Organic Ingredients: What's the Hype?

By Brian Montgomery

The National Restaurant Association's annual Chef Survey ranks organic produce #12 out of 20 in its "Top 20 Trends" for 2010. Organic wine/beer/liquor ranked #4 within the subcategory of Alcohol and Cocktails.It seems like every time you turn around there's a news story about organic this or that, or some restaurant's new organic menu or some organic grocery store or product.

But what does "organic" really mean, and is it really better (or better for you)? Or is everyone just jumping on the organic marketing bandwagon hoping to cash in? Do you promote organic foods or products in your Restaurant? Are you able to get a premium price for the perceived "premium" nature of the products?

Our local area newspapers, the Sunday News, and Intelligencer Journal Lancaster New Era published a great series of articles about organic foods. Here are some interesting ( unsettling?) highlights:
  • Nearly 75% of consumers say they buy some organic products, fueled by the perception that organic=healthier.
  • U.S. organic food sales have increased 500% since 1998.
  • "Organic" does not mean free of chemicals or synthetic ingredients. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances has grown to 245 permissible additives, processing aids, cleaners, animal medications, and pest controls since it took effect in 2002. There were 77 exemptions then.
  • Legally, only foods grown, raised, and processed/handled according to federal standards can use the USDA organic seal. Unfortunately, many consumer groups say the oversight program is sadly underfunded, and large producers exploit loopholes, gray areas, and the lack of oversight to capitalize on the "organic" trend.

I could list even more stats that intrigued me, but you get the idea. Don't get me wrong... I'm not opposed to organic food at all. I am 100% for healthy eating and supporting small, local producers whose products often do taste much better and are almost certainly better for me! But in my research, my eyes were opened as a consumer, and I urge you to do similar research as a business owner.

To Read the National Organic Program Standards: Click here.

To Look for Certified Organic Producers in Your State: Start here.

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