When you think of product trends, often it's with the assumption that the trend will, at some point, die down. However, organics are here to stay. Even as other product sector sales have slowed over the years as the economy sways, organics have performed increasingly well. For example, the organic industry grew to a whopping $28.6 billion+ in 2010, and more importantly, organic sales continue to outpace total sales of comparable conventional food and non‐food items.
According to the U.S. Families' Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2011 Tracking Study, conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), a total of 78% of U.S. families report organic purchases, and that's a figure that has steadily grown over the past decade.
Another survey shows that even when economic times are tough, 72% of organic consumers say they won't compromise on the quality of the food they buy. In fact, most consumer surveys show that once a consumer converts to organic food, they rarely go back to buying all conventional food.
We can also be sure that organics are here to stay due to their success in massive chain supermarkets. Research shows that most national markets carry a wide selection of organics, and that they're benefiting big time from their organic selection. Polls show that traditional supermarkets, not natural-based or specialty shops, benefit the most from organic purchases.
FACT: Survey after survey shows that organic consumers are here to stay, making the organic industry as a whole, much more than a simple trend.
Job growth in the United States has been slow as of late, unless of course you're looking for work in the organic industry. OTA's 2011 Organic Industry Survey shows that while other sectors slowed down their hiring processes, the organic industry grew by nearly 8% in 2010, adding new jobs at four times the national average.
OTA goes on to note that 40% of companies surveyed in the organic sector hired full-time employees in 2010 and 46% of organic businesses said they anticipated hiring full-time employees in 2011 - and that's just the surveyed companies. On top of that, the industry is growing so quickly that colleges and universities are adding organic education programs at a fast pace to keep up with demand.
- The occupational outlook for organic farmers is better than the outlook for conventional farmers.
- There are many top jobs in the organic industry.
FACT: Organic jobs are growing at a faster rate than conventionally-minded jobs. Plus, organic sales haven't slowed in years, opening the door to even more eventual jobs.
Obviously there is a time commitment involved when it comes to organic certification. Organic growing processes can take longer, finding reputable dealers for retailers and restaurants can be difficult and of course there's all the extra paperwork.
Still, anything worth doing well, will naturally take more time. On the flip-side, once you weigh just how much time, you may be surprised. For example, while working at an organic greenhouse I learned that no matter what, organic or conventional, someone does need to attend to the plants each day. If you're using organic methods, you simply get that organic care routine down pat and it eventually takes less time.
Additionally, the extra paperwork you'll need to do will prove useful, and you'll likely end up thinking it's something you should have spent time on anyhow, certified or not. Records and business plans are never a waste of time if you want to run an efficient business.
Lastly, as an organic grower or processor, you can't talk personally with every customer. There aren't enough hours in the day. However, getting certified means the organic seal can do some of the talking for you. Most consumers and buyers for businesses recognize the USDA Organic Seal as reliable and at least somewhat knows what it means.
FACT: Certification, is a time commitment, but one worth taking on. Plus, as you learn more about the process, it does get quicker.
Historically, it's well-known that organic products cost more than conventional products. Still, recent research shows that as organics have gained new sales ground, prices have dropped, and will likely continue to do so in the coming years. Plus as private brands jump on the organic bandwagon, organic prices also become much more comparable to conventional.
Still, lowering prices don't matter as much as consumer attitude. As consumers become more concerned about health threats and artificial ingredients in their food, they're willing to pay more to have those health threats diminished:
Recent consumer polls show that people are willing to pay more for organic and green dining.
According to Mintel’s latest report on green living, the recession hit most people hard, but not organic consumers. Mintel notes that during a recession just 21% of organic food buyers cut down or eliminate organic purchases, while 20% simply switch to less expensive organic options. Best of all, nearly half of consumers buy as much organics during a recession as before, which Mintel takes to mean that consumers will cut other areas of their budget in order to be able to afford organic food.
Lastly, still taking recessions into account, some demographics are even more likely to pay more for organics no matter the cost, such as parents. A recent consumer survey found that 41% of parents buy more organic foods than ever, even in spite of sluggish economic recovery. According to the OTA survey, parents buy organic because they feel like organic products are generally healthier and organics provide a way to cut back on pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and artificial ingredients.
FACT: Overall, although organics still cost more than conventional products, consumers don't seem to mind and consider organics a budget-friendly, or at least workable choice.
There seems to be some organic growers who take offense at official organic certification, instead using the team, "Beyond organic." There's nothing wrong with this term in a general sense. It's fine to strive for goals above and beyond a certification. However, "Beyond organic." does seem to minimize certified organic growers and producers.
In reality, official organic certification is worthwhile for a business.
First of all the USDA Organic Seal helps motivate people to buy organic. While still not 100% savvy about organics, some consumers have started to mistrust labels such as "natural" noting that they absolutely trust the USDA Organic Seal more than other food labels. The organic seal is simply more well-known than other labels.
When it comes to organics, research shows that self-regulation doesn't always maintain organic integrity as well as certification does. Research further shows that consumers are getting mighty mad when they see false organic claims. All-in-all, a growing number of consumers are learning from advocacy groups that if you don't see the real organic seal, it's not worth the purchase. So the seal does assure consumers, retailers and other operations that you're the real deal.
Other reasons certification is worth it:
- Many retailers won't carry non-certified organic body care products anymore.
- Becoming certified is one way to show how much your company values organics.
- Getting certified backs up the fact that you care about the health and safety of your customers.
- Certified organics can be very profitable.
- It's important to remember that certification does help protect the market from becoming over-saturated with fake organic products that steal sales away from real organics.
- Certification forces you to plan well and keep precise records, which are smart business tactics in general, but not everyone is so inclined. Certification can give you that extra organization nudge.
FACT: Organic certification does mean something to consumers and it benefits organic integrity.
Organic certification is like anything else - easier as you get the hang of it.
Certification requires a fair amount of paperwork, but to be honest, this is paperwork you should be completing anyhow. NOP requires a well thought out organic system plan, but the plan helps you in the long run by making the process of running a business easier. On top of that, keeping records, another NOP requirement, is vital when and if you need to prove to anyone that your operation is truly organic.
You can also get plenty of help with the organic certification process. There are internships, mentoring programs, books, meet-ups and of course your personal organic certifying agent, all of whom are ready to help you understand the process.
Costs can also be an issue, but not an overwhelming one. Certification can cost the average grower hundreds of dollars, which of course not everyone has laying around. That said, the non-competitive Organic Cost Share Program can help you cover costs. Other grants that can help you reduce energy costs and save money are available annually as well. Your certification agent can tell you more about these cost saving grants.
FACT: Certification, like a college degree, new career path or really any goal, is what you make it. There are tough times, but not impossible times and there are ways to get help with the entire certification process.
Above it seems like I've been pushing the pros of certification, which sure, I have been. Organic certification is a good deal, but not for 100% of organic businesses.
Other reasons why you may not want to get certified may include zero funds in savings, literally no extra time for anymore paperwork, few organic buyers in your area or a low commitment to organic integrity or the certification process itself.
FACT: Nothing is ever perfectly right for every business across the board, organic certification included.
The fact that organics are healthier and safer for people and the planet kind of depends on your definition of health and safety. The issue has been confused by research stating that organics aren't more nutritious than conventional foods, and this may well be true, although there is some research that says otherwise.
However, nutrition and health and safety are not the same. Non-organic cereal with non-organic milk may well be as nutritious, calorie-wise and nutrient-wise as organic cereal with milk, but the organic cereal and milk will have fewer to zero pesticides, no artificial colors or flavors, no artificial hormones and no freak-show chemicals. To me, these perks add up to a safer and healthier breakfast, both for a human body and the earth.
Pesticides are poison
Organics mean fewer pesticides, and no matter how you slice it, pesticides are poison. Other than in some medication situations, most people don't consider ingesting poison okay, yet in food it's good to go? Pesticides were created to kill. Pesticides have been proven to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, behavior problems, rashes and other skin problems, chronic adverse effects on neurological function, cancer, reproductive harm, reduced growth and development and more.
In fact, research shows that in children, pesticide poisoning is so serious that medical professionals have mistaken symptoms of said poisoning for brain hemorrhage, head trauma, diabetic acidosis, severe bacterial gastroenteritis, pneumonia and whooping cough. Keep in mind that the US Centers for Disease Control reports that pesticide exposure in children comes primarily from the foods they eat.
Other research says...
- A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives linked mothers exposed to common agricultural pesticides with babies who have impaired or delayed cognitive development.
- Organic wine is more heart healthy than conventional wine.
- Pesticides banned decades ago are still being found in humans today, showing that non-organic foods allow the massive problem of ongoing pesticide contamination to continue.
FACT: A growing mass of research shows that organics are safer and healthier for both people and the planet.
Obviously this is a loaded issue. Especially since you may be thinking, "Hey, wasn't it you who said Organics Aren't the Same as Sustainable?!"
True. I did say organics aren't the same as sustainable, and I'm sticking by that statement. Organics and sustainability are not 100% interchangeable.
That said, non-interchangeable is not the same as not sustainable at all. Organic products and practices do have some naturally sustainable characteristics. For example...
- Organic farming has some major eco-benefits from exposing the planet to fewer pesticides to combating erosion to discouraging algae blooms to supporting biodiversity and much more.
- Organics help conserve and protect the earth's water supply.
- Organic production is more energy efficient than conventional production.
FACT: Organics are not the same as sustainable, however, by nature, organics do have green aspects and many organic companies are striving for green practices beyond the scope of organic.
Although organic sales have grown at at impressive rate, they could be better. Organics are fighting for a top space among many other food labels, most of them bunk. Many companies are excellent at convincing consumers that terms like, "natural" or "free-range" or "hormone-free" are just as viable and worthwhile as real certified organic products.
Research shows that consumers are concerned about what products they buy, and are especially concerned about how safe the food they purchase is. However, research also shows that many consumers fall for fake labels.
The only way to debunk fake label myths is to educate consumers. The government and media put little effort into educating consumers about food issues, leaving it up to advocacy groups and businesses themselves. However, some extra effort is worth it, if you'd like to steer consumers away from fake labels and towards real organics.
FACT: Consumers like, but don't entirely understand organics, especially when it comes to labeling. A little consumer education could go a long way toward resolving this issue.