From cosmetic mushrooms and juice-inspired natural scents to biodynamic skin care and bath soaks for the healthy lifestyle, check out this year’s natural beauty A-List from Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim.
From cosmetic mushrooms and juice-inspired natural scents to biodynamic skin care and bath soaks for the healthy lifestyle, check out this year’s natural beauty A-List from Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim.
From materials sourcing to a product's shape, structure and message, sustainability in packaging encompasses many forms. David Gray a partner with Green Seed Contract Packaging helps dissect the topic at Natural Products Expo West.
Are you a bit mystified by the concept of branding? You know it is important, but you just don't really know how or when to focus on it. You are not alone.
Jennifer Love, business coach and founder & CEO of NibMor Chocolate, offers advice for startups in her JLoveTV series. In this episode of JLoveTV, her guest Julie Cottineau, the former VP of brand management for Virgin, helps you uncover the mystery of branding. You don't want to miss out on the tips they discuss to help you create a strong brand.
After you watch this episode, we want to hear about what tactics you think will really help your business and how you are going to put them to use.
Innovation fuels the growth in the consumer package goods industry. New products create excitement and keep consumers coming back. The natural channel is the incubator, or the R&D department, of the natural products industry.
It's always exciting to see all of the new products at Expo. This year was no exception. It never ceases to amaze me how creative companies and brands can be with ingredients, branding, products, and marketing. I saw everything from ground-up bug guts to dancing monkeys this year. It was a lot of fun.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for me about the natural channel is the ability for a creative person to turn an idea into a viable product in an extremely short amount of time. For example, Mega Food turned a concept into a new product in just months and launched at Expo. There were hundreds of other stories of brands capitalizing on consumer trends by differentiating themselves with new and innovative flavors, aromas, and product features.
Innovation like this in mainstream typically take several years, involves huge committees, requires a lot of focused consumer research, and cost a tremendous amount of money. Consumer focus groups typically consist of paid volunteers to share their opinions about products behind a one-way mirror. Strategies are very scientific and impersonal - the Ivory Tower approach to marketing. It may take a big CPG company two or three years to launch a new product from scratch.
The reason most CPG companies put so much emphasis on this with their innovation (new products), is because the cost of failure is so great. Several years ago I worked for the largest CPG company in the world. They launched a new product into a very competitive category. To kick off the launch they provided all of us with reams of marketing research, competitive information, retailer category sales data, new item presentations, and samples. Despite the massive effort on all of our parts the product failed to meet the brand’s expectations and was discontinued within five months. I heard estimates that the “experiment” cost the company over $100 million. This taught me a valuable lesson that I will never forget. It is at the heart of many of my articles.
Natural companies are small and nimble. They are also extremely creative and passionate and willing to try new and different things. More importantly, they are fully engaged in the consumers who buy their products - in many cases new product concepts come directly from their interactions. This gives them a tremendous competitive advantage.
Another impressive aspect of the natural channel is the ability to test consumer preference, wants, and needs with actual shoppers, their friends, and their families. Imagine, doing consumer research with actual shoppers in their environment. Imagine getting instant feedback from people who actually buy and use the product more than once. Imagine being able to customize your product right away as you continue to develop it. Imagine how efficient it is to develop a product that consumers are actually searching for.
Expo is where the natural channel showcases it's new product concepts, ideas, and innovation. It's where we celebrate all that is good in our industry.
Both Kermit the Frog and the natural products industry are well aware that it’s not easy being green.
In addition to higher priced raw materials, ambiguous labeling terms (ahem, “natural”), and pressure to manufacture healthy and hyper-palatable foods that compete with Doritos, the organic movement receives little love from government—at least compared with conventional CPGs and monster agri-businesses.
We’ve known this for a while.
Food government agencies (USDA, FDA) have their fair share of revolving door hires from lobbyist groups like The Grocery Manufacturers of America, National Restaurant Association and agricultural biotech companies like Monsanto and DuPont. Plus, despite Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to encourage kids to eat healthier, tomato paste-topped pizza still counts as a serving of vegetables and limitations on junk food marketing to kids remain voluntary.
It is the combination of these suspiciously cozy friendships between agro-industry and congress that drove me to examine a statue that was recently installed in the National Statuary Hall located in the U.S. Capitol building. On Tuesday, March 25th, the seven-foot bronze statue of Norman Borlaug was placed in the National Statuary Hall. Lawmakers including house Speaker John Boehner, California’s Nancy Pelosi and Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell attended the statue’s induction.
I’ll first iterate that he was an exceptional man. Credited as “the man who saved a billion lives” and “the father of the Green Revolution,” Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for his work as a geneticist and plant pathologist. In the 1940s, he developed wheat mutations that adapted crops to different climates—especially in hunger-stricken regions like Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
Indeed, his contributions were invaluable to food science and stability. So wherein lies the rub? Not surprisingly, in later life he strongly favored genetic engineering.
“First and foremost, government must establish a regulatory framework to guide the testing and use of genetically modified crops,” wrote Borlaug in his 2000 essay, Agriculture in the 21st Century: Vision for Research and Development. “Let's not tie science's hands through excessively restrictive regulations … Farmers need to be motivated to adopt many of the desired improvements in input use efficiency (irrigation water, fertilizers, crop protection chemicals).” His views don’t sit well with those dedicated to fortifying non-GMO supply chains.
But my intention is not to argue on Borlaug’s ideals or those of non-GMO activists. That conversation is for a different day.
Installing Borlaug’s statue in the U.S. Capitol highlights and reinforces congressional support for a food system that so many disdain. Though Borlaug was an invaluable man who revolutionized food output, his discoveries also primed the United States and other countries to adopt a mono-ag system and (essentially) unbridled use of yield-boosting chemicals and fertilizers.
His laudation of genetically engineered seeds transferred power from farmers who historically saved seeds for subsequent seasons to powerful corporations whose business models rely on hawking one-time-use patented GMO seeds. (To Borlaug’s credit, he realized the shortcomings of this private sector trend. “Cooperation has also been declining among public sector institutions, partially because of the desire to protect proprietary information and partially because of problems of bureaucracy and egocentric behavior,” he later wrote.)
It’s good that Borlaug’s likeness now lives in Washington. But government's celebration of a GMO advocate indirectly dampens their support of the non-GMO movement—a bane for states establishing labeling laws and elected officials proposing federal labeling initiatives.
It's not like there's a shortage of outstanding organic pioneers, either. J.I. Rodale, for example, arguably the “father of organic” and founder of Rodale, Inc, was writing and experimenting with organic agriculture during the expansion of chemical farming in the 1940s and 1950s, according to New Hope Natural Media’s in-house organic expert Jody Mason.
Likewise, in response to rampant agricultural pesticide use, Rachel Carlson inspired millions to advocate for the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with her 1962 book Silent Spring.
Not until organic leaders are immortalized in bronze will we know that the natural industry has friends in high places. Only then, we will have truly arrived.
There are many varying approaches to defining natural product retail outlets. These stores are defined by annual sales, square feet of retail space, percentage of natural products versus supplement sales, and ownership structure. They include chains, independent natural supermarkets, health food stores, co-operatives and more.
The important distinction between these type of stores lies not in their programs, size or ownership structure, but rather in their ability to move product. Some independent natural supermarkets are in better locations and sell more product than the chain accounts (Whole Foods Market, Earth Fare, Sprouts, Natural Grocers) with whom they compete down the street.
In addition, there are cities in which the co-op store is the best in the region in terms of sales volume. Each of these store-types is serviced by the same distributors, works on similar margins and uses similar tools to drive sales.
Most brokers and manufacturers in the industry chose to define stores with an “A,” “B," or “C” rating. “A” represents the top tier accounts (regardless of formal “type”), “B” represents the middle tier and a “C” rating equates to a bottom-tiered outlet. Sometimes natural product supermarkets such as Whole Foods are designated “AA.”
The lines that distinguish between these ratings are blurred, but are generally based upon their ability to move product. Brokers use this rating to determine frequency of sales calls, while manufactures use these to target priorities in terms of sales strategy. Generally speaking, broker representatives make sales calls to “AA” and “A” stores on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis; “B” stores on a monthly to quarterly basis and “C” stores may be rarely visited, or may be contacted via telemarketing.
There are several answers.
-It’s easier and less time consuming than working the independent businesses. The difficulty comes when the manufacturer tries to define and implement programs when each retailer has its own set of promotional criteria and opinions as to what works and doesn’t work from a promotional standpoint.
-Getting distribution through the natural product supermarket chains often forces distribution through the major distributors. It is more difficult to make this distributor impact with the independent retailer business.
-Distribution in the natural product supermarket chains often proves influential in getting items authorized in mainstream supermarkets with natural sets.
This article is an excerpt from the Natural Products Field Manual, Sixth Edition, a guidebook and resource compendium for entrepreneurs in the natural products and specialty foods markets. Authors Bob Burke and Rick McKelvey describe it as “the book we wish we had when we were starting out.” The Field Manual is a no-brainer for anyone bringing natural, organic or specialty products to market. For more information, click here.
BoomAgers, the pioneering advertising agency in the aging space, and NMI, a leading research and global market intelligence provider to major brands, announced the release of their first collaborative Thought Leadership Report.
The Report, entitled Marketing’s Next Home Run, is a follow-up to BoomAgers’ 2013 report Boomers: Marketing’s Most Valuable Generation, which was released in collaboration with The Nielsen Company and was one of Nielsen’s most downloaded reports of the year.
“This is one of the most dramatic lifestyle shifts we’ve ever witnessed as 10,000 boomers retire each day for the next 17 years. They are leaving the traditional workplace and returning home, and marketers are faced with a huge opportunity to deliver products and solutions for the new ways the Boomers will live in and use their homes,” noted Peter Hubbell, BoomAgers founder and CEO.
“There are implications and opportunities for marketers of practically every product or service from consumer packaged goods to financial services, home improvement and even travel. We believe the new “home-centric” lifestyle that the boomers are moving toward will be a powerful catalyst for product and marketing innovation for brands that take the time to understand this dynamic,” Hubbell predicts.
NMI Managing Partner Steve French added, “The combination of NMI’s industry-leading research and analytics with BoomAgers’ deep insight into the values and behavior of the nearly 80 million Baby Boomers has resulted in a report that will be eye-opening for many product manufacturers and service providers who believe the boomers are yesterday’s consumers” and are focusing on other generational cohorts.”
To develop Marketing’s Next Home Run, NMI and BoomAgers synthesized proprietary data with unique, strategic insight into the behavior and values of the Boomer consumer. The Report quantifies and illuminates the modern face of aging and explores the implications for marketers as a result of the trends toward “aging in place,” as well as the renaissance of multi-generational households, the importance of home health care, the rebirth of environmentalism and the desire of many “retired” Boomers to keep on working or embark on a “second act” in their lives.
If the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) and Nielsen’s first education session at Natural Products Expo West is any indication of its popularity in future years, they are going to need a much bigger room. The hour-and-a-half session had the packed ballroom (and more than 100 more in the hallway, unable to squeeze in) hanging on every word.
What is the secret to where the markets are going? What will the typical consumer look like and want in 2018? How will buying patterns and shopping practices change in the next five years? How do you talk to a millennial consumer?
What manufacturer, retailer, broker or distributor wouldn’t want these answers? While there were some overarching themes presented, drilling down to more specific answers requires complex long-term market analysis, which is where industry consulting experts NMI and Nielsen stepped in.
The presentation was broken into three parts: the first by Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights at Nielsen; the second by Steve French, managing partner of NMI; and the third by Maryellen Molyneaux, president of NMI.
Where’s the growth?
The economic recovery has been real, but slow. So Todd Hale asks, “Why has there been no growth in the consumer products industry?”
There are a few main causes for this soft buying recovery, Hale says, most centered around these central factors: our population is not growing (0.7 percent population growth is the slowest rate since 1937); the median household income is slowing and wages are stagnating; fixed expenses are forcing reduced household purchases (prediction: inflation is coming); and the modern economic divide is very real.
Shifts in jobs from manufacturing to retail mean more part-time jobs and less income for many, particularly blacks and Hispanics, setting up a disparity that plays out across all of NMI and Neilsen’s future trend projections.
Not surprisingly, 52 percent of consumers report that high food prices affect what and how they buy. However, other factors are at play as well. Because the modern consumer prefers fresh (or the perception of fresh)—products purchased closer to the date of production—they are “shopping the perimeter” of the store. Thus, purchases are skewed toward meats and deli items, produce and even alcohol. Consumers are also spending more time at home rather than eating out, necessitating more trips to the grocery store.
So where will the growth occur? Hale predicts it will be in e-commerce and natural gourmet grocers. Amazon Fresh and other delivery modalities are expected to surge, and most storefront growth will come from niche and gourmet grocers like Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market on one end of the spectrum and discount chains like Aldi’s on the other.
Label claims are also becoming key, with messages such as “low glycemic,” “non-GMO” and “gluten-free” driving purchasing decisions more than ever (even “organic” is making a comeback, growing more than 10 percent a year over the last three to four years). Meal trends like snacking, convenience, ethnic and semi-scratch cooking options are ones that manufacturers and retailers alike should look to capitalize on in order to “win" the shopping trip.
The modern consumer will be looking more than ever for “alternatives to alternatives” in every aspect of their lives, says Steve French. Bike-share programs eliminate the need to purchase a bike and make short commutes easy and green. Solar, wind and hydro-electricity are eco-friendly alternatives to coal and gas. Crowd-sourced funding solves the problems associated with venture capital. Nut, soy and rice milks are vegan answers to the desire for milk. Meat substitutes abound. Even clothes-line usage is up, as consumers seek alternatives to reduce their dependence on electricity.
Much of what’s old is new again, and the modern consumer is focusing on well-being to make their choices. Less meat, fewer artificial ingredients (and fewer ingredients in general), reduced processing of food, sustainable fair trade, low planetary impact, food as medicine, healthy convenience … these are all trends we will be seeing from the new focus on finding alternatives to meet consumer demand.
Manufacturers and retailers should also be aware that tranparency will be a significant driver of consumer purchases in the future, French says. Consumers are beginning to look not just for claims of social and environmental responsibility, but they are also demanding proof. Evidence of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organizations), use of independent verifiers and demonstrated monetary commitments to sustainable programs are all going to be influencers of brand choice and loyalty.
We are all aware of the new importance of clean labels, but did you know that more than 50 percent of consumers now report that they read labels on foods and beverages and select foods based on short and recognizable ingredients? This trend reflects the growing consumer desire for more control over what they are consuming. The No. 1 area in which they want control is food allergens (11 percent); No. 2 is organic ingredients (10 percent).
Retail gatekeepers like Whole Foods Market will make it easier for label-reading, socially conscious consumers to shop, so consumers concerned about having control over food and brand choices will gravitate to such retailers for help. What can you do to help consumers shop with these things in mind? Build your business around those innovative changes and you will reap the rewards. Transparency is the new green.
In addition to these overarching themes, French identified four key new product drivers:
Labeling is a problem for today’s customer. While the desire for healthier products is very real, there is a significant gap between labeling and consumer perception, necessitating more consumer education in the future, says Maryellen Molyneaux.
For example, more than 50 percent of the American population believes that the “natural” claim on a product means that no pesticides were used. At the same time, there is a growing distrust over whether “natural” means anything at all. With regard to the hot-button issue of non-GMOs, only 5 percent of consumers believe they even understand GMOs, yet 37 percent of them say they are more influenced by a “non-GMO” label, than by an organic one, demonstrating that they do not fundamentally understand that “organic” always also means “non-GMO.”
To allay consumer skepticism and confusion, certification labels will go a long way to providing validity. USDA organic labels should come with more information, and “natural” products must find a new, helpful way of describing themselves (perhaps a claim of “simple” ingredients would be better?).
Whereas labeling has proven complicated for the modern consumer, there have never been more ways to shop, Molyneaux says. “Shopping the perimeter of the store” has never been more popular, and online shopping is projected to double by 2017. Retailers will seek to capitalize on these trends by redesigning floor areas to maximize the perimeter and more lifestyle shopping experiences will be combined (barbers, bookstores, coffee shops, etc. all under one roof).
Finally, no discussion of trends would be complete without a foray into the millennial consumer. These young adults born between 1977 and 1995 make up a highly influential consumer group with vastly different values and needs from those of earlier generations. More than 80 million strong, these buyers are tech savvy, impatient, experienced in social media, well-educated and short attention-spanned early adopters who like to tell others about their purchases and priorities. Importantly, they are also actively concerned about protecting the planet and its people and will choose companies that align with these social missions.
Millennials will choose to purchase from companies who align with and make it easier for them to follow through with their social and environmental aspirations, Molyneaux says. Simply put, if your company doesn’t have a legitimate, clear social or environmental mission that is easily explained to this generation of buyers, it will lose sales to another that does.
Make your philanthropic actions known through social media and make it easy for Millennials to buy from you rather than the competitor, and you will reap the rewards in the coming years.
Jules Shepard is an active writer and business owner in the gluten-free realm and blogs regularly at julesglutenfree.com. She covered Natural Products Expo West as part of New Hope's We.Blog editorial team.
Facebook admits it. Fans are seeing fewer posts. They do have good reason for this; Facebook wants to maintain quality of the Newsfeed (which I think most of us want too).
In 2012, I mentioned that fans were seeing fewer posts. Studies of 4,000 Facebook Pages showed that only 17 percent of fans saw any given post, but now even that has dropped quite a bit.
The easiest way to see how many fans see a post is to look in its bottom left corner.
Now, if you’re spending time and energy doing marketing on Facebook, you want your posts to show up in Newsfeeds. This feed is where 90% of people will view your content and it’s where they can start to engage with your brand.
There are a few solutions to help you through this dilemma.
The number of people who see your post is tied to the number of people who like, comment and share a particular post. The more likes, comments and shares you get equates to more visibility for that post. These are tips that work to increase engagement:
Even without a massive budget, strategically placing Facebook Ads can be very valuable. The first step is to always start with a goal. What exactly do you want the ad to do? When you log into Facebook’s Ad Manager you’ll select the result you want to get: Page Post Engagement, Page Likes and Clicks to Website are the most commonly used.
Increase Likes. This format is simple. Facebook shows your cover image in the Newsfeed and has a Like button in the top right. It’s very simple and effective for growing your page more quickly and a story will be created and visible to friends of your new fan. This is a perfect example of a cover image from Make My Notebook highlighting their brand and products.
Send traffic to a sales page. One important aspect of Facebook marketing is to know how your efforts impact sales. Setting up an ad to increase traffic to your sales page is a perfect way to measure this impact. The other strategy for this is to send traffic to an opt-in page so that you can capture an email address for continued marketing. Sofa.com used this strategy brilliantly by offering Free Fabric Samples through a Facebook Ad campaign.
Get more engagement. When you have a great post that you just want more people to get involved with (i.e. Like, Comment or Share), this is a great option. Optimize the ad to get more engagement. Facebook will handle this for you behind the scenes and you’ll see a massive boost with a little spend.
In the spirit of community, shall we do this together? Post something on Facebook (either a great post geared toward engagement or an ad). Then, leave the link here so we can take a look!
The organic industry is young—a mere teenager, considering the term organic has only been regulated by the US Department of Agriculture for fourteen years. Like everything in its youth, the organic industry is experiencing rapid changes in short periods of time. Indeed, since our last in-depth Organic Report in 2011, there have been dramatic changes for the organic industry—fortunately most of them positive.
Due to ever-increasing public awareness of food-related health issues, publicity surrounding GMO labeling initiatives, and the national expansion of local food connections, including farmers’ markets, public demand for real food is at an all-time high.
To get a firm grasp on exactly where we stand in our quest for a transparent, less toxic and truly nutritional food system, we sat down with three leading experts in organic and real food production. Common to each of these individuals is a true passion for a sustainably better world.
Laura Batcha is executive vice-president and interim co–executive director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), a membership-based business association for the organic industry in North America. Laura is in her sixth year with the OTA but has been intensely involved with organic food and farming for nearly twenty-five years. Prior to coming to the OTA, Laura owned and operated a certified organic farming and handling enterprise and spent ten years in grassroots strategic planning and development with Tom’s of Maine. Up until a year ago she also owned and operated her own organic farm in Vermont.
“Organic is important to me because I think it’s a better way to grow food and a better way to eat food,” Laura told Organic Connections. “It’s a significant, viable option for transforming agricultural landscape practices and communities. Organic is a huge opportunity in terms of entrepreneurship, in which I’m a big believer; I love business and the free market. It creates a great opportunity when an industry can be built on consumers choosing something.”
Lisa Bunin is the organic policy director with the Center for Food Safety (CFS). CFS is a national public interest organization, working to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and sustainable agriculture. Now in her eighth year with CFS, Lisa has been working on organic and environmental issues for decades, internationally, nationally and locally. She holds a PhD in environmental sociology and has taught college courses on global and national environmental policy and social movements. Lisa served as NGO delegate to the UN’s London Dumping Convention, where she partnered with governments and NGOs to successfully halt the burning of toxic waste at sea, globally. In the US, she helped bring the first certified organic cotton clothing to market. More locally, Lisa was instrumental in securing a Santa Cruz County–wide moratorium on the planting of genetically engineered crops.
“I want to support a system of production that is consistent with my own personal values of land stewardship,” Lisa told Organic Connections. “Organic practices build living soils, protect biological diversity, conserve water and energy, and can even help mitigate climate change.
“I believe that organic food is more healthful than food produced using conventional, chemical-intensive methods, because it does not rely upon synthetic toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, sewage sludge or irradiation. It’s a healthier system of production and truly the only way forward to feed our nation and the world in a sustainable way.”
Dan Kittredge is founder and president of the Bionutrient Food Association (BFA). BFA is a national association of voting members who advocate for vital soils, nourishing food and healthy people. The essence of Dan’s work is in growing produce that is consistently high in nutrient content and exporting his findings to farmers and food producers everywhere. Dan is a second-generation organic farmer, has personally trained thousands of farmers, and also maintains his own twenty-four-acre farm.
“We’re talking about a living system,” Dan told Organic Connections. “The real essence of what we’re trying to do is remove the limiting factors in that living system. If we assume that the genetic potential of our crops is far beyond what we experience—which is what the geneticists will tell us—then the simple objective is to remove the stresses to our plants that are keeping them from fulfilling their full potential. There are a number of components to this living soil system. What we’re trying to do is lay out the normal stumbling blocks and limiting factors, help people understand them, and give people the tools to address them.”
In providing a “state of the union” for the organic industry, we put some key questions to our panel of experts. Their answers illuminate the issues we still face and which must be overcome, as well as the goals that are now well within our grasp.
Is there just a small segment of health-conscious people interested in organic products, or is consumer awareness broadening?
Laura Batcha: Organic sales grew above 10 percent as a whole in 2013, which was the same as the previous year. The total market is hovering in the area of $33 billion a year.
But interestingly, in our yearly consumer attitudes and belief survey, we found that there are upwards of 80 percent of families in the United States that report purchasing organic products. That doesn’t mean that they’re purchasing a lot or all the time; but in US households with children living in the home, 80 percent of them are reporting that they’re participating somehow in that market. That’s up from the year before, and it’s up from about 72 percent from four years ago when we started the survey. So, more and more folks are coming into the market.
Dan Kittredge: There is absolutely no question that awareness around food, the importance of food and the quality of food, is increasing exponentially. I attribute this growth in understanding to the fact that for the past three generations or so we have been moving away from the land, and eating processed food. Industrial ag has come in and the relative nutrient levels in our foods have dropped off dramatically. If you understand the science of epigenetics [the study of the process through which genetic information is translated into the substance and behavior of an organism], you understand that it takes two or three generations to wear out the DNA. So with pigs or with tomatoes, if you have two or three generations of bad nutrition, you get weak genetics and susceptibility to infestation and disease. This situation has now translated to people: in our society we have an absolutely epidemic level of disease that’s systemically degenerative and has at its root food quality as the cause and the solution. We’re in an information age; it’s a simple fact and it’s getting out.
Lisa Bunin: To increase organic acreage we need new farmers, and we need existing farmers to add more acreage. This has been made more difficult by our Congress, which has been cutting organic programs, research, and subsidies for organic certification. Those kinds of aids really encourage new farmers to become certified. There are a lot of smaller farmers that aren’t certifying, largely due to costs associated with certification. Unfortunately, the organic certification cost-share program, which subsidizes certification, and the organic agriculture research and extension initiative (OREI)—the nation’s largest source of organic research and education funding—were parts of the Farm Bill that have been cut. I think they are essential programs that need to be restored.
On the other hand, there is a tremendous opportunity opening before us. By 2030 there are about a half million farmers who are projected to retire; that’s almost a quarter of the US’s entire farming community. This is worrying—but it presents an opportunity for change. For young people who have the energy and the drive, it is an opporunity to be on the land and be supporting their families with good, healthy food. They would also be supporting their communities and the rural, urban and suburban economies with organic food. That would be a great way forward
Dan Kittredge: The real demand is a demand for quality and nutrition; that is what people are struggling to name and identify. The first thing that we’re doing—and have been successful in for several years—is giving the growers the skill sets to produce that quality.
Our ultimate goal is getting soil and crop nutrient levels up to the point where we are actually able to heal ourselves through our food. Along with this come the numerous benefits of high-quality food production, such as carbon sequestration, no toxic chemical runoff and no chemical fertilizers. We don’t need such chemicals, and we’ll economically give the farmers the tools to not have to purchase them. That’s the systemic way of removing the cash flow from agribusiness, which is being used to buy the senators who are then used to write the Farm Bill. If we can increase quality in the food supply, there are many, many positive corollaries that go up and down the entire cultural chain.
Laura Batcha: There are about 15,000 organic farms, which would include ranch, livestock operations, crop production—all types of farms. In several areas in the last few years, the total number of acres has dipped in some regards, particularly in corn and soy. But data just came out of USDA that shows total acreage continuing to rise, fairly significantly. The most recent data they have is from 2010 to 2011, and total organic acreage rose from 4,371,296 in 2010 to 5,383,119 in 2011.
Lisa Bunin: Certainly I can say that there are increases within the organic farming community. I’m president of the Ecological Farming Association (EFA) Board, and what we see is a tremendous amount of increasing interest among young people in particular to grow organically. The challenges are getting access to land and access to credit. That said, from the Center for Food Safety perspective we see as an absolute necessity organic becoming the foundation of food and agricultural production systems across the United States. That’s our vision and that’s our goal.
Farmers’ markets are growing and are increasingly popular. Many of the farmers are not certified organic but don’t use chemicals or toxic sprays. How do these farmers fit in with the organic movement, or do they?
Laura Batcha: The trend of interest in local food is absolutely tied to the trend in organic food. For the consumer they’re both coming from the same desire, which is to know more about how the food is produced and be more in touch with it. The small farmers and direct-to-consumer short supply chains are very important to the organic industry as a whole, and in many ways it’s how the consumer has the opportunity to interact with farmers and get the freshest local food available. So it’s super important.
Lisa Bunin: These farmers certainly fit into the trend; they’re part of our communities. A lot of organic is built on transparency and personal relationships. They’re an important part of our movement. Of course I want to see people become certified, because we know that then they’re absolutely adhering to the standard set forth in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990; but we understand that some people can’t afford the fee. That’s why I’m advocating that the government-funded organic certification cost-share program be reinvigorated.
Lisa Bunin: The GMO issue is a problem, and it will become an increasing problem for organic farmers and food producers if the USDA continues to fail to take action to prevent GMO contamination. It’s really been turning a blind eye.
The USDA has proposed a “strategy of coexistence” between GMO and non-GMO farmers*—but this strategy does nothing to prevent contamination. GMOs cannot coexist with organic and other non-GMO forms of agriculture in the absence of mandatory contamination prevention strategies and regulations. Even though USDA’s stated role is to facilitate fair farming for all, its actions through its promotion of this coexistence program allow the perpetuation of contamination.
Right now the government-driven GMO conversation is largely pivoting around getting non-GMO farmers to take out insurance to protect themselves against contamination. The government is arguing that the victim should be responsible for insuring themselves against contamination rather than putting the liability for contamination and contamination prevention back on the patent owner, where it belongs.
Until contamination prevention measures are put in place, the CFS believes that a moratorium on the approval of all new GMO crops must be instituted to prevent further contamination and to allow for fair farming, including organic.
Dan Kittredge: From an economic standpoint we will beat Monsanto because we will beat that GMO model; farmers will make more money doing things our way than they will growing GM crops. Since they’re not natural, GM crops won’t grow as well in healthy soil. If we actually have a market standard built around quality, and consumers are able to determine high and low quality, then all of a sudden farmers producing GMO crops are vulnerable because they produce low quality.
Laura Batcha: We’ll continue to see strong growth and a lot of innovation in the marketplace and new product launches. I also think we’ll see a continued expansion of international markets; a lot of US growers, ranchers, processors and handlers are looking to export markets as well because there’s high interest around the world in US organic products.
Lisa Bunin: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated that he wanted to see an increase of organic operations by 20 percent during his tenure. This statement needs to be backed by action, such as strong policy initiatives. He actually needs to take to the halls of Congress and fight for more money and increased program support for organic research; money to subsidize transition to organic; low-cost loans for small or medium and new farmers; new programs; and help with ag land preservation. Ag land is being quickly converted to different types of development, and we really need to preserve it so that we have enough fertile land to feed our nation and beyond.
Dan Kittredge: To quote Dr. Don Huber, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University: “We’re going to look back in five years and not even recognize where we were.” The transition is occurring dramatically behind the scenes. Companies like Dole and major multinationals have seen enough data and they understand that they will make more money growing healthier plants; they’ll have higher productivity and lower production cost. The alternatives to Monsanto are exploding right now in consultants, agronomy and suppliers. I think in five years the amount of transition that will have occurred is going to be dramatic, and we’re really at the cusp of that which we want to see.
*The USDA established a committee in 2003 to examine the long-term impacts of biotechnology. Recently this committee has been charged by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to “develop practical recommendations for strengthening coexistence among different agricultural production methods.” One of the recommendations being discussed is that non-GMO farmers pay for insurance against GMO contamination.