Saturday, July 29, 2006

How to Close the Organic Gap

The New York Times just came out with an article on how "organic" really isn't "organic" in many cases. This was no surprise to me, but apparently the columnist was shocked to find this out.

It's a good article. It reinforces what I've decided to do with my own grocery shopping. Yes, I'm the shopper in the family. My wife used to do almost all the shopping, but she is such a bargain hunter that she would usually spend about 4-5 hours a week just traipsing from store to store, so we decided that I should be the shopper. I quite enjoy it.

I found out about the "organic gap" several years ago. To me, as usual, the government is a major problem. The Bush administration (and previous admins) are happy to bend to industry's demands, the the big industrial food producers would like government standards that say that anything and everything is organic, so they can plaster the stickers on their food and charge more.

This is inevitable. The organic sticker on food will never mean much, even though there are supposedly USDA standards for it. Industry will always have its way.

For me, the trick is to shift my allegiance from the producer to the retailer. The producers will find ways to put organic labels on their food through legal sleight-of-hand, with the USDA and FDA in close cooperation.

But retailing is a different story. If I could only find a retailer who prides themselves on selling only the least harmful food, with the least exposure to pssticides, herbicides, with no GMOs, with as close to "true organic" processes as possible.

Yes, Daryl, there is such a retailer. It's called Whole Foods Market.

Whole Foods has a two-part strategy for taking ownership of this retail space. First, they widely position themselves as the grocery store that specializes in natural, organic food, and they clearly indicate the food in their store that is NOT organic by USDA standards. However, these supposedly non-organic foods are often safer than food labeled as organic by the big producers.

The second part of their strategy is to investigate the suppliers, not to "take their word for it." Whole Foods has a policy of visiting their suppliers and ensuring that the processes are still in place to produce the best, healthiest, least harmful food possible.

To me, this is the solution. Yes, Whole Foods has been slammed for various "infringements" of healthy food sales. But in the cases I've been able to find, it is mostly from people who think Whole Foods shouldn't sell anything with sugar, or should abandon their meat sales and go completely vegan, etc. In other words, various food religious wars played out on the supermarket store floor.

What I haven't heard is any Whole Foods products testing positive for pssticides, herbicides or GMOs. If this happens, Whole Foods reputation would go down the drain and they'd be just like any other big grocer. They can't afford for that to happen. And so far, it hasn't.

I watched a movie called "Touch and Go" a few months ago. It's an ice hockey drama with Michael Keaton done back in 1986. In it, Keaton's character is asked "Who do you trust?" He replies "I find the people who have the same goals as me, and I trust them."

I think this is such a great statement. Obviously, a person should be more trusting than that, but if someone has the same goal as you do, that's a good indicator that you can trust them.

I think Whole Foods has the same goal as me, with different reasons. I want a grocery store that will sell me the best, healthy food. That's my goal. And Whole Foods wants to sell me that. Not just because they're altruistically wanting the best for me, but because their entire reputation as a retailer relies on this happening. If I found out their food had a bunch of pesticides or GMOs, I would be so disappointed, and so would 100% of their customers. Their business depends on it. And that's makes me comfortable shopping there.

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