Organic Foods Help Environmental Responsibility

Another reason to reformulate for organics: environmental responsibility.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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Lynn Gordon, founder and CEO of French Meadow Bakery, has a passion for organic baking that began before organic was popular, back when you were considered a “nut” or a “kook,” she says, for seeking out organic ingredients at small farms and tiny health food stores. It was a time when gas was cheap and environmentalists were called “tree huggers.”

French Meadow Bakery (www.frenchmeadow.com), Minneapolis, still backs several environmental causes (including the Sierra Club and Heifer Intl.) and sells Healthy Hemp and other innovative breads. But now those products are going nationwide to mainstream supermarkets, co-ops and health food stores. One early client, Whole Foods, is no longer a small, niche chain.

French Meadow Bakery has grown up, in a manner of speaking, and so has the organic movement. While it’s long been associated with social causes, the organic movement’s evolution now is linking it to environmental concerns. Therein lies another foundation for its continuing growth – and a significant marketing opportunity for those processors willing to reformulate a little to capitalize on this association.

“Consumers purchase organic foods for different reasons, and health is certainly on the top of the list since organic foods do not have many of the additives conventional foods contain,” says Kent Spalding, vice president of marketing at Weetabix/Barbara’s Bakery. “There is also a general commitment by those that supply organic foods to support sustainability, fair trade and the environment.”

Know the rules

USDA allows three labeling categories for organic products:

  1. 100% Organic — made with 100 percent organic ingredients
  2. Organic — made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 5 percent (no genetically modified organisms, or GMOs)
  3. Made with Organic Ingredients — made with a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30 percent (including no GMOs).

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (www.ams.usda.gov/nop/archive/OFPA.html) and the National Organic Program (www.ams.usda.gov/nop/FactSheets/ProdHandE.html) outline organic production and handling standards. Any product that bears the USDA Organic seal must be verified, inspected and certified by independent state or private organizations accredited by USDA.

Certification includes inspections of farms and processing facilities, detailed record keeping and periodic testing of soil and water to ensure growers and handlers are meeting the U.S. standards. Certifiers inspect and verify there is an audit trail tracing all organic ingredients back to the organic fields from which they were grown.

The regulations on organics are stringent, but more than the rules regarding organic claims are at issue. Organic foods have integrated into the greening of America, and those who showcase their organic products are often equally passionate about promoting sustainability.

“Organic food represents a thorough process that considers every aspect of production from soil to finished product in the light of the organic principles,” says George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley (www.organicvalley.coop), a farming cooperative based in LaFarge, Wis. Many organic marketers have implemented environmentally friendly practices such as green buildings, alternative energy, local production and sustainable investments in manufacturing efficiencies.

“Organic brands like Organic Valley broaden the process to include other criteria not covered by the USDA organic [rules] such as environmental footprint, minimal processing and animal husbandry,” adds Siemon.

Profitably socially conscious

In 1983, Stonyfield Farm co-founders Samuel Kaymen and current president/CEO Gary Hirshberg wrote the company’s enduring mission statements, among which was, “to serve as a model that environmentally and socially responsible businesses can also be profitable.” Stonyfield (www.stonyfield.com), Londonderry, N.H., has accomplished both – and, in the process, had 85 percent of its stock purchased by France’s Groupe Danone. Still, Stonyfield Farm remains a leader in corporate and environmental responsibility.

Stonyfield’s web site has as much about organics, wellness and the environment as it does about the company’s products. Its environmental mission is at the core of the company’s activities, and has been the catalyst for several high-profile projects, the latest being Climate Counts, a collaborative effort to bring consumers and companies together in the fight against global climate change.

In 1997, the company became the first U.S. manufacturer to offset 100 percent of its facilities emissions. New Hampshire’s largest solar electric array sits atop the roof of its Yogurt Works. Stonyfield has invested in wind energy, reforestation, methane recovery, energy efficiency projects and solar energy and created the first “how-to guide” showing other companies how to offset their emissions. The company’s award-winning program to minimize solid waste has prevented over 16 million pounds of materials from going to landfills or incinerators (equivalent to taking more than 1,400 cars off the road for one year).

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