AUSTIN, Texas -- Whole Foods Market here is preparing to add new items to its Authentic Food Artisans program.
AFA, created by Whole Foods in March 2003, seeks to recognize and highlight "exceptional" foods and beverages that are certified organic, are made in small batches, and use traditional production methods. To date, only a handful of products have been awarded the AFA stamp, primarily in the ambient grocery category.
Among the beverage items are Finca El Jaguar (Nicaragua) organic whole-bean and Finca El Pintado (Guatemala) organic whole-bean coffees; and Rishi Tea's Jasmine Pearl, Silver Needle and Wild Tree Pu-erh Mini Tuo Cha.
The newest item is also a tea, packed by London-based Hampstead Tea & Coffee. Specifically, two loose-leaf varieties have been designated AFA products: Earl Grey and Darjeeling. Both are grown at India's Makaibari Tea Estate, a biodynamic farm recognized by Demeter International, Brussels, an international nonprofit organization promoting sound ecological and agricultural practices. The farm is also certified by the London-based Fairtrade Foundation for its humane treatment of those working the estate's land.
The company, founded in 1997 by Kiran Tawadey, offers mostly loose teas, but has begun selling organic bagged herbal varieties as well.
In Whole Foods, the approved teas will sport on-pack stickers, depicting a traditional wax imprint, similar to those that adorned the envelopes of written correspondence. "The AFA seal signifies artisan producers' dedication to traditional craftsmanship and to the delicious fruits of that labor of love," stated a description of the program on Whole Foods' Web site. A spokeswoman for the retailer declined to comment on the AFA program and its choice of products.
However, the Whole Foods Web site description continued: "Many of the world's best producers of organic food and wine are small and family-run enterprises. These folks are more artists than businesspeople, motivated by a deep passion for their craft to make food in small quantities, according to traditional methods."
The country's largest natural foods retailer, Whole Foods has become one of the stronger retail voices in promoting products that adhere to environmental, social and lifestyle principles. Products chosen for AFA certification undergo a thorough review prior to approval.
Other, non-beverage products in Whole Foods' AFA program currently include red and champagne Kimberly wine vinegars; Island Bakery organic cookies; McEvoy Ranch organic olive oil; and Volcano Island Rare Hawaiian White Honey.