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Articles from 2009 In February

Delicious Living

Top supplements for pain relief

Top supplements for pain relief

Read related article: Ease the pain with natural remedies


HOW IT WORKS: An Ayurvedic remedy traditionally used to treat degenerative disorders, boswellia acts as an analgesic, or natural pain reliever. A 2008 study showed positive results for pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

DOSE: 250 mg three times per day between meals


HOW IT WORKS: This natural enzyme found in pineapple alleviates arthritis, headaches, and musculoskeletal tension by decreasing inflammation. Also stimulates healing in muscles and connective tissues.
DOSE: 250 mg three times per day between meals


HOW IT WORKS: Derived from the curry spice turmeric and used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammatory disorders, research shows that curcumin suppresses cytokines, naturally occurring pro-inflammatory proteins.
DOSE: 250 mg three times per day between meals

White willow bark

HOW IT WORKS:Contains salicin, a substance chemically similar to aspirin. Shown to decrease levels of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. In research, it relieved pain caused by degeneration of knee and hip cartilage as effectively as conventional medicine. Also recommended for back pain.
DOSE: 240 mg per day

Delicious Living

Top 5 stretches to stay flexible

Make stretching a priority before and after workouts, or anytime really, with these five top stretches for increasing and maintaining flexibility.

1. Back

Lie on your back on the floor, lift your knees, and squeeze them to your chest with your arms. Hold for a breath. Keeping your shoulders on the floor, slowly lower legs to the right. Let your back stretch for a breath; then lift your knees up and repeat on the left.

2. Hamstrings

Still on the floor on your back, grab your left leg behind the thigh, and pull it up. Slowly straighten out your leg until it's vertical. Lower it down to the ground. Repeat with your right leg.

3. Thighs

Lie on your right side. Reach down with your left hand and grab your left ankle. Slowly pull your ankle back toward your rear. Release after you feel a light stretch. Roll onto your left side and repeat with your right leg.

4. Shoulders and neck

While sitting upright, relax your shoulders and slowly turn your chin to your left shoulder, then to your right. Slowly cock your head to your right shoulder, then your left.

5. Hips

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly rotate your hips clockwise as if you were Hula-hooping. Complete 10-12 rotations and repeat, rotating counterclockwise.

New products - March 2009

Bob's Gluten FreeGluten-free product launches high-grain pizza crust mix
The new Gluten Free Pizza Crust Mix from Bob's Red Mill contains more than 50 per cent whole grains. The mix contains 4g of dietary fibre, 3g of protein and 28g of whole grains; it is the first of its kind available nationwide in mainstream and natural food stores. Bob's Red Mill's line of gluten-free products is manufactured in the company's dedicated gluten-free facility. Lab testing is performed during the production of each batch using the R5 Elisa Test to ensure gluten-free status. The company is based in Portland, Oregon.

Mexican vanilla extract
Meraby Co has created a gluten- and corn-free Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract. Most vanilla extracts are produced using wheat- or corn-based alcohol, but Meraby's is made with a sugar cane-based alcohol. The extract provides the same results as the national gourmet brands, but is safe for those with allergies, the company says.

Reduced-GI chips
Joseph Banks Cassava Chips of New Zealand are now available in the US market. Rich in fibre and carbohydrates, they are low salt and have a lower GI rating than potato chips. They also have 30 per cent less fat than regular potato chips. Cassava Chips have no cholesterol, trans fats, gluten or lactose; they are not genetically modified, and they are suitable for vegetarians. Ingredients include cassava, palm oil, maltodextrin, sea salt, cane sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, spinach powder, parsley flakes, vegetable oil and silica.

AlleragooAllergaroo expands distribution
Allergaroo, a maker of allergy-friendly, gluten-free, ready-made dishes, has expanded distribution of its products to King Soopers and Wegmans grocery stores.? The company's three products — Spaghetti, Chili Mac and Spyglass Noodles — will now appear in 55 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. The products are already available in 1,000 other groceries across the US, in addition to speciality online retailers. Allergaroo is owned and marketed by St. Louis-based Allergy Friendly Foods, which was founded in 2005. Allergaroo was named an Editor's Pick for Best New Products of 2008 by Progressive Grocer in September.

Vivi's Original Sauce' Carnival MustardsTrio of vegan sauces
Vivi's Original Sauce of California has launched Carnival Mustards, a trio of all-natural, wheat-gluten and fat-free sauces based on mustard, tomato and pickle. They are also vegan. Classic is a sweet and tangy sauce; Roasted Grandstand Garlic has a sweet and creamy roasted garlic flavor; and Sizzlin' Chipotle is smoky with a chipotle heat. Each has only 15 calories, 4g carbs and 3g of sugar per tablespoon. They can be used to bake, barbecue, marinate, spread, dip or sauté with favourite foods.

Cassava chips come to US
Arico Natural Foods Co has made its Cassava Chips available in the US for the first time. They are available in four flavours: Original, Sea Salt Mist, Barbecue Bliss and Ginger on Fire. Available in 5oz bags, the chips have 30 per cent less fat than potato chips and more fibre; they contain no cholesterol and are seasoned naturally. Free of gluten, they are also dairy and trans-fat free. Cassava roots are rich in starch and contain twice as much dietary fibre as potatoes.

For more on gluten-free developments, see Business Strategies.

Delicious Living

March 1, 2009

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Knowledge fights foodborne disease

The late chef extraordinaire Julia Child was famously quoted as having said, “It's so beautifully arranged on the plate—you know someone's fingers have been all over it.”

That's likely even more true today, and the consequences of all those fingers handling food can result in a variety of foodborne illnesses.

Hardly a week goes by without a report of another outbreak. Many are nationwide. The exotic-sounding names are becoming all too familiar: E. coli in spinach. Salmonella in peanut butter. Campylobacter in chicken. And the illnesses they cause can range from an upset stomach to kidney failure. Though rare, the result can even be death.

Yet food-safety experts say awareness and proper handling practices can, if not eliminate, at least help reduce the outbreaks.

Proper handwashing is the best way to help prevent norovirus.

“We fundamentally have a safe food system,” says Shelley Feist, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Food Safety Education.

Even so, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control estimates that 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur in the U.S. each year. The CDC says more than 250 foodborne diseases have been described. Most are infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

A CDC report of 2007 data issued last April concluded that little headway has been made in containing illnesses from food. The report was based on findings in 10 states gathered by the CDC's Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, or FoodNet, which compared the data to the previous three years, from 2004 to 2006.

The results: There were 17,883 confirmed cases of foodborne infections in 2007 in the 10 states. Campylobacter, listeria, salmonella, shigella, E.coli O157, vibrio and yersinia showed no significant declines, and Cryptosporidium actually increased compared with the 2004 to 2006 data, according to the CDC.

A couple notable findings from the report:

  • “Transmission of salmonella to humans can occur by many routes, including consumption of food animal products or raw produce contaminated with animal waste, contact with animals … and contaminated water. Outbreaks caused by contaminated peanut butter, frozen pot pies and a puffed vegetable snack in 2007 underscore the need to prevent contamination of commercially produced products.
  • “Although the [U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service] and the beef processing industry have implemented interventions to reduce ground-beef contamination, 21 beef-product recalls for possible contamination with [shiga-toxin-producing E. coli] O157 were issued.”

    “More needs to be done to make our food safer,” Robert Tauxe, Ph.D, deputy director of CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, says in a statement about the report. “We are constantly working to help our public health system better detect, investigate and control outbreaks and to understand how to prevent foodborne illnesses from happening in the first place.”

    But if you think you can prevent getting sick by avoiding spinach or eschewing oysters or only eating organic or local, think again. Produce growing in fields is always going to be vulnerable to bird droppings and feces of animals of one kind or another romping through the crops. If you don't wash your hands, if you don't roast the chicken until it's thoroughly cooked and wipe off the counter after you've fixed lunch, you're just setting yourself up for sickness. Food-safety experts aren't being paranoid when they say foodborne illnesses can lurk in everything.

    “All foods can be a concern,” says Catherine Strohbehn, Ph.D., Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management Extension specialist at Iowa State University in Ames. “Historically, the attention has been placed on potentially hazardous foods, those with high nutrient levels and moisture which will allow for bacterial growth such as poultry. However, there have been widespread outbreaks from viral and bacterial sources on foods we traditionally have not been concerned with, such as fresh produce.”

    Good agricultural practices as well as caution in food selection, storage, handling and preparation are key in every case.

    Proper handwashing, for example, is the best way to help prevent norovirus, another common foodborne illness. E. coli is what Strohbehn calls a “horrific illness. But research has pretty well shown that cooking is a good control mechanism.”

    Feist's Partnership for Food Safety Education puts it simply: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

    The middlemen— retailers—play an important role.
    “Some of these pathogens are naturally occurring. They're going to be in food,” Feist says. “So they have to be cooked properly, chilled properly.”

    An alphabet of government agencies—USDA, FDA, CDC—have stringent rules and regulations to try to keep food safe and to hunt down illnesses.

    And while awareness and safety from farm to table are critical, the middlemen—retailers—play an important role.

    “Consumers really appreciate it when retailers provide information and help,” says Feist, whose organization recently formed an offshoot——that provides resources for grocery stores to use to help their customers. Signage and informational printed material are some of the tools available. So far, more than 50 retailers—from the giant grocery chains to small independents—are members. Feist says the next push is to sign up suppliers.

    Experts say that as awareness and publicity increase, reports of foodborne illnesses are likely to rise. When in the past you might have just suffered through a bout of stomach cramps and diarrhea, now you could be more apt to go to the doctor and try to figure out what made you sick.

    The government has rigorous systems in place to identify and track illnesses. Awareness is also going to help food handlers—be they farmers, food processors or grocery-store workers—stay vigilant as well.

    “Farmers are food handlers, too,” Strohbehn says. They have to know food-safety practices, too. Don't use the same gloves to plant the crops as you do to harvest them. Test the water. Train your farm workers, and provide toilets and hand-washing facilities.” Grocery stores must provide proper training and education for employees in food handling. The stores themselves must stay current on “use by” and “sell by” dates, and in temperature control of different foods.

    “All these things improve quality as well as safety,” Strohbehn says.

    Jane Hoback is a Denver-based freelance writer.

Better, not bitter, says Whitacre, SupplyExpo keynote

Second chances — not everyone can say they've had even one in life.

SupplyExpo keynote address by Mark Whitacre, COO, Cypress Systems - 3:30-5:00pm  - Friday, March 6, Room #204A  - Book signing to follow in the GSM, Hall A, Booth #130, from 5:00-6:30pmIf Mark Whitacre, PhD, keynote speaker for SupplyExpo were a feline, he would have easily used up his nine lives. As we sit at a beachfront hotel on Florida's gulf coast with Whitacre and his wife, Ginger, talking about the upcoming Warner Brother's movie, The Informant, starring Matt Damon as Whitacre, they both look as far removed from a life of prison cells and weekly visitations, FBI agents and court rooms as any average American couple could be.

Whitacre not only served as an informant for the FBI in the mid-1990s, in what would be declared the largest price-fixing case in US history, he was also convicted of fraud and served eight years in prison. The Informant chronicles this experience.

Just 18 months before our interview, Whitacre walked out of federal prison to his waiting wife. This was second chance No 1. Whitacre admits that Ginger's support during his imprisonment meant more than anything. On three occasions, Ginger packed up their family and home to live close enough to visit her husband on a weekly basis for those many years.

Such a long time behind bars allowed Whitacre to think about his future and come to grips with his life. "One of the most common phrases I heard from other inmates was, 'I'm innocent,'" Whitacre says. "I was the only prisoner who said, 'I am guilty.'" Whitacre vowed to use those years to better himself, by earning two more PhDs and a law degree, and formulate a plan to prevent others from following his ill-fated path.

He started his mission on the day he left prison. This was second chance No 2. Little did Whitacre know his decision to study selenium decades earlier at Cornell University would lead to an opportunity for a career do-over. While Whitacre was incarcerated, Paul Willis, CEO of Cypress Systems, contacted him out of gratitude. Willis says he owes the success of his company to Whitacre's early research on selenium, which ultimately led to the development of SelenoExcell. Without any reservations, Willis offered Whitacre a job as the COO of his company.

Whitacre refers to this paradoxical circumstance as a return to his roots. "When I decided to study selenium," he says, "I talked my way into the office of Dr Jerry Combs, the world's leading expert on selenium." Combs was so taken by his enthusiasm for the subject, he offered Whitacre a full-ride scholarship.

Today Whitacre is applying that same level of passion to selenium research, cancer prevention, and a message to future and current business leaders. Though Whitacre wore a wire for the FBI for three years, he accepted the role reluctantly. "I am the perfect example of someone who can do heroic acts and make mistakes simultaneously," he says.

"In all honestly, the reason this case happened is because of my wife, Ginger," Whitacre admits. "It had very little to do with me. I was a person stuck in the middle of something I had no interest in doing. In hindsight, I wish that I could have come forward and helped the FBI for all the right reasons, but at the time, I simply could not." He admits that he never would have stepped forward had it not been for his wife. She gave him an ultimatum: "tell the FBI or I will." "She is the true national hero," he says.

Whitacre believes that this level of personal conflict is more common today than people realize, but not everyone has a moral compass to guide their decisions. "Luckily, for me, people can also be forgiven from the very souls they love and cherish the most, and be welcomed back into the business world and society with support from the very people who imprisoned them."

Excerpt from
It is hard for most people to imagine what eight and a half years in federal prison is like. Measuring one's life in prison years is like living in slow motion and not just for me, but for my wife and children. In a sense, we all went to prison. I watched my children grow up in prison camp visiting rooms for almost a decade. I entered prison just before turning 41 and was released in December 2006, at age 49. Our youngest son was 6 years old when I started wearing a wire for the FBI; he was 12 when I went to prison, and 21 years old and a junior in college when I was released. I am very fortunate that my family stuck with me those many years. Ginger visited me in prison every weekend and every holiday.

Telling you this is not meant to make you feel sorry for me, or to make you think that I hold any anger or hostility toward ADM. My own self-destructive actions were the cause — not ADM. During my time in prison, I had a lot of time to think. My aim was to leave prison better not bitter, and the only way toward that goal was to focus on the letter that differentiates these two words — "I," not the three letters, "ADM."

Mark Whitacre,
Expo Keynote Speaker
March 6, 2009, 3:30-5:00pm,
Room 204A
Anaheim Convention Center
For SupplyExpo and co-located Natural Products Expo West attendees, the keynote will be an exclusive opportunity to hear and meet the man behind the movie and the people behind the case itself.

Along with the keynote
address, there will be a panel including:

  • Ginger Whitacre;
  • Paul Willis, CEO of Cypress Systems, who hired Whitacre and brought him back to selenium;
  • Dean Paisley, the FBI agent involved in the price-fixing case and Whitacre's fraud charges; and
  • James Lieber, an anti-trust lawyer, and author of the book, Rats in the Grain (Basic Books, 2000).

Whitacre and Lieber will be available to sign copies of Rats in the Grain throughout the show.

Functional ingredients company news

Vitamin plant to close
BASF will close one of its vitamin-manufacturing sites in Wilmingon, North Carolina, on March 31. About 33 jobs will be lost. The plant supplies vitamin C and B products for dietary supplements. The company's FreshSeal polymer-based coatings for vegetables and fruit will be transferred to another plant.

Cranberry distribution agreement
Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group has signed a distribution deal worth $96 million with Boesch Boden Spies, a global fruit- and nut-ingredient agency. The pact strives to bring Ocean Spray's juices and fruits to southern and eastern Europe. Boesch Boden Spies will distribute BerryFusion Fruits, sweetened dried cranberries and 100 per cent fruit puree.

spirulinaSpirulina product earns GRAS
Parry Nutraceuticals' organic spirulina product has been certified GRAS by an independent panel of former senior FDA and EPA toxicologists. The GRAS status is valid for uses up to 20g per day. Potential applications include drinks, cereals, fruit juices, frozen dairy desserts, candies, milk products, grain products, pastas and snacks. The Indian-based company is part of the Murugappa Group.

Pacific Rainbow on the grow
Citing a significant increase in sales in the first half of this year, Pacific Rainbow International of California is doubling its warehouse and office space at its headquarters. The new office space will be used to add additional sales and customer service personnel. The company recently added an additional salesperson to its Greenville, Pennsylvania, office. Established in 1995, Pacific supplies a full line of raw materials to the nutraceutical industry, including USP-certified chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine Hcl and sulfate, co-Q10, red yeast rice, Celadrin joint flexibility and relief, Inositol, and vitamin B12.

Cholesstrinol formulas win award
SourceOne Global Partners' Cholesstrinol family of heart-healthy formulas has received the Frost and Sullivan Heart Health Supplements Product Innovation of the Year Award. This award recognizes outstanding achievement and superior performance in the heart-health supplement marketplace.

Fiber 2.0 brochureFibre brochure now available
An overview of fermentable soluble fibre that includes consumer perceptions on nutrition and emerging research about the fibre's health benefits has been published by National Starch Food Innovation in a brochure titled, 'Fiber 2.0: Invisible in Your Food, Easy on Your Digestive System.' The publication explains how fermentable fibre (prebiotic), such as Nutriose soluble fibre, has been shown to mitigate many digestive diseases and improve overall digestive health. Fibre classifications and definitions are also detailed, as well as information on resistant starches.

Lactic-acid website
In response to requests from consumers who have seen 'lactic acid' listed on ingredient panels, Purac has launched a new informational website at Lactic acid is a naturally occurring compound in fermented foods such as cheese, yoghurt, soy sauce, meats and pickled vegetables. It is also used in manufacturing as a preservative or acidity regulator.

Fruit pureé-maker buyout
Tree Top has completed an agreement to acquire Sabroso, headquartered in Medford, Oregon. Sabroso is the nation's largest processor and seller of single-strength and concentrated fruit pureés, and a leading provider of dried-fruit flakes and fruit preparations for the ingredient and food-service channels. It has manufacturing facilities in Medford and Woodburn, Oregon, and Oxnard, California.

GreenGrown glucosaminePatent to ID glucosamine source
Ethical Naturals of San Anselmo, California, has filed a patent that will provide assurance that its GreenGrown glucosamine comes from a vegetable source. The bulk of glucosamine on the market is derived from shellfish, but GreenGrown is derived entirely from plant sources, and is therefore safe for individuals who have shellfish allergies. Using standard analytical techniques, it is difficult to distinguish whether glucosamine of USP quality is derived from shellfish or vegetable sources, the company explains, which opens the door to potential abuse in labelling. Ethical Naturals' analytical process is based upon a system of genetic fingerprint analysis, and identifies unique characteristics in both shellfish- and vegetable-based glucosamines.

Could nanotech deliver sustainable food supplies?

With the sustainability of the world's food supplies under threat, a group of respected scientists has risked courting controversy by suggesting nanotechnology could be part of the solution.

In a new report, Vital Ingredient — Chemical Science and Engineering for Sustainable Food, the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institution of Chemical Engineers argue that the contentious technology could help enhance delivery of nutrients and improvement of the diet in a world where access to food can no longer be taken for granted.

"Nanotechnology will provide the food industry with more capability and precision, which will in turn make processes more efficient and sustainable, both in manufacturing and in subsequent digestion," the report said.

The report cited as a potential application the use of nanoemulsions to preserve omega-3 fats, which are prone to oxidise quickly. "The need for mechanisms to control the delivery of functional ingredients within the body has focused on the development of nanostructures such as encapsulation systems used to provide protection against environmental factors, and controlled release and nutrient delivery," the report said.

The authors write that nanotech "can play a role in increasing the content and bioavailability of micronutrients of food, which are taken either as supplements, added to fortify existing foods or optimised in new raw materials and processes."

Their comments will not please the many critics of nanotech, who claim not enough is known about the safety of the technology. In a recent report, the US Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies warned this meant consumers were "potentially exposed to unknown risks."


Proposed organic fish rules make waves with producers and environmentalists


A filet of wild Alaskan salmon would seem to be about as inherently organic as food can get, right? Bzzt. So what's the catch? The question of what criteria should define organic fish has caused headaches for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulators and scientists for years and led many to believe that an organic standard for fish would never be established in the United States. But, for the first time, a USDA-appointed advisory board has agreed upon a set of rules for labeling farm-raised fish as organic.

You would think this move would please fish farmers because they are inching closer to being able to tap into a growing food trend. After all, according to Nutrition Business Journal research, U.S. sales of organic meat, poultry and other animal protein grew 27.3% to $606 million in 2008. U.S. sales of fish that have been certified as organic in Europe jumped 42.2% to $8 million last year and grew 70% to $6 million in 2007 — thus illustrating the growing consumer demand for organic in this category.

But the USDA's recommended organic fish standards — which grew out of the agency's attempt at balancing the interests of stakeholders in the organic and fish industries — have actually ended up upsetting involved parties on both sides of the issue. Some aquaculture producers claim the standards are too difficult to achieve. Environmentalists and organic advocates, on the other hand, believe they are too lax and will muddy the waters of what “organic” means.

The Proposed Rules

Organic rules for poultry, pork and beef were implemented by the USDA in 2002. In November 2008, the Aquaculture Working Group (AWG) — a USDA-appointed advisory assembly comprised of farmers, food processors, organic certifiers, consumers and environmentalists — approved standards for organic farmed fish. These recommended standards allow up to 25% of the total feed mix fed to farm-raised fish to originate from wild-caught fish and other wild aquatic animals. They also permit the use of open-net pens for raising organic fish.

AWG did rule that wild fish — including even salmon filets from the pristine waters of Alaska — would not pass muster of organic certification because it would be impossible to control the environments in which wild fish live, breed and, ultimately, are caught. Most experts agree with this stance. “How do you know with wild fish?” asked Patty Lovera, the assistant director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. “Organic production is carefully tracked. It's very transparent, and you know what happened to that food, and you know what the environmental impacts were.” Still, wild fish can sometimes be healthier than organic for both humans and the environment, Lovera added. “For many foods, we recommend organic — but not necessarily with fish. It depends on the species.” For example, Food & Water Watch recommends wild-caught Alaskan salmon over farm-raised salmon. But for tilapia or catfish, the organization gives the green light to farm-raised fish. (The Food & Water Watch Web site — — lists all of its fish recommendations by species.)

It's unclear when the USDA will approve the recommended rules for organic farmed fish. The National Organic Program, which is part of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, first will review the advisory board's suggestions, said USDA spokesperson Joan Shaffer. From there, a proposed organic fish rule will be released, followed by a public comment period. “Nothing much has happened as far as the process goes,” said Shaffer, who added that a timeline for the completion of this process has yet to be established.

Pushing for Certification

Although the process is still in the early stages, the recommended standards have already made waves. Some aquaculture producers applaud the effort, noting that fish decorated with the USDA Organic seal would gain the respect — and dollars — of consumers. “Once the USDA got involved in land-based proteins and fruits and vegetables, certain credibility came to the [Organic] seal,” said John Battendieri, CEO and co-founder of Blue Horizon Seafood, a supplier of sustainably harvested wild and certified clean-farmed seafood. According to Battendieri, Blue Horizon's revenues saw 100% growth last year, with sales being evenly generated among natural & specialty grocers, club stores and mass market stores.

Blue Horizon will soon launch three new seafood appetizers, which include wild Alaskan salmon, Alaskan pollock or albacore tuna. The fish in these products are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as “sustainably harvested wild,” meaning that the wild fisheries and catch methods used to secure the fish are considered sustainable based on third-party audits.

Blue Horizon's shrimp, which are farmed by Langosmar in Ecuador, have passed European organic certification by three independent organic certification agencies accredited by the USDA: Naturland (Germany), EcoCert (Germany) and Quality Certification Services (Florida). Monterey County Certified Organic and Quality Assurance International, which are both based in California, are other certification agencies accredited by the USDA that have provided organic verification for Blue Horizon's shrimp products, Battendieri said. “[Still] we have not yet been able to get final USDA organic aquaculture regulations and standards implemented,” Battendieri added. The company, therefore, cannot adorn its shrimp products with the USDA Organic seal, which is why Blue Horizon uses the term “clean farmed” instead of “organic.”

“There would be less confusion among seafood consumers if the USDA were to develop [organic] aquaculture standards, and we could use the [USDA Organic] seal on our products,” Battendieri said.

Adding to Consumer Confusion

Environmental and organic advocates disagree, arguing that passing a standard that is weaker than the original USDA organic rules could lead to more consumer confusion. On this note, they point to several issues with the proposed standard. First, many argue that the allowances made for diet and living conditions in the organic fish recommendations are, well, fishy. For USDA organic certification of land-based animals, such as cows or pigs, organic feed must be used exclusively. Such a rule could be applied to tilapia and other fish that can live on a vegetarian diet, because organic vegetarian fish feed exists. But carnivorous fish, such as salmon, eat other fish — and under the USDA's recommended organic fish standard, organic fish could be fed a certain percentage of fishmeal and fish oil made from wild fish, which cannot be certified organic.

The use of non-organic feed for farm-raised fish is problematic on many levels, said the Food & Water Watch's Lovera. “One of the major impacts of aquaculture is that you're raiding the supply of wild fish to make fish feed for fish in farms,” Lovera explained. “Also, the principle of organic is that you control the inputs — you vouch for what's in there. That doesn't fit for wild food. We don't know what was in that fish-based feed if it's caught in the marine environment.” The danger, Lovera added, is that wild fish can carry toxins, including dioxins and PCBs. Allowing the use of such contaminated feed for organically certified fish could reduce the overall value of USDA organic certification, critics of the proposed rules maintain.

Environmentalists also worry about the waste created by fish farms using open-net pens, which are allowed in the proposed rules. That's because open-net pens allow fish exrement, leftover food and the chemicals used to deal with these materials to flow into the ocean environment. “We don't like [open-net pens] in general,” said Lovera. “But we really don't like them being eligible for a premium label like organic that people are motivated to buy because they think it's better for the environment.”

Too Extreme?

Sebastian Belle, the executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, a former fish farmer and a member of the AWG, agrees with environmentalists on another negative associated with open-net pens: Fish can escape from them. Still, Belle said that while this is likely to occur, it is an acceptable risk of fish farming.

The real problem, Belle said, is that the rules are simply too difficult to adhere to for producers. “I have always hoped that we would have a set of organic standards that establish a high bar but are also achievable,” he said. “My concern is that the latest set of recommendations that came out is so extreme, in response to pressure from the environmental community, and in some cases not practical.”

As an example, Belle explains that under the proposed rules, no farm could have more than 0.5% escapes from its open-net pens. If the number of fish escapes exceeds that limit, the farm's organic status would be revoked. “The reality is that there is no fish-counting method out there in the world that has that level of precision,” said Belle. “By establishing a 0.5 percent standard, it's going to be impossible for a farmer to prove that, in fact, they haven't had escapes over that percentage amount. That's an example of where [the rules are] not practical.”

Another point of contention: Organic fish farmers must raise only native fish of the local genotype, and producers say such a criterion produces yet another roadblock for aquaculture companies. “If you think about it, what farmer in the world, terrestrial or aquatic, is growing stocks that are identical to wild animals,” said Belle. “The very nature of farming means that you select for animals that do well on the farm, as you should.” But environmental advocates say requiring organic fish farmers to breed only native fish of the local genotype will help to limit the ecological and biological problems caused by interspecies breeding. For example, Lovera said that Atlantic salmon farm raised in the Pacific can escape and breed with wild fish and, in the process, damage the wild species' competitive advantages in the ocean environment.

Keeping the Bar High

Regardless of the fine points of the debate, no one disputes that consumers respond positively to the USDA Organic label. According to NBJ's research, U.S. sales of organic foods and beverages have grown to more than $21 billion since the release of the USDA organic rules in 2002. “But I think consumers are responding to it because it's one of the more rigorous standards,” said Lovera, who added that she doesn't believe consumers will be interested in having a USDA organic fish standard that is less rigorous than other USDA organic rules.

Lovera may have a point. A Consumers Union poll of 1,001 random adults released in November 2008 found that 93% of respondents think fish labeled organic should be fed with 100% organic feed, as occurs with other USDA certified organic animals. In the poll, nine in 10 consumers also said organic fish farms should be required to recover waste and not pollute the environment.

“One of the arguments we're making is that you don't dumb down the standards, you don't lower the bar so farmed fish can make it,” Lovera said. “You hold the bar high and you make farmed fish [producers] improve their practices until they can reach the bar that other organic food is reaching.”

Although keeping the standards as high as possible will likely mean fewer organic fish are produced, Lovera said this isn't necessarily a bad thing. “Is it the USDA's job to grow organic or is it the agency's job to set good standards so the organic principles are upheld?” Because it is possible to grow plant-based fish food organically, Lovera suggests starting smaller with an organic standard that only applies to vegetarian-fed fish, such as tilapia. Building this system, Lovera said, will automatically generate a fishmeal and fish oil supply for the carnivorous fish higher up on the food chain, thus eliminating the need for using wild fish as food for organic farm-raised fish.

But Belle said he has two problems with Lovera's suggestion. “[First], under the classical definition of vegetarian, neither a carp nor a tilapia is vegetarian — they are omnivores,” explained Belle, who added that responsible animal husbandry means meeting all of the nutritional requirements of a farmed animal.

Second, Belle doesn't think growing one species of animal to turn into a feed ingredient for another species of animal will necessarily produce a smaller environmental footprint. “I would argue that it's probably not a low-impact strategy,” said Belle. “You're in some cases doubling or tripling production needs in order to grow those animals.”

Environmentalists and aquaculture producers do share one common goal: cutting out the middle fish so seafood farming becomes sustainable. “Even the most commercially oriented aquaculture folks today realize that we need to develop effective feed substitutes for fishmeal and fish oil,” said Belle. “If we don't, we won't have enough feed for a growing sector [of the business].”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, fish caught to make fishmeal and fish oil represent one-third of the global fish harvest. Research is under way to find other sources of acceptable fish-feed protein, such as worms or algae.

Whether the final organic fish standards remain a balance of interests, as they are under the current recommendations, or whether they get looser in favor of producers or stricter in favor of environmentalists, only time will tell. And it likely will take time, said the USDA's Shaffer. “For the initial organic rules, it took 10 years and about 300,000 comments before approval [was given].”

The NBJ Bottom Line

Given the varied and somewhat contentious viewpoints surrounding the new proposed organic rules for farm-raised fish, Nutrition Business Journal decided to ask Jylle Lardaro, New Hope Natural Media's director - organic industry, what she thinks about the proposed standard and what it will mean for the organic industry at large. Here's what she had to say: “The USDA has made accommodations to grow the industry when it should be focused on growing organic integrity. I also think they have set the stage for increased confusion for consumers. Now a consumer has to make further distinction regarding organic labels: When a label says ‘USDA Organic' and it's dairy or meat or produce, the label means this; but when it's seafood, it means something else. Do we really need more ways to confuse consumers over what USDA certified organic means?”


Private label keeps organic growing in sour economy

With sales slowing for the first time in years, the once-booming $21 billion organic food industry has proven it's not recession-proof. Still, industry experts are not bracing for a total gobbling up of their organic trade by lower-cost, conventional competitors. Rather, they're banking on a re-energized force in the field — private label — to keep consumers interested in and buying organic through the downturn.

Nutrition Business Journal research shows that total U.S. consumer sales of both branded and private-label organic foods and beverages grew 12% to $21.1 billion in 2008. This was down from about 17% growth in 2007. The growth picture becomes brighter, however, when you separate out private label. In fact, a report issued by the Nielsen Co. found that private-label organic unit sales jumped a whopping 44% from 2007 to 2008 (based on UPC-coded products sold in mass market stores, excluding Wal-Mart). In comparison, during that same time period, unit sales of branded organic products increased a meager 3.4%, Nielsen reports.

“We have seen organic branded products experiencing big downfalls, and we're not — we continue to grow,” said Pat Nicolino, vice president of marketing for Clement Pappas & Co., maker of private-label organic juices. “Frankly, it's the best time in the world to be in the private-label business.”

The Price Is Right for Private Label

Price has long been thought of as the magnet drawing consumers to store-brand products — and rightly so. On average, private-label offerings can cost anywhere from 10% to 30% less than similar branded products. Retailers are able to keep the prices of their private-label products low because they typically don't have the marketing and advertising expenses associated with branded products.

Now, more than ever, private label's affordability factor is playing a major role in its sales success, especially for organic. Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior research analyst at the Chicago-based research firm Mintel, cites the success of private-label organic products at stores such as Wegmans and Safeway as proof that consumers are increasingly willing to “trade down” from branded products to private label in the current economy.

“In this economy, consumers are trading down, and private label is a natural trade down,” said Scott Van Winkle, managing director of Boston-based Canaccord Adams. “Whole Foods Market is growing its private-label organic; the big retailers are, too.”

According to Nielsen, private-label organic categories with the steepest jump in unit sales in 2008 compared with 2007 were dairy (37.6% compared with 1.9% for branded products), dry grocery (36.3% to 7.1%), fresh produce (66.7% to negative 7%), and alcoholic beverages (40.8% to 17.2%). (These numbers are based on manufacturer labeling practices and include products with organic claims on their package labels or the USDA Organic seal.)

“Our produce has been up huge,” said Mike Gilliland, CEO for Sunflower Farmers Markets, which has earned a reputation for offering lower-priced private-label organic and natural produce and other products. “That's probably a function of how the restaurant business is down and grocery stores are up. But private-label organics tend to outpace the branded products off our shelves.” Sunflower has about 1,000 SKUs of pre-packaged private-label products, including about 500 food items. Of those food items, about 30% are organic. The goal, Gilliland said, is to continue increasing the organic percentage by adding about 100 SKUs each year.

Pasta sauce and salsa rank as Sunflower's top organic private-label sellers, Gilliland said. “They're just something people buy every day, and their price point is very compelling,” he said, noting that the Sunflower brand — which carries a logo with the store's motto of “serious food; silly prices” — can be $1 or $2 cheaper than a branded counterpart.

For Safeway's popular O Organics brand, frozen pizzas have been popular, award-winning hits, said O Organics spokesperson Mia Herron, who noted that two additional frozen pizzas will be added to the line in the coming weeks. O for Baby and O for Toddler — which feature organic formula, jarred foods, cereals and snacks — have garnered a lot of praise from parents, said Teena Massingill, Safeway's manager of corporate public affairs.

In the beverage category, coffee saw the greatest private-label product development growth from 2003 to 2008, expanding from one to 23 products. Tea and juice were next, both increasing from three to 11 items, Mintel reports.

If the recession deepens, Mogelonsky said she predicts money-crunched consumers will become even more selective in their organic product purchases. For instance, produce has always been a major driver for organic sales because of pesticide concerns. But over the last few months, advocacy organizations such as the Environmental Working Group have tried to educate consumers about those produce products they should absolutely purchase in organic form — such as apples, peaches, bell peppers, pears, celery, potatoes, cherries, raspberries, imported grapes, spinach, nectarines and strawberries — while de-emphasizing the need to make other produce purchases organic, most notably fruits with protective peels.

While dairy has also claimed a lead spot as a sales driver for organic because of public concern about antibiotics and bovine growth hormones, the recession is forcing many consumers to bypass organic altogether in their trade down to a more economical product, Mogelonsky said. “When organic milk is $6 a gallon, your husband has lost his job, and you're worried about your future, you might turn to the cheaper natural milk, which also has no bovine hormones.”

Although the organic milk business has been hit hard by the recession — dairy giant HP Hood recently announced that it won't renew contracts with eight organic dairy farmers to deal with softening consumer demand — Mark Retzloff, president of Aurora Organic Dairy, a major producer of store-brand organic milk, said he's glad to be in the private-label organic dairy business. “All of our business is store brand, and that makes us fortunate,” he said. “The move toward private label began happening well before this economic crisis because retailers wanted to communicate who they are and what they are doing through their own brands.”

Aurora met its revenue goals in 2008, even though the “fourth quarter was a little soft,” Retzloff told NBJ in late February. “Overall, we were fairly close to, if not right on, budget. For the first quarter of 2009 we are above where we were [at this time] last year, but in general sales are softer than we thought they would be. I think everyone is feeling that.”

Quality Drives Sales

Although the price is often right for private label, Clement Pappas & Co.'s Nicolino and many others in the industry credit a changing perception of store brands as a chief reason for recent private-label growth. “The whole aura surrounding private label has changed so radically,” Nicolino said, adding that the attitude shift has touched both consumers and retailers. Recognized for its 100% juices, Clement Pappas began its line of 15 organic juices in 2003 and now offers retailers more than 40 organic- and natural-juice choices for their private-label brands.

On the retail side, stores are taking more pride in their own brands — and this is impacting shopping behavior. “It's no longer black-and-white boxes given the lowly status of the bottom shelves,” Nicolino said.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is Safeway's O Organic line, which is backed by bold packaging, prime store placement and skillful marketing. Launched in December 2005, O Organics has grown into a $400-million-plus business and now includes more than 300 USDA certified organic products, including baby and toddler items, supplements, a growing range of frozen foods and numerous meal-component offerings. BrandWeek reported in September that Safeway is banking on O Organics becoming a $1 billion brand within the next two to four years.

To deliver on these revenue goals, Safeway is sending the brand out of its 1,740 stores to be sold in food-industry establishments and even competitors' stores. In May 2008, Safeway, its subsidiary Lucerne Foods and a conglomeration of other companies joined forces to launch the Better Living Brands Alliance with the goal of getting the O Organics line and Safeway's natural brand Eating Right into food-service operations and other grocery stores. According to Massingill, Safeway felt both O Organics and Eating Right had universal appeal and were well positioned for expansion. “It was clear that they would be successful in geographies where Safeway does not operate stores and in non-retail environments, such as in college cafeterias,” Massingill said. BrandWeek reports that the Better Living Brands Alliance has brought O Organics and Eating Right to retailers in Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The brands are also now being used in numerous food-service operations, including those at Arizona State University and within Google's corporate cafeterias.

The hope is to expand Safeway's mission of putting affordable organic products in consumers' hands. “This just seemed like the most obvious next step,” Herron said. “By selling into other retailers, it allows them a sort of turn-key solution to offering organic.”

This “turn-key solution” was positioned front and center at the recent Natural Products Expo West tradeshow, where O Organics was a sponsor and large exhibitor. During the event, the company showcased the wide range of O Organic SKUs, as well as the awards it has won for the brand (including the Consumer Survey of Product Innovation's 2009 Product of Year award that its Four Cheese Stone Baked Pizza won earlier this year in the frozen meal category). Nowhere was the Safeway logo to be found around the O Organics booth or on the brand's product packaging during Expo West. “We no longer consider O Organics to be private label — it's a stand-alone brand,” O Organics brand manager Julie Shryne told NBJ.

Building Staying Power

Whether retailers have a private-label line or are preparing to launch one, most in the industry agree there is one thing absolutely essential for success: offering a quality product. Those who fulfill that requirement will find they can attract dedicated consumers as well as any branded company can, said Jane Drinkwalter, vice president of sales at Vitamer, a manufacturer of private-label supplements.

Knowing your consumers and catering to their changing needs is also key to private-label survival, Nicolino said. The longtime demographic for organics buyers — educated, higher-income families — has begun to expand to a younger, lower-income group of adults buying organic for themselves, she said. For the company's family buyers, Clement Pappas offers 64-ounce bottles juice in mostly classic flavors, such as apple and grape. For its newer customer group, however, it offers 32-ounce sizes in a variety of flavors, including tomato, cranberry and pomegranate. Cranberry is a big seller because of growing research and publicity about the berry's influence on urinary-tract health.

Staying attentive to health trends and being innovative are important to success, as well, Mogelonsky said. “It used to be common for private label to wait around and see what was doing well mainstream-wise before adding products, [because] by then, people had already established purchasing habits.”

Retailers also are beginning to name and market their private-label products in ways that mimic branded manufacturers, and this is another trend that is helping to fuel sales. Supervalu, for example, launched a natural and organic line in 2008 called Wild Harvest. The brand, which the chain has said will grow to 300 SKUs, is being supported a full-blown marketing campaign, including print, TV, radio and online advertising that is built around the slogan “organify your world.”

Offering private label — and even providing different price or quality tiers within a company's portfolio of store-branded products — is smart in the organic world, where consumers are often driven by intense concerns and beliefs. That's because organic food buyers are not going to sway far from those beliefs, recession or not, Drinkwalter said. “I'm one of those purchasers; and, yes, the economy is tough, but I still don't want hormones in my milk.”

At Whole Foods Market, branded organic customers who want to save money in the current recession can simply stroll down the store's aisles to find a growing range of less-expensive private-label products. Reaching out to different economic brackets, Whole Foods has expanded its 365 Everyday Value and 365 Organic offerings to more than 2,300 SKUs. The organic giant has had great success with its private-label brands, especially given its tiered product approach, Mogelonsky said. “These products are designed to cover the full spectrum of category needs — from the highest-quality, value entry-point products to super-premium, unique offerings that cater to true food aficionados,” the company's CEO, John Mackey, wrote in Whole Foods' 2008 annual report. Private-label sales in grocery accounted for approximately 25% of Whole Foods' total retail sales during the company's 2008 fiscal year, up from 18% the previous year, the company reported.

Whole Foods' focus on private-label is part of the company's strategy to change the public perception that shopping in its stores will drain one's wallet. Organic, which suffers from a similar perception that its products are simply too expensive, can also benefit from the price advantage that comes with private label, Mogelonsky said. “Seventy-eight percent of people [Mintel] surveyed said they would buy more organic foods if it were less expensive,” she said. “People still want to buy organics, but they don't have that much money.”

This makes it the opportune time for even mid-size retailers to make the private-label plunge and reel consumers in, Mogelonsky added.

If consumers get hooked, private-label organic will continue to do well — even after the recession ends, Mogelonsky said. “If you like the flavor and the presentation and the quality, why would you switch back to a branded label?”

Organic Supplements Join Ranks of Private-Label Products

Supplements is one category where Safeway's O Organics is making a particularly deliberate push with the line of 12 organic supplement products the company launched last September. The line includes vitamin C, calcium, iron, cranberry, garlic, St. John's wort, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, green tea and Echinacea. “It's our most recently launched category, and it's the largest line of organic supplements available in mainstream grocery retailers,” said O Organics spokesperson Mia Herron.

Even smaller retailers, such as Sunflower Farmers Markets, are jumping in on the organic vitamin action. Sunflower will soon debut an organic berry-blend supplement and a whole-foods-based, organic vitamin line, said JoAnn Baker, director of the store's Natural Living department. Vitamer, a manufacturer of premium private-label supplements, launched its Ultimate Organics collection in spring 2007, and the line continues to grow, said Jane Drinkwalter, vice president of sales at Vitamer. “We wanted to keep our customers on the forefront of the best trends for the industry, and, clearly, organics is it,” she said. “It's good for the person, and it's good for the environment.” Vitamer's vanilla organic soy protein powder has been a particularly good seller, growing 318% in 2008, Drinkwalter reported. The chocolate version grew 180%.

According to Drinkwalter, one of the biggest challenges for Vitamer has been finding the 100% organic ingredients needed for supplement manufacturing, such as excipients. Phil Vigeant, CEO and vice president of Reliance Private Label Supplements, told Natural Products Expo West attendees in March that many processing and manufacturing aids in the supplements industry also do not meet organic standards. This means that under current USDA organic food rules, most supplements can typically only meet the “made with organic” standard, which states that the product contains 70% organically produced ingredients. Adding supplements to an organic private-label line can also be difficult because of their typically higher price points, Vigeant said.

Despite these challenges, Vitamer has continued adding to its Ultimate Organics line and plans to release an organic multivitamin later this year.