Deborah Cassell, managing editor
“It ain’t easy being green,” according to Kermit the Frog. Although this might be true for amphibians — and for vegetables facing resistance from picky children — nowadays, it’s downright cool to be green … especially in March. (Think leprechauns, four-leaf clovers and McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes.)
In addition, “green” issues, aka, the environment, have become important not just to Democrats and Green Party activists, but to numerous consumers whose concerns about global warming were addressed in “An Inconvenient Truth.” (Visit www.ClimateCrisis.net for details.) While accepting this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary, former vice president Al Gore had this to say: “We need to solve the climate crisis. It’s not a political issue. It’s a moral issue. We have everything that we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act.”
How strong is the will to act? Ice caps are melting, forcing polar bears to swim more than they like, as I learned on Oprah. (Watch the Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth” for footage.) Yet, consumers refuse to “reduce, re-use, recycle” and continue to favor gas-guzzling cars (I just got a new one …) over public transportation and carpools (… but I sometimes share the ride to work).
As of late, there has been a lot of emphasis on organics — foods produced with feed or fertilizer free from growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides. Organics are becoming mainstream, or so it would seem. We certainly hear enough about them in the news. Organic produce and dairy products have made headway with supermarket shoppers, but statistics show organics aren’t top of mind when it comes to buying snacks and baked goods. Perhaps this is due to a lack of consumer awareness. Perhaps it’s because food purchases are driven by price, and organics can cost more. But the category is growing. The proof is in the organic pudding, so to speak.
In 2006, Wal-Mart announced an increase in the number of organic and natural SKUs in its stores. As with its other products, the company strives to sell organic items at “everyday low prices,” according to a release. It continues: “If a major brand is making a play in the organics category, it’s fitting that a national retailer such as Wal-Mart, with locations around the country, can make products with that brand’s label available to consumers.”
Last fall, Target said it would be introducing organic items, including whole grain pizzas and pastas, from its Archer Farms private label line. Now, “guests no longer have to choose between organic and affordable prices,” according to a release. Additionally, a recent poll by Harris Interactive for Target reveals that one-third (34%) of consumers surveyed “believe that organic foods are superior to non-organic foods,” but nearly two-thirds, or 61%, “want to be better-informed on the value of where it pays to buy organic.”
On Feb. 21, Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets announced a merger to create a “stronger natural and organic foods retailer,” according to a release. “The growth opportunity in this category has led to increased competition from many players, most of whom are not dedicated natural and organic foods supermarkets, but are considerably larger than we are,” notes chairman, CEO and WFM co-founder John Mackay.
Meanwhile, Trader Joe’s continually offers organics. Rather than segregating these items, the retailer mingles certified organic produce, bread and groceries with conventional offerings. According to the company’s Web site, “All of our organic products are certified by a third party agency and meet strict organic standards at every level.”
Although many products are labeled “organic,” they should be certified by an agency such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Quality Assurance International (QAI). In this month’s New Products section, we feature three new “organic” items: Barbara’s Bakery Organic Mini Cookies (low-fat, trans fat-free and QAI-certified), Bobo’s Oat Bars (100% wheat-free, vegan and “mostly organic”) and Glennys 100 Calorie Brownies and Blondies (“75% organic”). Even industry leader Frito-Lay has natural and organic snacks under its Cheetohs, Doritos, Lay’s, Ruffles, Tostitos and Nut Harvest brands.
It’s a matter of debate whether organic products are more healthful than their non-organic counterparts. However, when paired with “made with whole grains” or “sugar-free” claims, organics might be perceived as more wholesome.
If you’re not concerned with organics or global warming or those poor Arctic polar bears, then maybe you should be. As Melissa Ethridge said in her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Original Song, “… the Earth is not Republican or Democrat. It’s not red or blue. We are all green.”