by: Nate Furler, Marketing Specialist
You may have noticed these days that “green” is everywhere. It’s trendy, it’s hip, and the newest must-have accessory is a stainless steel water bottle. Who would have thought 20 years ago that something as simple as shopping organic, sustainable and local would be the new “designer” brand? Well, we hoped it would catch on.
It was inevitable really. From a financial gain perspective, it was only a matter of time before big companies realized the profitability of going green, especially those in the food industry. Large retail stores – which I am sure you can think of at least a few names – have started to carry organic products. But, the Oneota Co-op has carried them for decades. Why the sudden change in heart from these big companies? One word, m-o-n-e-y.
Until the ability to profit from these products and practices came into play, large companies didn’t really want to deal with the ideals of the organic and fair trade industry. Brands like Stoneyfield and Cascadian Farm could not be found in a large chain store. Now, these super-stores are carrying Stoneyfield, and screaming from the airwaves that they are newly devoted to organics. While it is a step in the right direction, it is by no means a solution to our food system woes.
My gut reaction is still to cringe at the idea of walking into a large chain store to buy my organics. Mainly because I fail to believe that a large corporation is really in this for the sustainability aspect and for anything more than the numbers. Not to mention, this only deals with one problem area of our food system, and not another extremely important problem area – transportation. It’s great that we are reducing our global impact by increasing the amount of organic farming practices, but we are still transporting this stuff across the country and throughout the world.
Sourcing products locally is a second part of the solution. This can be a challenge and quite frankly time consuming. Rather than contact and converse with one large supplier, buying locally means contacting numerous farmers and producers one-on-one. For a store our size, this is roughly enough cumulative hours to pay for at least one full-time employee. Imagine the expense doing this for a multi-billion dollar corporation that needs twenty times the number of local farmers and producers to meet their supply demands – each for a different outlet store all over the country. This is a sizeable undertaking. However, it is one that is necessary to the survival of a sustainable food system.
Going back to the idea of money that can be made in the organic food industry and big corporations taking notice, check out the chart below representing organic acquisitions by the top 30 food processors in North America. This chart was researched and designed by Philip H. Howard, currently an assistant professor at Michgan State University who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Community, Food and Agriculture, as well as a graduate course in Research Methods. It is interesting to note who owns what these days and how quickly this corner of the market is being snatched up! One can only hope that these giants of the food industry maintain the high standards and ideals of the owners of these businesses which came before them.
Come across anything particularly interesting or disconcerting about a product that we carry here at the Co-op? We love to get tips on products and their manufacturers, be it good or bad. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.