Organic food is one of the fastest growing food sectors in the United States totaling $15 billion in sales in 2005, according to Organic Trade Association (OTA; Greenfield, Mass.). During the last 10 years, increasing consumer demand for healthier choices has driven the industry’s growth, from 17 to 21 percent each year. In recent years, fresh foods have become signature departments for many natural foods retailers, with independent natural product and health food stores and natural grocery chains accounting for 47 percent of organic sales, according to www.ota.com.
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Motivated by the sector’s potential profitability, major food manufacturers, such as Kraft and General Mills and retailers like Wal-Mart have responded by extending their product offerings to include organic foods. However, domestic organic food producers will be unable to meet such a strong demand alone. The OTA also reports that in the near future, the U.S. will increasingly rely on imports from Australia, Europe, Bolivia, New Zealand, South Africa and Venezuela and South Africa to meet the needs of retailers seeking to capitalize on this profitable market.
With this in mind, sorbent technology is a promising technology for organic foods to meet extended distribution chain demands of staving off odors to sustain freshness, color, taste and texture.
Out With the Old…
Product distribution chains will lengthen as demand increases, both within the U.S. and from abroad. Organic foods must be able to withstand longer transportation and shelf time without the use of traditional shelf-life extenders, including artificial preservatives, colors or flavor enhancers, which automatically eliminates the chances for organic certification.
Therefore, phenolic compounds such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and the related compound butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), which are often added to foods to preserve fats and freshness during transportation have lost their function. Yet, it becomes difficult to achieve the same shelf life for organic food products, without the use of additives and artificial preservatives, especially for those with long distribution chains.
Preserving Product Integrity through Packaging
Manufacturers now turn to packaging as a resource to achieve longevity of product integrity because it has a significant effect on increasing brand sales. Controlling the atmosphere within the package through modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) can greatly extend shelf life without altering the product’s profile, so freshness, taste, color and odor are better maintained. Often, a product’s appearance, – its color in particular – is the factor most responsible for first trial purchase. According to findings from DuPont’s Science of Fresh Consumer survey, 90 percent of U.S. consumers rely on appearance to determine if a food product is spoiled or needs to be discarded.
The main reason why food products tend to spoil is shelf-life limitation caused by microbiological degradation through oxidation and mold growth within packaging. Mold, in particular, forms when oxygen and moisture become trapped within a packaged environment. Thus, sorbent technology has become particularly vital to the organic foods industry. Oxygen-absorbing technology lowers and controls oxygen levels to protect organic food products from mold growth while moisture adsorbers reduce moisture content within a package to levels that inhibit growth of bacterial pathogens.
Using sorbent technology with packages enables organic food manufacturers to keep food integrity high without the need to add anything to their products. Companies that employ sorbent technology to keep a product fresh from factory to consumption will not only encourage repeat buying behavior, but also build brand loyalty.
Package Film Alternatives
Typically, package designers select either clear or opaque gas-impermeable films, such as foil, for most food packages. Compared wit clear film packages, the use of opaque gas-impermeable films is less desirable to package designers even though the latter has anti-oxygen properties. Opaque film obscures the product’s appearance and prevents consumers from making judgments about food freshness.