It’s an exciting time for the industry. According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic industry grew nearly 8% in 2010 at a time when “flat is new growth” is the current trend for many other segments of the economy. Given the state of the economy, this is particularly notable. It is clear that ever more consumers are choosing to buy organic and natural products, and retailers are beefing up their product selections to meet the demand.
Where will the industry go from here?
Based on current trends the future looks bright. However, I recently read a less optimistic report about comments made by the chairman of Nestle, the world’s largest food company. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe says “you have to be rational…there’s no way you can support life on earth if you go straight from farm to table.” So, in other words, we rely heavily on industrialized food production to fill supermarket shelves and our own pantries.
Nestle has recently acquired several premium brands that organic food lovers people enjoy, like Skinny Cow ice cream, San Pellegrino water, and PowerBar energy bars. The Nestle chairman agrees that organic products (known as “bio” products in Europe) are “good” and that Nestle should help the farmers who make those products. But essentially Brabeck-Letmathe sees organics as a “privilege,” a “romantic” notion that is not scalable enough to provide for the world’s food supply.
Brabeck-Letmathe stated that “from a nutritional point of view, studies show no nutritional difference from bio to other foods, but it’s more dangerous.” He went on to cite a statistic about the 30-40 deaths a year caused by organic foods fertilized with livestock manure.
Many would dispute these claims, and consider such comments to be viewpoints that the largest food corporations promote because organics runs counter to their business model and profit base. There are certainly large growing companies that do have a strong commitment to organics and wellness, like Amy’s Kitchen and Eden Foods, but the question is whether such firms would ever achieve the scale necessary to feed the planet.
This is a key issue that will be debated, and to some extent worked out in the marketplace, in the years to come.
I will be searching for what’s new and exciting at the Natural Products Expo and connecting with industry colleagues there.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to set up a meeting at the show.