The Organic Bubble

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 30, 2015

Camo-clad Uncle Bob shares a squinty-eyed staring duel with mom-and-chef-in-charge Cassie over the Thanksgiving table. Apparently, her organic stuffing wasn’t what he had in mind. If pushed to the limits, the exchange might leave a lasting holiday memory – maybe even the need for GMO and non-GMO tables next year.

One thing not up for debate is that organic food has wooed many, carving its way through our wallets to our pantries and plates in critical mass. I wonder, though, are wary moms set to take the pin to this billowing food bubble? 

Big Money

Nielsen reported sales of organic-certified packaged foods rose 14.7% last year to about $9 billion, compared to just 1.4% growth for total packaged food sales. Large food companies like General Mills, Hormel, and Nestlé continued to acquire organic food makers this year.

Recently, Kroger reported that its natural and organic annual sales had reached $11 billion. That’s about 10% of the company’s business (by comparison, Whole Foods’ total business in its last fiscal year was $14 billion). Undoubtably, organic food has gone mainstream.



Big Demand

The organic food market wasn’t built by one visionary brand with genius marketing or a legacy food company with spot-on insights and bottomless investment in innovation. The category is made up of hundreds of entrepreneurial brands and products first sought off-aisle or in non-traditional stores. The voice, determination, and wallets of moms have delivered organic food to the aisles of big grocery.

For moms, motivations to buy organic are varied, but many are highly emotional. Some prefer organic products simply because they’re more authentic or taste better. Others want to support the environment. And then there’s health. A quick Google search reveals countless testimonials from moms who’ve made major changes to their families’ diets to help prevent long-term disease or to better care for health issues ranging from Crohn’s disease and ADD to asthma and autism.

Big Bubble?

Many, though, see the benefits of organic foods and products as hyper-inflated. Could the voices of those who share this view rise to doom the food industry’s massive investment in organic?

Every trip to Kroger, every play date, and every scroll of the Facebook news feed presents a choice: to be or not to be organic? The pressure to buy organic is now more intense than it’s ever been. Moms want to portray the benefits of eating organic and of course want to avoid any implications (whatever they may be) of not eating organic. They want the best quality food for their families. But higher prices prompt questions. When what is considered “best for the family’s health” becomes out of reach for many moms, moms look for answers.

As easy as it is for moms to find cost-saving tips online, it’s equally easy to find studies that show the health benefits of organic food are indiscernible from non-organic food, arguments that organic food production cannot feed the global population, and lists of class-action lawsuits against food companies making fraudulent organic claims. Just as the voice of moms played alpha in driving organic business, the voice of moms is also powerful enough to burst the bubble. Moms will be ceaseless and successful in demanding the best for their families and thus the truth about organic foods. One way or another. 

Like many, I don’t know what to believe about organic foods. An executive at the first company I worked for told me that selling stuff on the Internet was a fad. I’m hoping, just as his opinion proved to be wrong, that the organic business will prove itself by providing sound responses to criticisms, validate its premium prices, and avoid becoming the next bubble to burst. But for now, it will make for modern changes to our food traditions and slightly uncomfortable holidays.

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