When an attendee asked the panelists the question “What’s the difference between natural and organic?” during one of Expo West’s education sessions, I figured it was a fluke. But then I heard the same question the next day in another seminar. The people around me snorted in annoyance that someone wouldn’t know one of the most basic tenets of the industry, but it made me think. Just how well educated are Expo attendees, and how well are industry veterans tutoring natural products newbies?
One of those veterans, Michael Renkosiak of private-label producer the Federated Group, has noticed that the bigger the industry gets, the lower the education curve dips. He said not only do many manufacturers and ingredients suppliers entering the marketplace not understand the difference between natural and organic, but they also don’t get the finer points, like they shouldn’t use genetically modified ingredients in their products or blend their stevia or agave with synthetic sweeteners.
Sonya Karow, who worked the sales floor in the aisle-long Amy’s Kitchen booth, said about one in five of the people she talked to during the show didn’t know the definition of organic or what percentage of organic ingredients a product should contain to be certified organic. And at the Bob’s Red Mill booth, people routinely asked saleswoman Jessica Olson what gluten is and why they should be concerned about it.
As shocking as this sounds to those of us who can remember when the organic regs first became law or who can spout gluten parts per million stats in our sleep, I think it’s good news for the industry. “The fact that people are willing to ask questions means they’re becoming more inquisitive, and that means they’re getting more educated,” Karow said. And for an industry dominated by baby boomers, enquiring minds are a welcome sign that the commitment to healthy, sustainable lifestyles is thriving well into the next generation.