Organic food has imitators


Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Even as organic food becomes better known and desired, the hard work that organic brands have put in to educate consumers about ethical awareness is possibly being exploited by conventional producers who are aping its approaches without actually getting the organic certification.

According to Food Navigator, Steve Osborn, principal consultant at Aurora Ceres, a consulting company based in the UK, said the food industry is heading towards questionable ethical territory as conventional food brands market their compliance with some of the standards of the organic segment. Organic brands promote their best practices and values. For example, one Indian organic brand’s mission statement says, “We value honesty, integrity…” and says its brand “is based on the principles of health, ecology, fairness and care.” If they evoke these same themes, instead of traditional features such as taste, appearance or convenience, non-organic food brands could accidentally be mistaken for organic brands. [Read about how to tell if a product is organic.]

A product sold in the UK that promotes many of the same values as organic food.

A product sold in the UK that promotes many of the same values as organic food, such as non-GMO and ethical practices.

Hamish Renton, managing director of Hamish Renton Associates, a food marketing company based in the UK, says that the increase in non-genetically modified food is an example of this practice. He said, “One could argue that non-GMO [genetically modified organism] foods are gaining popularity as ‘watered down’ versions of organic with consumers feeling they are being healthy and natural while not paying the premium associated with organic foods. While popular in the US though, non-GMO foods have not reached the mainstream in most countries.” See, for example, the label at left, of a product sold in the UK.

Osborn said that these trends could lower the importance of the organic stamp of approval to consumers. However, he also added that it should please organic supporters that their values are being put into practice.

However, organic brands can fight back, he suggested. “Just as mainstream [producers] adopted some of the philosophy from the organic movement… organic needs to take a leaf from the conventional food industry. Yes you can get organic bananas, coffee and cocoa but most people, even organic customers, still want to buy processed foods.”

This frozen meal sold in the US is made with mostly organic ingredients.

This frozen meal is made with mostly organic ingredients.

This will require organic brands to develop new products that meet consumer needs and desires, such as packaged, ready to eat food, but that still uses from organic raw materials. Some of this is already happening, for example in the US. In other areas, organic brands need to figure out some issues such as variations in colour and texture in food items, something that conventional manufacturers have resolved. He added, “Even organic consumers aren’t accepting of such variability – the mainstream market has homogenized products and this homogenization is seen as a mark of quality.”

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