NEW YORK -- Most new organic food customers enter the category by purchasing baby food, according to Cheryl Palmer, president of The Food Emporium, a division of the A&P chain.
The Food Emporium -- an upscale chain of 41 stores based in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. -- carries 450 organic items in Center Store, dairy and frozen, and 6% of its sales come from these products, Palmer told SN at a recent luncheon and panel discussion here on the topic of organic foods.
"Our conventional A&Ps and Waldbaum's units have begun to dedicate more space to organics under a heading we call 'Wellness,' which is a whole body-mind-emotion category. This is related to aging and to how we want to live," Palmer said.
Organically produced food is an $8 billion-a-year industry in North America, said Mark Rodriguez, CEO of New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Acirca, makers of Walnut Acres certified organic foods and beverages, which hosted the panel discussion. By 2004, organic food is projected to reach $23 billion in annual sales in North America. "Organic will represent 100% of the growth" in the food industry, he said.
Forty percent of Americans say organic products will be an increasing part of their families' diets within just the next year, and even more Americans -- 50% -- say they will be using more organics in their homes within the next five years, according to market research firm RoperASW, also based here. Driving this trend is concern about bacterial contamination of food, the use of growth hormones and antibiotics, and residues of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, said Annie Weber, vice president and senior account executive in the public affairs and communications practice of RoperASW.
"People need to feel safe, and organic foods make them feel better," she added.
She said price is still the No. 1 barrier to buying organic products, but the attraction to organics now has spread to a much more mainstream consumer than a decade ago, when research indicated that only highly educated, affluent consumers bought organic foods. Price has come down, as availability and selection has improved, Weber said.
Palmer, too, said price has been an issue to those consumers who are not committed to organics, but Food Emporium is trying to bring those barriers down, as she put it, by working with suppliers -- including some Center Store grocery partners -- to improve the economics of the supply chain and drive costs down.
Food Emporium stores integrate organic grocery products with mainstream products, Palmer said, which makes it easier for consumers to compare prices and find the items.
Integration happens to be the merchandising method recommended by Walnut Acres, because it expands the market, Rodriguez said.