diabetes,” Haar said. “They can test foods and say certain ones are lower in pesticides and they can only extrapolate from there.”

However, Heather Andre, the owner of Squeakers Vegetarian Market and Café in downtown BG, believes organic food aids people in making wiser diet choices and leads to an overall healthier life. She opened the store to give consumers the opportunity to shop at a place where all-natural products are abundant.

“The benefits of eating organic, in my opinion, greatly outweigh the slightly higher prices,” Andre said. “It’s so important mainly because this type of food does not contain any synthetic pesticides or herbices; it’s just a lot healthier for you and the environment.”

Andre believes that when college students eat organic foods, it helps them to make smarter eating decisions when they are older. She also stressed that, though her market promotes a strict vegan/vegetarian diet, eating organic doesn’t necessarily mean giving up meat.

“I personally don’t suggest that anyone eats animal products, but organic dairy products and meats are available at other stores if you are not willing to become a vegetarian or vegan but still view an organic lifestyle as important,” Andre said.

When Haar buys organic, she is not as concerned with the health considerations as she is with the environmental aspects. She always tries to buy products such as organic milk because she wants to support small farmers as opposed to larger factory farms.

“When I’m buying produce, I think about where it is coming from,” she said. “Thus, it would be better environmentally for me to buy conventionally grown apples from Oak Harbor, Ohio rather then organic apples from Washington State.”

Despite the high prices, at least 35 percent of U.S. consumers regularly buy organic foods, the Star Tribune reported. Like Sestan, people are growing more aware of organic products and becoming more educated about their possible benefits, according to Monica Gordon, a public relations representative for Kroger stores.

“It seems that every year, there is more of a demand for people looking for organic items in our stores,” Gordon said. “We continue to add products into our mix as they become available; it’s really about accessibility, being able to get organic produce in mass quantities as more farmers become organic growers.”

A study conducted by Whole Foods Market, the country’s largest natural-food chain, showed that more consumers would buy organic if it was not as expensive. As the popularity of organic items continues to rise, Gordon speculates that the prices will soon decrease. However, she explained, much of that is a decision on the side of the growers, as more efficient growing techniques are discovered.

“I think a lot of organic shoppers fully understand that there is a difference in the structure of what an organic piece of fruit or vegetable would cost as opposed to the conventional-type item, in terms of quantities that are available,” Gordon said.

The sale of organic food continues to increase as more consumers try them. The Whole Foods study found that nearly two-thirds of Americans had tried organic foods and beverages. That’s up 54 percent in 2003 and 2004, according to the Star Tribune.

“I honestly don’t know if eating organic-type goods keeps me healthier,” Sestan said. “But I do know that mentally it makes me feel better about what I am eating, so that’s enough for me.”