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Think organic, and I'm not just talking about sales growth

Posting in Education

I'd like to preface this post by noting that I have very unhealthy eating habits (daily coffee, check. frequent pastries, check. ice cream, double che...

I'd like to preface this post by noting that I have very unhealthy eating habits (daily coffee, check. frequent pastries, check. ice cream, double check.) But the number of grocery stores and eating establishments cropping up in my community that have some sort of organic bent or that make a point of sourcing products locally continues to grow noticeably.

Indeed, the Organic Trade Association reports that sales of organic "stuff" (food and non-food) reached $24.6 billion by the end of 2008, which was up 17.1 percent despite the flagging economy. I don't have the moolah to buy the published report, which you can find here, but let me mention some of the other statistics:

  • Sales of organic food in 2008 hit $22.9 billion, up 15.8 percent. Overall, this is about 3.5 percent of all the food product sales in the United Sates.
  • Organic products, a much smaller market, generated $1.64 billion in revenue, up 39.4 percent. I'm guessing this is stuff like "green" household cleansers and so on, which I've noticed are the frequent subject of coupons in my local supermarket. It used to be that I could only buy Burt's Bees products at random street fairs and craft gatherings; now, there are big displays in both my local pharmacy and grocery stores

All this background reminds me that there are indeed bright spots in this economy, those that appeal to the spiritual or socially responsible side of U.S. consumers and workers. Call it hogwash, if you want. But if you had the wherewithal to buy a product that was better for the environment (or for you!) than the alternative, would you spend that little extra? The perpetually crowded parking lot at Whole Foods tells me yes. Through this lens, several observations/questions:

  • If you're in the retail business, have you taken the time to explore with your staff whether or not there are organic alternatives for some of the products you carry? Or, if you carry organic goods already, are you giving them the right exposure?
  • If you're in the process of preparing a new product for the market, have you thought carefully about your organic or green competition? Can you BE that organic or green competition?
  • Is your customer demographic young or female with a post-secondary education?
  • Are you lucky enough to live in a part of the country where the growing season might be conducive to entirely or mostly local sourcing?
  • If you care nothing about organic ideas or products or alternative, do you at least understand what you're up against?

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure