Wait ! Is My Virgin Coconut Oil Really Organic? What About My Organic Gluten-Free Chips?
Can you trust organic labeled food packets in retail and how food companies are continually striving to build trust with consumers? Let’s dig in and see what we could really do as aware, conscious consumers.
A well-organized supply chain, in any industry, means better products, enhanced brand value and, indeed, more profitability. Traceable supply chains provide an opportunity for farmers, processors and food companies to adopt digitally secure and trackable environments and hence market trustable finished food products. The consumer has been inquisitive to know where the potatoes for his packet of Frito Lays came from, was it grown with good agricultural practices using ethical labor ? And are these potatoes non-GMO? Traceability transformed this. It gives the consumer power by informing them in detail about the foods they are buying by employing smart labeling, color-changing barcodes, perhaps pinning down to the farm and farmer who grew his kale or avocado. Farm-to-fork provenance is now the ‘New Normal’ especially after the world witnessed the chaos around hauled supply chains in COVID, transparency and legitimate data-based supply chains are what consumers will place their bets on and invest their money on.
The availability of safe, affordable, and sustainable food is vital to the ever-growing population, increasing environmental and health concerns. More so, it is a basic fundamental human right. But what does Organic Certified really mean, and is it worth the premium customers pay?
Organic labels prove that a product has been produced, processed in adherence to food authorities’ usually USFDA; the brands that certify as 100% organic are essentially saying that all the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards. However, there are certain rules for the produce/ingredients to be flagged as Certified Organic:
» Crop/Plants should not be grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetic modification, irradiation or sewage sludge.
» Animals/Poultry must be raised exclusively on organic feed, have access to the outdoors (cage-free), and cannot be given antimicrobial drugs or hormones.
» Food producers will be inspected frequently to ensure these practices are being followed to the letter.
Any processed food, or pre-cooked meals, frozen meat must have been produced as per the food production regulations verified by the relative authorities. So, yes if you spot a label on the packet shouting out loud – 100% Organic, it is most likely to have been passed through stringent third-party inspections and all shortcomings are reported, about 95 to 99 percent of the ingredients must follow the rules. Unless the food brands are careless, they may then attract heavy penalties, withdrawal of food licence, while for if farmers/growers do not adhere to safe organic GAPs, the certification and the governing agencies’ may not purchase the yield altogether. Farmers must allow third-party certifiers to inspect for any shortcomings, illegal usage of pesticides, harmful additives, and ensure all the rules are followed.
There is a thin line in sustainable farming and organic farming: sustainability is about the importance of protecting soil nutrients through composted manure, crop rotation, appropriate cultivation, and using biological pest controls. Sustainable soils ought to contain higher levels of nutrients – and research shows that they do – but organic certification does not require higher nutritional values. Without testing, it is difficult to proclaim whether organic food is nutritionally better. Hence, the importance of Quality Audit and Organic Certification. The main point of organic is the production methods, and these require hand labor and careful management, both of which come at a higher cost.
Depending on numerous factors like complexity of the operation, processing, value chain actors, data availability and more, Organic Certification typically requires up to 12 weeks.
It is recommended to begin the certification process at least 90 days before harvest so as to ensure that all the processes involved have been reviewed thoroughly.
For instance, “100% Organic Vegetable Soup” means that all ingredients are certified as 95% organic. Alternatively, another Soup labelled with “Vegetable Soup – Made with Organic Carrots and Tomatoes” indicates that a minimum of 60- 70% of all ingredients (this case just two) used in the recipe was organically grown.
Consuming organic food ensures trust and assurity of significantly better ingredients, better farming methods, no harmful contaminants and probably higher nutritional value. There has been a lot of narrative and study around organic milk. Now, who would have thought that milk could be non-organic? Well, it turns out that milk brands were feeding their cattle certain supplemental bovine growth hormones to accelerate their milk-producing capacity in adolescent calves. Hence the processed, treated milk had traces of hormones that enhanced early puberty in young girls all over the United States. Then, once under the radar of USFDA, the milk industry became super vigilant and sold milk that came from open farms, grass-fed cows, with ‘hormone-free’ milk mentioned on their packaging.
Ultimately, all milk contains hormones (including growth hormone) that are naturally produced by the cow. So the keyword to look for is “added.” There should be no-added growth hormones. Organic milk comes from cows that have never received added hormones of any type; ever. Even when they are sick, they may be treated with antibiotics, but their milk is never mixed and is kept separate from the herd until they are completely healthy. Undoubtedly, using agtech solutions like blockchain traceability ensures disclosure of data on every step of the supply chain.
According to the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), high pesticides are usually used to grow peaches, nectarines, apples, bell peppers, strawberries, cherries, pears, raspberries, imported grapes, celery, potatoes and spinach. In contrast, foods that you could peel such as onions, peas, bananas, sweet corn and tropical fruits, tend to be low in pesticides.
Now, that does not mean you don’t balance your meals. The variety on the platter is a must and the informed customer knows that any product labeled “Certified O rganic” has been through tightly controlled federal regulation. So take your pick!
The ever-growing market of traceable organic food has created a whole new realm of exports and imports. Now that companies can verify product quality and other information, exports and imports have grown significantly. Moreover, substantial growth of eCommerce platforms has committed to international trade by reducing finding suppliers and buyers to mere screen taps.
The United States alone has a huge market for organic imports. As per the US Department of Agriculture, the number of tracked imported food products increased from 16 in 2011 to 31 in 2016. US organic exports that are tracked—mostly fruit and vegetables—reached $548 million in 2016 including apples, grapes, and lettuce. Even though the US exported organic products to over 79 countries, Canada and Mexico accounted for 70 percent of the value in 2016. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea were also among the United States’ top trade partners for organic products in 2016.
On the other hand, the most organic imports in 2016 in the US were bananas, coffee, olive oil, corn and soybeans (to meet the growing demand for organic livestock feed). Turkey, Mexico, Italy, Peru, and Ecuador supplied 43 percent of tracked U.S. organic imports. In 2016, 87 countries supplied tracked organic products to the United States.
To help open new markets for organic farmers and handlers across producing countries and large importers such as the US, Canada, Africa’s multiple foreign governments are working continually to establish international trade arrangements. These efforts allow farmers to gain access to larger markets and their crops to be sold in regions that are willing to pay a premium for organic, for example, Canada and the European Union. This also allows farmers and FPOs engaged in organic farming without maintaining certification to multiple standards. Imported organic products must either be certified to USDA organic regulations or to an acceptable international standard under an established international trade partnership.
Before 2020, the organic food industry was growing at a regular pace. COVID-19 influenced the need for cleaner, healthier products, even if it meant investing in premium products. Non-organic products, i.e. organic vitamins and immunity-boosting products, saw a massive surge as organic supplements to household staples (dairy, eggs, bread, grain, flour, to name a few).
Offering quality with consistency is a challenging task. There are a lot many things that must go right to ensure a steady flow of quality to the customers for years. The source of the seed or raw materials plays a prime factor in quality; to retain the quality for a long time, companies strive to do their best. Besides quality, companies care about sourcing because they want to ensure minimum risk, the lowest cost possible, their brand image remains intact with consistency in quality, and meets the surging consumer demands.
On the retail front, large retailers took organic aisles to another level, they adopted organic farms to control and monitor their in-house organic labels. Today customers are surprised to see wholesale club Costco surpassing Whole Foods as the largest organic retailer (back in 2016) and has captured approximately 10 percent of the U.S. market. It is definitely a win-win for customers looking for discounts on organic items. Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Walmart, Costco and even Whole Foods offer great deals on certain organic items to manage the freshness of inventory.
Food is a sensitive product. This is perhaps the main reason why QC is crucial to the food industry. Consumers, once they trust a brand, tend to buy products of the same brand repeatedly. Consumers base their perception on the brand by their products and stay loyal to the brand if the product is good and levels with their expectations.
However, this can be good and bad concurrently. While consumers’ trust can keep them loyal to the brand for life, even the smallest disparity in product quality or service could stagger consumer trust and hurt the brand image.
As a result, the company loses out on customers, and sales dwindle. Thus, having QC becomes imperative for any company to ensure a good consumer reputation and offer consistent product quality over a long time. The inward team at food retailers have a stringent quality policy and traceability control over the suppliers they deal with, especially if it is organic produce such as cage-free eggs, organic tuna, and fresh veggies are grown in vertical farming facilities. For example, baby arugula is grown with zero pesticides sold by plenty in San Francisco.
Counterfeit food is a global problem and affects all industries. Sold mostly over the internet, counterfeit products form a chain that affects every supply chain level. Starting from the top, when consumers stumble across a fake product with company branding, they perceive it as genuine; when the product doesn’t live up to the consumer’s expectations, due to the original company branding, consumers start to reject the brand for its bad quality. This blemishes a company’s reputation and consequently affects sales. And when it comes to the very bottom of the supply chain, the consumers, contamination in food or counterfeits can cause significant health risks.
Trust is an expensive thing. With technology making it easier and more transparent for consumers to know what they are buying into, consumers’ trust in a brand will play a central role in a company’s performance. Companies will need to emphasize product quality more than anything else and with the help of technologies such as traceability, companies will make the supply chain more transparent for consumers. They will also need to implement stringent QC guidelines and find multiple sources to obtain the highest quality product while keeping the price to the minimum.
People’s rising demands are sure to create a new market for food that comes with smart labels, dynamic barcodes and more, that tell consumers all about the product. The company that will keep product quality and food supply chain transparency at the apex of their priorities is sure to build consumer sales and clock high sales figures. Consumers are also seeking more convenience, notably in foods like freshly-cut and prepackaged organic items. Ready-to-eat pre-packed salads topped Nielsen’s best selling organic produce list with $1.12 billion in sales, an increase of 5.3 percent over 2018. For fruits and vegetables, apples rose 6.4 percent and carrots 3.5 percent in sales to $393 and $340 million, respectively. The biggest rise in organic sales belonged to antioxidant superstar blueberries—up to 33 percent to $256 million.
In 2021, the continued growth in organic and regenerative organic will see an even stronger trend from consumers who are increasingly prioritizing health and farmers who are shifting towards regenerative practices. With healthy eating expanding to ‘value-based’ eating, plant-based will continue to evolve to planet-based, now, more than ever.
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