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The organics are coming, the organics are coming!

“Today” food editor Phil Lempert gives us the ins and outs of a truly organic experience.
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More and more Americans are reaching for something organic off of their grocery store shelves. The industry is expected to top 11 billion dollars this year alone. After years of planning the U.S. government has weighed in on exactly what can and can’t be called organic with a new system of labels. “Today” food editor Phil Lempert gives us the ins and outs of a truly organic experience.

FOR MORE THAN 10 years, organic farmers and suppliers worked diligently to have the Federal Government adopt a standard labeling regulation that would enable supermarket shoppers to be able to identify in a split-second which products are organic.

In 2000, there were more than 12,000 organic farmers in the United States, and sales topped $7.8 billion that year. The industry is growing at a rate of more than 20% a year, and has been for the past 12 years.

The USDA’s National Organic Rule takes effect October 21 along with new labeling guidelines and a new USDA logo that will help shoppers identify those foods that have been grown, processed and packaged in accordance with organic practices. Only products with a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients will be allowed to use the seal.

There are four new organic categories:

100 percent organic

Organic, defined by the USDA as containing 95% of organic ingredients

Made with organic, that includes products with at least 70% organic ingredients

Some organics products with less than 70% organic ingredients are only allowed to list the organic items in the ingredient panel on the side of the package.

Many consumers already are confused about organic foods, which is why it is important to understand what organic “is” and “is not”. For example, in a recent poll more than 50 percent of those polled say they eat organic food because it’s healthier, and 23% because of a better quality. The truth is that the benefits of organics are quite simple:

Organic standards require that the land used to grow organic crops go through a three year “transition period” to make sure the crops are free of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

All organic agriculture prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation, sewage sludge and no genetically modified organisms can be contained in anything labeled organic.

In some cases, like organic fresh produce, the taste and flavor of the products is richer and more flavorful

Here’s are some of the newest “organics,” featured in the segment on “Today”:

Annie’s Naturals Organic Red Wine & Olive Oil Vinaigrette and other Organic dressings

Applegate Farms Organic Sausages

Cascadian Farms Organic Cereals — plus new frozen peaches and Mur Glenn line of tomato products

Country Choice Naturals — cookies, hot cereals and rich, creamy cocoas, franks, burgers, meatballs, pepperoni

Freida’s Organic Produce

Gevalia Peruvian Organic Coffee

Heinz Organic ketchup

Honest Tea — Organic ice tea

Imagine Foods — A variety of organic soups, Soy Dream Organic non-dairy frozen desserts

Nest Fresh Eggs — Organic eggs

nSpired Foods — Organic chocolate bars and confections

Organic Lands Smoky snack sticks and other organic products in their line

Republic of Tea Organic line of tea: 7 different blends

Walnut Acres: Organic applesauce in tubes plus organic juices and others items in their line.

A major obstacle in increasing organic consumption seems to be price. According to AC Nielsen’s 65,000 plus member Homescan panel, when asked how they feel about organic products. More than 60 percent agreed that “organic products are more expensive than similar non-organic products,” far ahead of other attributes such as 41% saying “no pesticides” and 26 percent saying “healthier.”

Organics have not been proven to be any more nutritious than non-organic foods, although there are some trials in Europe being conducted to determine if in fact this type of sustainable agriculture may in fact yield more nutritious crops. There is concern among some consumers that the pesticides and bottom line for shoppers to understand is that buy buying organics you will be paying more (between 5 and 30% on average depending on the type of product), consuming products that are free from artificial preservatives and chemicals and do not contain any genetically modified organisms.

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru®, analyzes the food marketing industry to keep consumers up-to-date about cutting-edge marketing trends. He is a regular “Today” show contributor, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and host of Shopping Smart of the WOR Radio Network. For more food and health information, you can check out Phil’s Web site at: