Exhibitors and presentations at the 2012 Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore emphasized organic, “natural” (regardless of the lack of a universal definition), and relatively unprocessed, healthful foods.
This, of course, is the Expo’s niche. It’s a great way to get updates in these areas, but care should also be taken that it does not represent the overall food industry. As one exhibitor told me, “We have a lot of other products in our line, but we only show our organic items here because of that is what this show is about.”
A number of quite good presentations discussed organic foods, including the formulation of these products. (Links to several relevant sites are provided below.) A key point made by Lisa Brines, National List Manager, USDA – National Organic Program was that the USDA’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances includes non-organic ingredients that can be used in organic foods (assuming a number of criteria are met). An important criterion is that an organic version of the ingredient is not available. A “Sunset Review” for these non-organic ingredients exists where every five years an ingredient receives a reviewed to be sure it still qualifies for an exemption.
Jeff Rakity, national sales manager, Natural Flavors, pointed out that organic flavorings need to be certified by a third party. NOP compliant flavors can be self-certified, but the company must maintain internal documents for verification. One comment was that it takes a LOT of acreage to provide the raw materials needed for an organic flavoring.
Grace Marroquin, CEO, Marroquin Organic International, Inc. noted that an over-riding benefit of organic ingredients (beyond the consumption of the ingredient itself) is that it reduces a population’s overall exposure to toxic chemicals from synthetic pesticides that end up in the ground and water supply. It was also noted that organic ingredients can be more difficult for a processor to use in that there often is more variation in the ingredients than non-organic alternatives. The take away message is that systems must be set up to deal with these formula variations [because consumers will not accept them].
Other presenters included Gwendolyn Wyard, regulatory director, Organic Standards and Food Safety, Organic Trade Association and Steve Peirce, president, RIBUS, Inc.
Mary Ellen Molyneaux, NMI, reviewed results from a consumer study on organic. The company divides the population into various “buckets” in regards to attitudes toward organic products. Some 17% are categorized as “Devoted,” 23% “Temperates,” 38% “Dabblers” and 22% “Reluctants.” She noted a progression in a consumer’s adaptation of organic. Interest moves from use of conventional products to “natural” products to organic and finally to products from Mother Nature. She offered that this is why unprocessed produce is so closely linked to organic. She also provided the audience a thoughtful warning. While the industry well understands the difference between certified organic and natural products, consumers don’t. Natural is so closely linked with organic that when the image of one is damaged, the other is as well. “When you denigrate one, you denigrate the other,” Molyneaux advised. “We have enough people picking on us that we don’t need to pick on each other.”
Click here for the State of the Industry: NEXT Report Overview (video) by Laura Batcha, Executive Vice President – Organic Trade Association and Maryellen Molyneaux, President – Natural Marketing Institute