(1) ROSY OUTLOOK
EMERYVILLE, Calif. -- There's Fair Trade coffee, humanely harvested eggs and sustainable seafood. Now it's time to put some flowers on the table. Standardized certification of flowers grown under environmentally and socially responsible conditions is a natural extension of consumers' increasing concern regarding the way their foods are handled and processed.
Veriflora, a third-party-audit, chain-of-custody program developed by Scientific Certification Systems, certifies growers who adhere to standards that address the environment and worker-friendly conditions. The SCS program creates one standard for "green-label" cut flowers. Existing certification programs can confuse consumers because each means something different, and none has resonated with the U.S. consumer, industry sources said. (See "Retailer Joins Cut-Flower Certification Program, SN, Sept. 27, 2004.)
An advisory committee comprised of industry members, including Whole Foods Market and some of the world's largest growers, worked hand-in-hand with SCS on the program's development.
Green-label certification, such as Veriflora, is similar to organic in that both standards encourage healthy stewardship of the earth and prohibit the use of persistent and highly toxic chemicals. A distinctive logo will identify Veriflora products at the point of sale.
"Although green-label practices allow some minimal, low-impact chemical use, there is that additional social component that addresses the safety and overall well-being of the farm workers," pointed out Gerald Prolman. Prolman is the founder and chief executive officer of Mill Valley, Calif.-based Organic Bouquet, which is the first company to offer organic flowers nationally.
Like others in the industry, Prolman sees the SCS program as the forerunner of a more adequate supply of organic flowers. Growers meeting Veriflora standards are predisposed to growing organic varieties because they see that alternative growing methods are feasible for them, he said.
Meanwhile, one supermarket industry veteran, Ray Klocke, predicted retailers -- including mainstream supermarkets -- will welcome Veriflora, particularly since they've seen the success of organic produce.
"It will be well-received. Retailers are pro-environment, and this brings credibility to the growers they're buying their flowers from," said Klocke, an Alamo, Calif.-based consultant who has served as vice president of produce and floral at Kroger, Wakefern and Safeway.
(2) INTEGRATION SITUATION
As natural and organic brands continue to grow, the debate persists over where, exactly, these products belong in a traditional supermarket. Asked by WH to weigh in on product integration vs. "store-within-a-store" concepts, manufacturers seemed to agree that the price gap between organic and conventional brands is narrowing, which should allow more organic products -- particularly commodities like olive oil and bagged greens -- to compete in regular merchandising sets. However, as manufacturers struggle to force down their own costs, the additional pressure placed on margins by slotting allowances remained a frequently cited roadblock:
"Different products vary quite a bit in their ability to go mainstream. For example, our organic olive oil is competitive on price with several premium brands so, ideally, we'd like to see it merchandised alongside those other brands. On the other hand, our organic mayonnaise retails at a premium of about 150% more than regular mayonnaise due to higher costs of ingredients, distribution and markups. When you put that side by side with a conventional brand, the price difference is just too great." Neil Blomquist, Spectrum Organics
"Our household products appeal to environmentally aware consumers, but in traditional supermarkets, our marketing has shifted to a defined health message. Fifty million Americans suffer from some type of allergy, and there are few household product options available to them that are free of dyes, perfumes and chemicals. These products offer an alternative." John Murphy, Seventh Generation
"It's tough to create a separate destination for natural and organic foods, although there are several chains, such as Publix and Raley's, that have done a great job. In most cases, I would prefer that our products get a shot in the category we're competing in. With the organic bagged greens and dried fruits we'll be launching, we stripped out margin to make the items more competitive on [retail] price because produce is a gateway category to other organic consumption, and we wanted to be part of that experience for consumers. Peter Meehan, Newman's Own Organics
(3) THE EYES HAVE IT
There's more in store for omega-3 fatty acids, if the food and supplement industries have their way. They'd like to see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve health claims highlighting omega-3's role in protecting eyesight, among other things.
Just last month, the FDA granted approval for a declaration noting the substance -- as found in seafood -- can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, a boon for seafood and supplement marketers.
Kraft Foods and Martek Biosciences Corp., a manufacturer of supplements and baby food products, were among the major companies that had sought FDA approval. Kraft would not say how it would use the omega-3 information.
Meanwhile, ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co. wants to start declaring that its tomato-based food products, rich with lycopene, help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Fleminger Inc. is asking for a health claim stating the daily consumption of 40 ounces of typical green tea may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. Although there is scientific evidence supporting the claim, it is not conclusive, according to the company.
Solae Co. is asking the FDA to approve a health claim stating that consumption of soy protein reduces the risk of certain cancers. More than 58 studies submitted by the soy manufacturer show "significant" reductions in the risk of developing breast, prostate and gastrointestinal tract cancers, according to company officials.
"We believe this health claim will be of great value to consumers in their efforts to select foods for a healthy diet," said Ron Heck, president of the American Soybean Association, which supports the effort.
Soy milk and tofu products have long been touted as having ample health benefits. Experts expect to add more evidence confirming those beliefs as the claim application is reviewed.
Why all the expense and trouble? Favorable, legitimate health claims can boost sales by giving consumers more product choices.
However, getting that approval may not be easy. In the last year, the FDA has rejected efforts by certain entities to get approvals for their own products. The agency requires a substantial body of research to accompany petitions, and review times can stretch more than a year.
Even the FDA's authority to approve these types of claims has been questioned by some consumer organizations. "Guidance that cannot sustain a legal challenge is of no value to consumers," said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America. The FDA has given no indication when more than a dozen health claims now pending with the agency will be approved.
(4) GLUTEN FUN
AUSTIN, Texas -- Whole Foods Market last week announced the opening if its first Whole Foods Market Gluten-Free Bakehouse in Morrisville, N.C. The retailer's first baking facility dedicated specifically to gluten-free products will turn out 27 items, including breads, cookies, scones, biscuits, pizza crusts, whole pies and brownies. The 8,000-square-foot Bakehouse was created to meet the needs of an increasing number of customers who suffer from Celiac disease, a chronic condition that can manifest itself in dozens of ways, including anemia, weight loss, rashes and irritable bowel syndrome.