Move over, crunchy granola. Many organic foods, local grocers say, have gone mainstream. Even on Main Street in some small towns, things like organic eggs or carrots are selling briskly, despite prices that can be double or triple the cost of conventionally.-produced foods.
Christina Ziltner, of Roy’s Market in New Glarus, is the produce manager for the grocery business her grandparents founded in 1952.
“Even five years ago I never would have imagined that customers would pay $2.99 for a dozen organic eggs versus about 80 cents a dozen for regular eggs,” she said. “But some of our customers are asking for them, and they’re selling well. People have a choice and that’s what it’s all about.”
While health food stores, local food co.-operatives and specialty chains like Whole Foods have ridden the organic trend for years, more recently mainline grocery stores have also been getting in on the action.
It’s not surprising when you look at the numbers. According to statistics in the May issue of Wisconsin Grocer, a trade publication of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the average annual growth of organic food sales nationally is anticipated at 16 percent each year for the next several years. That’s in comparison to anticipated 3 or 4 percent growth in all grocery food sales nationally.
Tim Metcalfe, owner of several Sentry food stores, believes that the organic and natural food trend is here to stay.
“I don’t think this is a fad or a temporary thing,” Metcalfe said. “Actually, I believe the growing interest in natural and organic foods is probably generational. Our parents never really thought much about how food was produced, and that was fine. But I think America’s next generation of consumers .-.- our kids .-.- are extremely conscious about health issues, including healthy food and exercise.”
Wisconsin Grocer noted that many aging baby boomers are looking at healthy eating as a way to lower cholestrol, lower blood pressure and lose weight, all part of an effort to use nutrition to help manage their health.
“The supply of organic food has improved dramatically over the last five or ten years,” Metcalfe added.
He also noted that the quality of organic food had become more consistent in the last decade. While the entrance of big players like Kraft and Dean Foods into the organic market may be alarming to some smaller producers and organic food purists, it may help fuel demand from mainstream consumers who are willing to be more experimental with what they’re eating if it carries a recognized brand.
For Carl Miller, general manager and a co.-owner at Miller and Sons Supermarket in Verona, offering an expanded organic and natural foods line simply makes sense because it is what his customers are asking for. His independent grocery store has been a family owned business at the same location in Verona for 103 years.
“I think our store is known for our willingness to provide products our customers request,” Miller said. “It looks to me like we’re getting new things every week. We now have more space for organic and natural foods, we see what people want, and how they sell. I’d say it’s really taken off in the last six months,” he added.
Although organic and natural foods are more expensive, price doesn’t seem to be a major barrier for customers who value the products, Miller said.
“We’ve also learned a lot from some of our vendors who are knowledgeable about trends and what customers want to buy,” Miller said. “Some of it is simply word of mouth.”
Kevin Hagen is a route salesman serving the Madison area for Kehe Food Distributors of Romeoville, Ill. It’s part of his job, he said, to follow food trends, and he agrees there’s generally a growing interest in organic and natural foods in communities surrounding Madison.
But Hagen also noted that that interest varies considerably from community to community. He attributes the differences, generally, to demographics and disposable income.
“There’s plenty of interest in these products in places like Verona or Cross Plains,” he said, “but less in Cottage Grove, for example.”
Generally, Hagen believes environmental concerns fuel a significant share of the natural and organic food market. “I think people are more worried about nutrition today, and they care about the idea of pesticides and chemicals in their food,” he said. “There’s something in the paper every day, it seems, about issues related to food and peoples’ health.”
Out in New Glarus, Ziltner has become aware that concern for organic products may extend beyond what people are buying to feed themselves, and their families.
“We have customers who buy organic carrots in big bags. And they feed them to their horses!” she laughed.
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By Susan Troller – June 18, 2005
From: The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) http://host.madison.com