What Does ‘Organic’ Really Mean?
When applied to our nation’s food supply, “organic” refers to the specific methods and practices farmers use to grow and process agricultural products, including vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy products and meat. Produce, for example, can only be labeled “organic” if it’s certified to have been grown on soil that has had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
In the case of organic meats, regulations require that animals are raised in conditions accommodating their natural behaviors. This includes the ability to graze on pasturelands, consumption of 100 percent organic feed and forage and prohibition of the use of antibiotics or hormones.
Do your diners really care?
Some of your diners care deeply about whether what they consume is certified organic. Here’s why: Foods that are certified organic must be produced under stringent growing practices monitored and regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic certification, in fact, requires that producers document their processes and schedule inspections every year. Organic on-site inspections account for every component of the operation from start to finish, including seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, risk prevention, stringent record-keeping and more.
Consumer perceptions are evolving as Americans become more sophisticated about the foods they prefer. Both “natural” and “organic” are buzzwords resonating with health-conscious individuals. The two, however, are not interchangeable terms. “Natural” on a food label generally means that the product has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It does not refer to the methods or materials used in production, as is the case with “organics,” nor are natural products regulated by the USDA.
According to the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) 2017 Organic Industry Survey, U. S. organic food sales totaled $43 billion in 2016. The organic fruits and vegetables sector is the largest of the organic food categories, accounting for almost 40 percent of all organic food sales.
Restaurant Inc spoke with Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic, for her take on the organic food climate. “Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the health benefits of the foods they eat, increasingly acting on intentions to make healthier choices when dining away from home,” Weikel says.
“This is partly driven by consumers’ changing perception that healthy food can also be tasty. These findings have definite impact at foodservice.” Weikel continues, adding that marketing strategies will shift to focus on an operation’s overall health perceptions, and that restaurants will become more transparent and make nutritional information more accessible.
When specializing in or utilizing organic products, operators should indicate this distinction on their menus and website to capitalize on the fact.