Tree of Life Inc. was awarded certified organic status by the United States Department of Agriculture last month. The St. Augustine, Fla.-based company is a major manufacturer and distributor of natural and specialty foods throughout the United States and Canada, and claims to be the largest distributor to date to obtain organic certification.
Quality Assurance International Inc., based in San Diego, acted as the third-party certifier for the USDA. QAI also certified United Natural Foods Inc. last year. "[Distributors] are required to be certified for any repacking," said QAI certifier Joe Smillie. "Otherwise, it's by and large voluntary."
Greg Leonard, a spokesman for Tree of Life, said the certification was an important hurdle for the company. "Some of our earliest supplier alignments were with individual organic growers and with pioneering organic brands," he said. "We strongly believe that any distribution company that reaps the substantial sales benefits of organic food sales should show its commitment to this category by ensuring that its operations are compliant with the National Organic Program."
Furthermore, said Leonard, the distinction will simplify record keeping for the retailers with whom Tree of Life conducts business if they also wish to be certified. "If a retailer's distributor is not certified, a current organic certificate from every producer or manufacturer making an organic claim must be received and kept on file by the retailer." When a distributor is certified, retailers need only have the distributor's organic certificate on file for all of the organic products they purchase from that source. And when a distributor has repacking certification, "it's a big help in the bulk and produce areas," Smillie said.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 10/p. 10