The organic food industry is experiencing growing pains as it attempts to gain market share and assume a more prominent place among U.S. food growers, processors, and consumers.
U.S. organic food sales exceeded $26.7 billion in 2010. While this represents only 4% of the $673 billion combined market for all food, organic sales increased by nearly 8% over 2009, compared with a less-than-1% growth rate for all foods, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Over the past decade, organic food sales have grown at an average annual rate approaching 20%.
As dramatic as that growth is, industry experts say it will take a concerted effort for organic food to make additional gains. Part of the difficulty lies in consumer confusion, with many believing that foods labeled “natural” or “locally grown”—designations with no specific requirements—have as much value as those labeled “organic,” foods that are grown and processed according to USDA standards and certified by state agencies and USDA-accredited organizations (see Food Quality magazine, November/December 2010).
Another challenge, especially during periods of prolonged economic downturn, is the price premium commanded by organic food. Nevertheless, many consumers believe organic food is safer and more nutritious than conventionally produced products. Two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic foods at least occasionally, and nearly one-third purchase some organic products weekly.
But as the organic industry continues to mature, long-simmering internal tensions are beginning to bubble to the surface. Some experts believe these differences, unless resolved, may hinder industry efforts to expand.
Purists and Pragmatists
About Ted Agres
Ted Agres is an award-winning writer who covers food safety regulatory and legislative issues from the nation’s capital in the Washington Report column. He has 40 years of experience in reporting on issues such as health policy, medical technology, and pharmaceutical development. He holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago. He enjoys playing the piano, amateur radio, and paintball. He lives in Laurel, MD. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.