Natural Foods Merchandiser

Organic Harvest Month Ripe With Opportunities

Produce Perspectives

12th time? Over the years, stores and communities have come up with creative ways to celebrate. I?ve seen everything from organic country fairs and barn dances to retailers hosting grade-school educational events.

And this year is no exception. From coast to coast, events such as the Pure Food Partners? Organicfest 2004 in Asheville, N.C., on Sept. 11 and the Tilth Organic Harvest Fair in Seattle on Sept. 18 will celebrate just about everything organic.

The media is taking notice, too. The San Francisco Chronicle recently focused on organic foods in its Sunday magazine, and the New York Times Magazine will publish an ?It?s Only Natural? section Oct. 17.

What are you doing? It?s not too late to plan something for your store. Here are some suggestions adapted from the Organic Trade Association?s list:

  • You may be able to get local organic farmers or manufacturers to come into the store at the end of the month to sample their fresh, organic produce or products.
  • If you can?t get local producers to sample, then do it yourself. Have every department get involved with some sort of special sampling.
  • Download some coloring pages from (click on the O?Kid section), and hold a coloring contest.
  • Set up a display table in the front of the store during peak shopping hours. Encourage customers to ask questions about organic.

And while you?re at it, make sure your staff knows the answers to the questions. Over the past year, I have been in several stores that either were not in compliance with organic standards or whose staff was simply not well-educated. For example:

  • Several stores had bulk bins where conventional products could fall into an organic product below.
  • Some had produce signs with statements like ?GE-free?—with no way to prove such a statement—or ?Grown in accordance with the California Organic Food Act of 1990,? which only confuses customers, now that the national rule supersedes state regulations.
  • Some had salad bars where customers had to guess which ingredients were organic.
  • Some had organic and conventional produce commingling.
  • There were stores where staff couldn?t guarantee whether the back room sink was cleaned between washing the conventional peanut butter bucket and starting the organic produce prep.
  • Several stores accepted products that weren?t properly labeled; many didn?t know what the labeling requirements were.

Many stores do a very good job, but I don?t think any store is perfect—not even the certified ones.

There are always several people who can?t give me a good basic definition of organic or what genetically engineered means. Does your staff know the basics? What do they tell customers who ask about organic? Do they know what GE is? Could they tell you what transitional means?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a fact sheet on its Web site, detailing how retailers can comply with the National Organic Program. Go to, and download it. Have each of your employees walk the store to test their knowledge and identify any areas of noncompliance.

Go to and download the National Organic Standards Board?s definitions of organic and genetically modified and have every employee learn them.

The growth in the organic industry isn?t going to slow down anytime soon, and the next round of growth will come from mainstream shoppers, who will look to you and your staff for reliable information.

For this harvest celebration, let?s prepare ourselves by making a few simple adjustments in our routines and investing time to make sure we are the organic experts our customers think we are.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 9/p. 38

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