06 February 2008

Organic trend no passing phase

Buying fresher foods less often, seeing food as a "destination", and substituting the conventional for the alternative - all trends we're seeing in the global organic market.

As the international organic industry celebrates its 30th birthday, a steady 30% growth in the organic market is reported year on year.

Unfortunately, however, South Africa hasn’t caught on yet. “If anything, we’ve fallen further behind the rest of the world,” says David Wolstenholme, director of The Natural and Organics Product Exhibition, which is held annually in Cape Town.

The disadvantage is that the majority of us are ingesting far more chemicals than we realise.

When high levels of cadmium, lead and arsenic were recently found in local pineapples, alarm bells should have been ringing. Even though export authorities ensured that the pineapples didn’t go beyond our borders, it has been speculated that the fruit made it to our local markets, where inspections aren’t nearly as rigorous.

While this is only one example, the fact is that local consumers who buy conventionally produced food products simply can no longer be certain that these foods are safe.

Cancer, chemicals linked?
Wolstenholme agrees with many other experts when he says that the vast amounts of chemicals in our food could be linked to the relatively high incidence of cancer in this country.

He says that, since 1950, more than 100 000 chemicals have been introduced to our food chain. And while the incidence of breast cancer was one in every 10 women in 1950, four out of every 10 women are now diagnosed with the disease.

But if consumers buy organic produce that is labelled as such, they can be sure that it’s been given the “chemical-free” stamp of approval.

Buying organic also has economic implications. Wolstenholme notes that South Africa doesn’t have a single producer of certified organic cotton. Yet Woolworths, who imports the fabric, is reporting massive growth in sales of organic-cotton clothing.

Clearly, our country isn’t capitalising on a trend that could pave the way for job creation and a healthier economy.

Top three organic trends
In the run-up to the exhibition in October, Wolstenholme highlights three important international trends:

Fewer shopping trips: Instead of shopping once a week or buying in bulk once a month, more shoppers in the United States are buying groceries five to seven days a week. Following European trends, US shoppers are also starting to buy less food at a time and they’re going for products that have been made with less packaging. Foods are fresher (and therefore healthier) and there’s less waste.

Food as a destination: 21st-century consumers want to look good and feel good, and they want their food stores to be on the same page as they are. A trend setter in this regard is Whole Foods Market, the world's leading retailer of natural and organic foods. Stores in the United Kingdom and the United States cater for consumers in a unique way: they only sell natural and organic foods and foods are grouped together on the shelves as meal items (e.g. fish is grouped with appropriate condiments, vegetables and white wine).

Wider acceptance of natural products: International consumers no longer regard natural medicines and products “alternative”. There’s a growing interest in the use of natural medicine as a substitute for conventional medicine, e.g. using tea-tree oil as an anti-fungal and aloe vera to treat minor wounds. There’s also a move to replace chemicals in make-up and cosmetics with natural ingredients, e.g. replacing petroleum-based ingredients with natural plant oils.

- (Carine van Rooyen, Health24, updated February 2008)


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