More grocery shoppers are trying dairy- and meat-free alternatives, according to a new national health food study by Earth Balance, which makes a line of vegan buttery spreads, nut butters, dressings and snacks. Two thousand consumers were polled for the study, which looked at which new foods they’re trying, their top motivators and trends in healthy eating.
When asked which factors are most important to them when shopping for food, respondents said buying local (37 percent), organic (33 percent) and non-GMO (30 percent) are key. Additionally, Americans are more willing to try better-for-you-foods, with the study showing the most-tried are healthy snacks, dairy alternatives and oil alternatives.
Dairy alternatives have been tried by 29 percent of respondents. Superfoods (e.g., chia, acai and quinoa), alternative snacks (e.g., gluten-free crackers, nut butters and Greek yogurt) and alternative oils (e.g., avocado, coconut and sunflower) have been tried by 28 percent of respondents, and 18 percent have tried plant-based proteins, such as hemp hearts, lentils and spirulina.
Almost half, 42 percent, of consumers said they know more about plant-based diets now compared to five years ago, and 43 percent are more likely to try plant-based alternatives today. Thirteen percent also report trying a vegetarian lifestyle.
What’s more, over half said they’ve tried dairy-free alternatives such as dairy-free milk, cheese and yogurt. Sixty-three percent have tried plant-based protein alternatives, with tofu, meatless burgers and meatless hot dogs topping the list.
By Lorrie Baumann
Boulder Organic Foods is a fast-growing maker of fresh soups that are sold out of grocers’ refrigerated cases. “We started here locally in Boulder [Colorado] in a handful of stores, and today we’re in more than 2,000 stores nationwide in pretty much every major market in the country,” said CEO Greg Powers. “We are a dedicated organic, gluten free and non-GMO company. Everything we produce reflects those three attributes.”
The company was started just seven years ago by Kate Brown, a single mom who was looking for healthier fresh soup options. She made several shopping trips to local stores looking for a gluten-free soup brand that would meet her own dietary needs and that would also meet her goals for the food she wanted to give her daughter. When she didn’t find any, she decided to make her own.
After she began serving her soups to friends and family, one of those friends referred her products to the local Whole Foods store, which asked her to make the soup for sale there. At that point, she put together a business plan and spent a year or two coming up with recipes for commercial quantities of her soups and launched her new food business in early 2009. Powers joined the company several months later. “I joined her having a background in business, and between the two of us, with her passion and talent for cooking and her skills at coming up with new recipes, and my background in business, we built this company,” he said. “We’ve doubled our size every year since we began. It’s fast growth, but it’s also thoughtful growth. We’ve been very sure to keep the same quality, working with many of the same suppliers we worked with when we started years ago.”
Today, the company makes eight to 12 different soups at any given time – a core set that includes Roasted Tomato Basil, Garden Minestrone, Potato Leek, Red Lentil Dahl and Golden Quinoa and Kale soups, along with a rotating list of seasonal offerings in its SQF level 3 plant in Boulder, Colorado. Three new soups – Tomato Bisque, Broccoli Cheddar and Bacon Potato Corn Chowder – are launching early this month in Target stores.
Boulder Organic! packages most of its soups in 24-ounce containers. The serving size is identified as eight ounces, which works when it’s served as a side dish, but most people will want a bit more than that if they’re eating it as an entree, so in practice, most consumers will regard the 24-ounce container as enough to feed two people, Powers said. For club stores, the 24-ounce containers are bundled into a 2-pack, and Target carries a 16-ounce container.
While some of the Boulder Organic! soups are mostly vegetables with chicken stock in the base, many are vegetarian and a few include animal protein along with the vegetables. The heavy emphasis on vegetables in the ingredient deck is partly a response to the local market in Boulder, Powers said. “We have a very active vegetarian community in Boulder. For our little market, it was a good fit. It was a good way to start the company and produce products that would fit with our community.”
The company maintains its commitment to being a socially responsible woman-owned business, and 2 percent of its production is donated to a local food bank. “We try to treat all of our employees fairly and we have a very flat organizational structure,” Powers said. Employees are paid a living wage, and the company’s operations are zero waste, with everything that isn’t used up being composted or recycled. “We’re constantly looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint further,” Powers said. “We also take food safety very seriously.”
JSL Foods has announced that it has gained organic certification from Quality Assurance International for products made in its Los Angeles, California, plant. This plant produces Asian noodles, rice, grain and Asian wrappers. Currently five noodle SKUs have been given the “Certified Organic” stamp.
“The word ‘organic’ should stand for something more than just a marketing hype to entice consumers,” said Teiji Kawana, company President. “At JSL Foods, it is a very personal commitment to quality – quality ingredients and quality manufacturing,” he added.
JSL’s two-step process of purchasing organic ingredients and then mixing the formulas goes beyond the processes used by many other organic manufacturing companies.
“We believe it is important that the manufacturing process be certified as well. Organic certification is the only way you can be sure a company’s product truly complies with organic standards,” said Wayne Nielsen, Vice President Sales & Marketing.
The company will continue to add more certified organic products to its line. JSL Foods is a third-generation family-owned business that markets to grocery retail, foodservice and industrial segments with its brands: Fortune, Twin Dragon and JSL Foods Professional Products.
Explore Cuisine will be launching its new Thai Rice Noodles at Expo East 2016. There are two varieties.
Brown Rice Pad Thai Noodles are made with organic, nutrient-rich whole grains. Brown Rice Pad Thai Noodles take the guesswork out of gluten-free Asian cooking by providing you with Pad Thai Noodles that are perfectly packed in a 2-ounce package.
Red Rice Pad Thai Noodles utilize nutritious red rice grain for authentic texture. Explore Cuisine’s Red Rice Pad Thai Noodles are a healthy alternative to traditional Pad Thai. With 4g of protein, this three-ingredient Pad Thai pasta is made with whole foods directly from the farm.
These pastas are certified organic and vegan, non-GMO and gluten free. They’re high in protein and fiber.
By Lorrie Baumann
American consumer demand for fresh, organic produce is creating the market that’s encouraging more farmers to convert land to organic production, according to Laura Batcha, Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association, and John Reganold, Regents Professor of Soil Science & Agroecology at Washington State University. “I’m hearing from a lot of the certifiers focusing on farm level operations that 2015 was their biggest year ever for new applications. There is an awareness of the supply crunch,” Batcha said. “There are produce companies that are going out and talking to farmers about transitioning because they do need the supply of organic.”
Consumer demand for organic produce has been growing rapidly, and the result has been that the U.S. has become a net importer of organic produce. The available trade data suggests that we’re importing produce during the winter season when it’s not available within the U.S., Batcha said. The exception to that is tropical products like bananas and mangoes, which can’t be grown in the mainland U.S. Coffee is the organic crop that’s most commonly imported into the U.S.
The United States is also a major importer of organic corn and soy livestock feed. “We’re relying on overseas production that could be done in U.S. except that we don’t have the growers,” Batcha said.
On the other hand, American organic farmers are also finding new markets outside the U.S., especially for products like carrots and apples, and the value of those exports to a world that’s hungry for organic produce is helping keep those farmers in business. “The U.S. is a major supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables to the world, and the world is looking for organic products,” Batcha said. “The exports really do help with profitability. They tend to be able to get a premium, … and that helps to sustain the industry.”
Many of those export crops are being produced on family farms, even if their individual crops are not large, according to Batcha. “Even the big players for strawberries are pulling their supplies from smaller family farms,” she said. Foreign demand for organically grown almonds and walnuts has also provided economic opportunities for family farmers, she added.
The Organic Trade Association is encouraging more American farmers to convert their land to organic production to meet the demand and is experiencing some success, although most of that is coming from younger farmers. The average American farmer, though, is about 58 years old. “There are a number of reasons for that. Farmers get more resistant to change once they reach about 40,” Reganold said. “To change a system from conventional to organic might happen more with younger people. Organic farmers tend to be younger, and maybe that reflects young people being more willing to change…. When I talk to organic, conventional, or other farmers, that issue comes up: we need more young people. Getting young people involved is not easy.”
“We’ve been talking about the supply issue for about a year and a half now. I’m at the point where I’m starting to feel a little hopeful. We’ve seen a lot of innovative partnerships happening within the supply chain to encourage farmers to go organic,” Batcha added. “Farmers are embracing a lot of different models in agriculture – organic being one of them. Younger folks are open to new ideas, and they’re experimenting. The desire is there for the vocation and the lifestyle, but there’s also the desire and the expectation to actually make a living doing it. Organic provides the opportunity to create a different financial model to get through that succession. We’re just going to see more of it.”
One obstacle is that transitioning land from conventional to organic production is a three-year process that involves compliance and documentation for a whole new set of regulations. “It takes time because you have to document and you have to answer questions for certifications,” Reganold said. He added that, despite the headaches of dealing with the rules, he’s finding more farmers who are committed to a process that offers benefits for their soils as well as a future for their farms. “A lot of us are anti-regulation – we have farmers who want to regulate themselves,” Reganold said. “[They’re saying,] ‘It’s okay to check my records.’”
“The success rate goes up dramatically for farmers who have a support system for knowledge transfer. Organic systems are more information intensive. If you’re going from conventional to organic, you’re losing the arsenal of chemicals and you have to learn how to manage without that. Your weed environment might change, your disease environment might change. You have to plan ahead because you don’t have instant solutions to the problems that come up,” Batcha said. “The imbalance between supply and demand always comes with a lag, particularly in agriculture, where you can’t accurately forecast three years out. We’re going to live in an environment when you’re short or long. We’re really trying to prepare now for new policies that can support growers when they’re transitioning. We seem to have gotten the attention of USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] on that issue.”
Stonyfield, the leading organic yogurt maker, is introducing three new products aimed at providing customers more ways to enjoy the delicious flavor and nutritional richness of organic whole milk yogurt. With a new line of 100 percent grassfed yogurts and new whole milk offerings for already popular Stonyfield Greek and Pouch lines, consumers have even more reasons to reach for yogurt.
“During Stonyfield’s first years, plain, simple, whole-milk yogurt was all that we made. In the 90s, diet fads led consumers to fear fat,” said Ana Milicevic, Brand Manager from Stonyfield. “But that simply wasn’t the whole story. Since whole milk provides a wealth of benefits –and tastes great – we’re excited to satisfy an increased demand and return to our roots.”
“Organic whole milk yogurt is an incredibly satisfying, traditional food – something I think many Americans are starting to embrace,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using dietary changes to help balance moods, sharpen brain function and improve mental health. “Plus, it’s a satisfying way to get important nutrients like protein and calcium.”
The Next Chapter: Grassfed Yogurt
Stonyfield’s new organic 100% Grassfed Whole Milk yogurt begins in the pasture, with milk from cows who graze exclusively on grass. Rich and creamy and filled with all the delicious, nutritional qualities of full fat dairy, this cup of yogurt is the perfect choice for a whole breakfast or snack.
Stonyfield is proud to be sourcing its organic 100 percent grassfed whole milk from Maple Hill Creamery, another company passionate about producing milk in a way that is good for the planet, good for the cows and good for people.
Maple Hill Creamery cows are 100 percent grassfed, meaning they eat all grass, all the time (no grain, no corn) throughout the year (even in winter!) to produce whole milk with a rich, unique taste. In collaboration, Stonyfield and Maple Hill Creamery seek to make organic 100 percent grassfed yogurt accessible on a national level to more people than ever before.
To help consumers identify 100 percent grassfed vs. other varieties of grassfed (supplemented with corn or grain), Stonyfield has achieved independent Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) accreditation, noted right on the label of every yogurt cup. Stonyfield Organic 100% Grassfed Whole Milk Yogurt is currently available at Whole Foods Markets nationwide in 6-ounce Vanilla, Strawberry, Blueberry and Plain cups as well as 24-ounce Plain and Vanilla.
The Plot Thickens with Whole Milk Greek
Adding to its Greek nonfat yogurt family, Stonyfield’s Whole Milk Greek delivers a rich, creamy taste that only comes from full-fat dairy. The yogurt is packed with calcium and protein and new fruit-filled sidecars allow for flavor personalization. Available at national retailers in 5.3-ounce cups of Plain, Strawberry, Vanilla, Blueberry, Honey and Cherry, Stonyfield will also offer Whole Milk Greek in quarts of Plain and Vanilla – perfect for families or recipe creation.
A Conveniently Packaged Ending
The whole story concludes with a solution for bringing whole milk goodness on the go – with the introduction of Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Pouches. The entire family will love being able to grab a convenient, hand-held pouch for a delicious, satisfying snack on the go. Stonyfield Whole Milk Pouches are available nationwide in Pear Spinach Mango, Strawberry Beet Berry, Vanilla and Blueberry – all available in single serve pouches. Additionally, each flavor except blueberry is offered in a four-pack as well.
Stonyfield is bringing out the latest offering in its Oh My Yog! lineup, limited edition New England Maple, just in time for National Maple Syrup Day on December 17. Made from organic whole milk and featuring maple syrup sourced from New Englanders who have a passion for making organic syrup, Oh My Yog! New England Maple is an everyday indulgence consumers can feel good about choosing.
Stonyfield’s Oh My Yog! line is known for its unique three-layer format – and with maple on the bottom, honey-infused yogurt in the middle and a decadent layer of cream on top – New England Maple is no exception.
“Oh My Yog! has been a big hit with consumers since we introduced the product earlier this year,” shared Lizzie Conover, Brand Manager for Stonyfield. “It’s the perfect blend of rich, satisfying flavors and wholesome organic whole milk. With the limited edition New England Maple flavor, we are thrilled to celebrate seasonal ingredients found right here in our own backyard in New England.”
Stonyfield’s Oh My Yog! New England Maple is organic, certified gluten-free, non-GMO and made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones and antibiotics. Each 6 oz. container of Oh My Yog! New England Maple contains seven grams of protein per cup.
Easy to recognize in the yogurt aisle thanks to its colorfully striped packaging that was inspired by the three layers inside, Oh My Yog! New England Maple is available at select retailers nationwide from December 2015-March 2016 and retails for the suggested price of $1.59. For those looking for another creamy treat, Oh My Yog! also comes in five other decadent varieties: Madagascar Vanilla Bean, Wild Quebec Blueberry, Pacific Coast Strawberry, Gingered Pear, and Apple Cinnamon.
By the time Andy Wright displayed his organic barbecue sauces at the big Anuga Food Show in Germany this fall, he’d already participated in two other international organic promotion events coordinated by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) during the year, and this novice in the export market had learned quite a bit. Wright put his new knowledge to the test in Germany, and he left Anuga with almost 50 solid business leads.
“This wouldn’t have happened without OTA,” said Wright, Owner of the Minnesota-based Acme Organics and maker of the organic Triple Crown BBQ sauce. “OTA not only gave us a platform to show our products to an international audience, but it also connected us to the right people, the decision makers, and that was huge.”
From those leads in Anuga, Wright is now in the process of closing on three deals to sell his barbecue sauce in Sweden, Switzerland and Australia. Wright notes that the initial contracts aren’t enormous, but that “for a small company, a little bit can create a lot.”
A little bit can create a lot. A solid investment can yield significant results. For more than 15 years in its role as an official cooperator in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Market Access Program (MAP), OTA has been investing in the promotion of American organic agricultural products in global markets and connecting buyers and sellers in order to reap a good return for organic and create new organic customers around the world.
This hard work has not gone unnoticed by USDA. This week the agency awarded $889,393 to OTA in MAP funds for export promotion activities in 2016, an 11 percent increase from the association’s 2015 funding. Plans are well underway at OTA headquarters on how to leverage that money to enable the biggest return on investment for American organic stakeholders.
“We thank USDA for recognizing the tremendous value and opportunities that our export promotion programs are creating for the organic industry, and for enabling us through its generous funding to continue this work,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. “Our analysis shows that for every dollar we spent in promotion activities this year, over $36 in projected organic sales were created. These new sales not only help organic grow, but they create jobs, boost incomes, and contribute in a positive way to our communities.”
Returns for organic, and beyond
A case in point: Jeff and Peggy Sutton founded To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. in rural Alabama. They have participated in OTA’s export activities for three years now, and Jeff said as a direct result of that involvement, they are beginning to sell their products in the UK, South Korea, Mexico and Japan, and are getting business inquiries every day from all over the world. As demand and sales for their sprouted organic grains and flours have grown, their business has evolved from two part-time employees less than a decade ago to a projected payroll of 45 by the end of next year.
“We’re building a new 26,000-square-foot facility, and this will allow us to quintuple our production capacity. We now employ 30 folks, but we’ll be pushing 45 employees within the next year,” said Sutton. “Our involvement with OTA’s export activities has been a tremendous asset in helping us get started in the export market and creating these opportunities for growth.”
OTA’s export promotion programs in 2015 spanned three continents and included strategic participation and showcasing of American organic products in the biggest food shows in Europe and Asia, sponsoring an Organic Day in Japan, exploring potential opportunities in the Middle East, representing the U.S. organic industry at the World’s Fair in Milan, connecting foreign buyers with U.S. organic suppliers at major trade shows in America, and commissioning a landmark study on organic trade to provide organic stakeholders with the most up-to-date information on the global market.
In 2016, OTA will build on its activities to bring more information about market conditions and opportunities to new and first-time organic exporters, to display and introduce organic products to buyers, and to help first-time exporters connect with qualified global buyers.
“It is not easy to get into the export market,” said Monique Marez, Associate Director of International Trade for OTA. “Our mission is to help open the doors and remove some of the barriers for American organic businesses, and to educate international buyers and consumers on the integrity, diversity and quality of U.S. organic products. There are huge opportunities for the U.S. organic sector throughout the world, and we are invested in helping the industry build relationships and brand awareness so they can take advantage of these opportunities.”
OTA’s membership represents about 85 percent of U.S. organic exports. The market promotion activities administered by OTA are open to the entire organic industry, not just OTA members. OTA provides further assistance to U.S. organic exporters with its online U.S. Organic Export Directory.
By Lorrie Baumann
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just released figures that tell us how well organic farmers are doing in the marketplace. The big surprise? While U.S. sales of organic food products broke records this year, the number of acres of farmland devoted to organic agriculture in this country declined between 2008 and 2014. The USDA found 14,540 organic farms in the U.S. in 2008, compared to 14,093 in 2014. The number of acres devoted to organic production declined from just over 4 million in 2008 to 3.67 million in 2014.
The figures come from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which gathered information on all known certified organic, exempt and transitioning organic farms throughout the U.S. in the first few months of this year. “Exempt” refers to farms that follow national organic standards but have less than $5,000 in annual sales. These farms are allowed to use the term “organic;” they just can’t use the USDA Organic seal. Transitioning farms are those that are converting acreage to organic production but haven’t reached the three-year period under organic management that’s required before produce raised on that acreage can be certified as organic.
While the acreage devoted to organic agriculture in this country has fallen, purchases of organic food have been growing. In the U.S. last year, consumers spent $35.9 billion on organic food, representing 4 percent of total food sales, and an 11 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association. The majority of American households in all regions of the country now purchase organic food, from 68 to almost 80 percent of households in southern states to nearly 90 percent on the West Coast and in New England, the OTA says.
The total market value of organic agricultural products sold by American farmers in 2014 was $5.5 billion, of which $3.3 billion was for crops, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, grain, hay and soybeans, and $2.2 billion was livestock, poultry and products like milk and eggs. Milk is by far the most important organic livestock and poultry product in the U.S. market.
American farmers have also become global suppliers of fresh organic produce, with more than $550 million worth of organic products exported from the U.S. in 2014, according to an OTA study released in April. The top five organic products exported from the U.S. in 2014 were apples, lettuce, grapes, spinach and strawberries. However, imports of organic product outpaced those exports, amounting to nearly $1.3 billion in 2014. The top five organic imported products are coffee, soybeans, olive oil, bananas and wine. “At the rate that organic is growing, organic will double in size in six years. The current theory that my company is using is that by 2020 we [organic producers] will be at least 10 percent of the U.S. food market. How are we going to do that if we lack the raw materials? We are importing more soybeans than we produce, significantly more than we produce,” said Lynn Clarkson, President of Clarkson Grain.
He noted that in 2013, U.S. imports of organic corn went up by 67 percent, with much of that coming from Romania. India is an important source of the soybeans imported into the U.S., according to Clarkson. “We are turning over our best markets to other countries,” he said. “When you can’t find supply, you go to countries that are organic by default. Until we can tell American farmers that there’s a secure market, we need to convince them that it’s good enough that they can step in…. Every small town has a ‘table of wisdom,’ and many of those tables are extraordinarily adverse to organic farming. With the downturn in corn prices, farmers are starting to pay more attention to the possibility, and that’s making cultural concerns less important as economic concerns grow.”
Also from the USDA report, 10 states account for 78 percent of all organic sales in the U.S. California alone produced $2.2 billion worth of organic products in 2014 from 2,805 certified and exempt organic farms and a total of 687,168 acres devoted to organic production, up from 470,903 in 2008. California farmers accounted for half of all organic crops produced in the U.S. in 2014. Washington, in second place, produced 12 percent of organic crops in the U.S. and totaled up $515 million in organic sales. In order, the top 10 states in organic sales were California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Wisconsin, Texas, New York, Colorado, Michigan and Iowa.
California also leads the nation in organic livestock and poultry sales, with $271 million, or 41 percent of all organic livestock sales in the U.S. and $301 million in livestock and poultry products – milk and eggs. Pennsylvania came in second in livestock and poultry sales with $112 million, or 17 percent of all organic livestock sales. Wisconsin came in second in organic livestock and poultry product sales, with $127 million or 8 percent of the U.S. total.
The happy egg co. has announced the launch of its organic free-range eggs available in select California retail locations including Costco, Gelson’s and Bristol Farms. The organic line extension complements the happy egg co.’s 12- and six-pack carton offerings currently sold in 6,500 stores nationwide. Expanding its product line to include organic free-range eggs provides the happy egg co., already the gold standard in animal welfare, with an even stronger foothold in the specialty egg market.
“Our move into the organic market has now given the organic consumer a truly humanely raised egg offering, providing affordable, free-range eggs from Organic hens that have been treated with the highest quality of care,” said David Wagstaff, Chief Operating Officer at the happy egg co. “Our product strategy has always included an organic free-range line extension and we’re currently expanding our footprint of organic and non-organic happy egg farms to satisfy the skyrocketing demand for food that is organic and humanely-produced with transparency through the supply chain.”
Consumer demand for organic foods has grown by double-digits every year since the 1990s, with sales increasing from $3.6 billion in 1997 to over $39 billion in 2014. According to Mintel’s “Report on Organic Food and Beverage Shoppers,” sales of natural, organic and better-for-you products are expected to grow 8.1 percent annually to $226 billion by 2018. The happy egg co. will continue its explosive growth trajectory by expanding production into organic farms.
The happy egg co. provides its hens with organic, non-GMO feed and is the only 100 percent free-range egg brand with an animal welfare program that covers everything from living conditions to feed to expertise of caregivers. Additionally, the happy egg co. is the first commercial egg producer in the U.S. to be designated American Humane Certified™, which requires achieving rigorous animal welfare standards. The happy egg co.’s organic free-range eggs are certified by Quality Assurance International.
The happy egg co. organic free-range 18-pack eggs are currently available at select Bay Area Costco locations. The happy egg co. organic free-range eggs will also be sold in 12-packs at select Gelson’s and Bristol Farms locations across southern California. As the only national free range brand in the market, following the launch of its organic free-range eggs at California retailers, the happy egg co. plans for coast to coast distribution to complement its regular free range eggs.