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Animal Welfare Rules at Stake for Organic Livestock

By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is getting ready to release new regulations intended to ensure that consumers who buy organic meat, eggs and dairy products are getting products that came from animals that were treated humanely. At stake is possible adverse reaction from consumers who believe that organic certification already includes animal welfare rules – which it does – but who might be disappointed in the way that the rule is interpreted and applied by various organic producers. “This whole question of animal care and animal welfare is really important,” said Organic Trade Association Executive Director Laura Batcha, who cited a recent study funded by OTA which found that among the randomly selected consumer families with children in the home who were surveyed, the Millennial generation takes into consideration, not just possible pesticide contamination, but also animal welfare, environmental benefits and possible exposure to antibiotics as criteria for their decisions to buy organic items.

The organic industry wants to get ahead of that potential backlash by clarifying the existing standards so that the rules mean the same thing to all organic farmers and can be enforced consistently and fairly across the nation. “What we’ve heard from the National Organic Program was that they’re intending to finalize the rule by the end of the year,” said Nate Lewis, the Organic Trade Association’s Farm Policy Director.

The proposed rule is opposed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, which argue that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 doesn’t give the USDA the authority to prescribe practices to promote animal welfare. “With regard to livestock, the National Organic Program’s coverage should be limited to feeding and medication practices,” Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition wrote in its comment on the proposed rule. “Animal welfare standards not relating to feeding and mediation are not within the scope of the [Organic Food Production] Act and should be removed from this proposed rule.” Organic industry advocates are anticipating that once the final rule is issued, its opponents may sponsor a Congressional lobbying effort to attach riders onto next year’s national budget and appropriations bills that could prohibit the USDA from spending money to enforce the rule.

Lewis anticipates that under the final rule, farmers will have one year to comply with most of its provisions, three years to comply with the rules for outdoor space requirements and five years to comply with the rules about indoor stocking densities. The three-year delay for the outdoor space requirement will give farmers who need to add land to their operations enough time to meet the three-year requirement for organic certification, and the five-year delay for indoor stocking densities will give poultry farmers enough time to get their money’s worth out of the barns they’ve already built, which are, on average, seven years old. They have a depreciation life of 12 years, so a five-year delay in the requirement that they provide more space will mean that they get the full 12 years of life that are allowed by depreciation rules.

The regulations for organic livestock already require that the animals must be raised in an environment that allows animals to express natural behaviors such as spreading their wings and having the space to lie down naturally. They must be provided with adequate health care and protection from conditions that can jeopardize the animals’ wellbeing, such as predators and blizzards. The proposed rule is designed to clarify those existing requirements so they’re enforceable and transparent, “bolstering consumer confidence and strengthening the market for organic products,” according to the USDA, which published the proposed rule in April of this year.

The USDA received more than 6,000 public comments on the proposed rule, which would apply only to animals for which farmers receive organic certification, a voluntary program – it wouldn’t set up a mandatory standard for other livestock operations. According to the USDA, “the proposal aims to clarify how organic producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and wellbeing throughout life, including transport and slaughter.” It addresses the areas of the animals’ living conditions, health care, transport and slaughter. Among other things, it would clarify the existing regulation that organic livestock must have year-round access to the outdoors. This proposed rule specifies that “outdoors” means that the animals have to be allowed to go out into areas where they can see and feel the sun overhead and the soil beneath their feet – access to an open-air shelter or a porch with a concrete floor and a roof overhead wouldn’t qualify. Other provisions would set minimum standards for how much space is required for each chicken or turkey in a poultry barn, would require that organic pigs have dirt to root around in and would prohibit the transportation of sick, injured or lame animals for sale or slaughter and the use of cattle prods on sensitive parts of the animal.

The proposed rule follows recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory committee of 15 citizens appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture that includes representation from the various stakeholders involved in the organic industry, including farmers, handlers, a retailer, a certifier, scientists, a natural resource conservationist and a consumer. The Board has been working on development of animal welfare standards for 10 years, Lewis said. “It’s all very transparent.”

The rule’s supporters include the OTA, which represents organic businesses, including growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations and others involved in producing and selling organic products across the 50 states, and by The Humane Society of the United States, the country’s largest animal protection organization, which said in its comments on the proposed rule that “The HSUS supports higher animal welfare standards for the National Organic Program (NOP) and supports finalization of the proposed rule. In some areas, however, we advocate for stronger changes or wording clarification.”

Perdue Farms, which is the largest provider of organic-certified broiler chickens in the U.S., also supports the proposed rule, except that the company would prefer that the USDA lengthen the amount of time it would give broiler operations to reduce their indoor stocking rate from the 6 pounds (of poultry) per square foot that Perdue says is the current industry standard recognized by the animal welfare certifier Global Animal Partnership to the proposed rule’s level of 5 pounds per square feet to three years instead of the one-year timeframe specified in the rule. To adjust to the 5 pounds per square foot rule, the family farmers who supply Perdue Farms’ chickens will need to add at least the equivalent of 65 additional barns at a cost of more than $25 million to their operations. They won’t be able to do that with only one year’s notice, so if the rule goes into effect with the one year timeframe, they’d have to reduce their flocks, which would effectively reduce the country’s supply of organic broiler chicken by 20 percent, according to Perdue.

Nevertheless, “Perdue supports the NOP’s desire to strengthen what it means to carry the Organic seal. These proposed standards will significantly differentiate organic growing practices from conventional operations and meet consumer expectations that Organic production meet a uniform and verifiable animal welfare standard. We are with you; we need the 3 year timeframe to make it happen,” Perdue said in its comments to the USDA.

Millennials Choose Organic

America’s 75 million Millennials are devouring organic, and they’re making sure their families are too. Parents in the 18- to 34-year-old age range are now the biggest group of organic buyers in America, finds a new survey on the organic buying habits of American households released recently by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Among U.S. parents, more than five in 10 (52 percent) organic buyers are Millennials. And this influential and progressive generation is stocking their shopping carts with organic on a regular basis.

“The Millennial consumer and head of household is changing the landscape of our food industry,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “Our survey shows that Millennial parents seek out organic because they are more aware of the benefits of organic, that they place a greater value on knowing how their food was grown and produced, and that they are deeply committed to supporting a food system that sustains and nurtures the environment.”

OTA has partnered with KIWI Magazine to conduct surveys of the organic buying patterns of households since 2009. This year’s survey marks the first time that generational buying habits have been studied. The survey looked at Millennials (born between 1981-1997, currently age 18-34 years), Generation-X (born between 1965-1980, currently 35-50 years old), and Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964 and currently 51-69 years old).

Compared to Millennials who account for 52 percent of organic buyers, Generation X parents made up 35 percent of parents choosing organic, and Baby Boomers just 14 percent.

OTA’s “U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs 2016 Tracking Study,” a survey of more than 1,800 households throughout the country with at least one child under 18, found that more than eight in ten (82 percent) U.S. families say they buy organic sometimes, one of the highest levels in the survey’s seven-year lifetime. The number of families never buying organic has steadily decreased, going from almost 30 percent in 2009 to just 18 percent today.

Organic and Living Green
While 35 percent of all families surveyed said that choosing organic products is a key part of their effort to live in an environmentally friendly way, a greater percentage of Millennials said buying organic is a key eco-conscious habit than any other generational group. For 40 percent of Millennials, choosing organic is an integral part of living green, versus 32 percent of Generation Xers and 28 percent of Baby Boomers.

Organic buying continues to be on the rise across the generations. Forty-nine percent of all households surveyed said they are buying more organic foods today than a year ago.

Knowledge about organic is also growing across the generational spectrum of parents, but Millennials in particular are likely to view themselves as very knowledgable about organic products, with nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) reporting that they are “well informed” (34 percent) or “know quite a bit” (44 percent). With that knowledge comes a great deal of trust for the organic label. Parents’ trust in organic labeling is the strongest and highest among Millennials, with 54 percent saying they have confidence in the integrity of the organic label. Almost 60 percent of Millennial parents say they have a “strong connection” with the label and feel the organic label is an important part of how they shop for food.

“The Millennial shopper puts a high premium on the healthiness and quality of the food they choose for their families,” said Batcha. “This generation has grown up eating organic, and seeing that organic label. It’s not surprising that they have a greater knowledge of what it means to be organic, and consequently a greater trust of the organic label.”

Organic sales in the U.S. in 2015 posted new records, with total organic product sales hitting a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, up a robust 11 percent from the previous year’s record level and far outstripping the overall food market’s growth rate of 3 percent, according to OTA’s “2016 Organic Industry Survey.” Of the $43.3 billion in total organic sales, $39.7 billion were organic food sales, up 11 percent from the previous year, with non-food organic products accounting for $3.6 billion, up 13 percent. Nearly 5 percent of all the food sold in the U.S. in 2015 was organic.

New Study Reveals More Americans Embracing Plant-Based, Organic and Non-GMO Foods

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.

Boulder Organic! Souping It Up in Colorado

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.

Boulder Organic Green Chile Corn ChowderAfter 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.”

Going Organic, a Natural Choice for JSL Foods

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 to Launch Gluten Free Pad Thai Noodles

Explore Cuisine will be launching its new Thai Rice Noodles at Expo East 2016.  There are two varieties.

Brown rice noodlesBrown 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.

Demand Spurs Farmers to Consider the Organic Option

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 Organic Introduces New Trio of Whole Milk Products

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 Organic Introduces Limited Edition Oh My Yog! in New England Maple Flavor

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.

OTA Export Promotion Investment Yields High Returns for Organic

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 SwedenSwitzerland 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 KoreaMexico 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.

  • In Germany, OTA will lead a contingent of 14 American organic companies at the BioFach World Organic Trade Fair, the world’s leading organic food show. OTA will showcase U.S. organic in its pavilion, and will lead educational seminars on organic.
  • In South Korea, OTA will return to the huge Seoul Hotel and Food show, and will also conduct an in-country promotion to increase consumer awareness for U.S. organic products.
  • In Taiwan and then in Switzerland, OTA will lead trade missions to showcase American organic to the local markets.
  • In Paris, OTA will participate in SIAL, the world’s largest food innovation exhibition, which attracts some 6,500 exhibitors from 104 countries.
  • In Japan, OTA will showcase American organic at the first ever Organic Lifestyle Forum. The forum will include dozens of educational sessions on organic and highlight market opportunities in Asia’s most important organic market.
  • In the U.S., OTA will host international buyers at Natural Products Export West to connect with U.S. organic producers, and will also lead an organic tour of East Coast organic farms and operations for key media from the EU, Japan and the Middle East to provide a hands-on organic learning experience.
  • Worldwide, OTA will conduct a thorough evaluation of its export activities to ensure that participants are benefitting as much as possible from the activities.

“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.

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