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Things You Don't Know About Organics

The organics industry has been dominating headlines, but there may be some facts that still surprise you, such as who is buying.


It's an organic world out there. After eating a meal of organic fruits, organic vegetables and organic pasta, you can wear organic jeans and roll around on organic carpet. With organic perfume, furniture and even pizza and beer, you might think there would be no surprises left for an entrepreneur hoping to make a statement in the organics industry. But you'd be wrong.

Here's a sampling of facts about organics that may surprise you.

Who's buying: Twenty years ago, the typical consumer in the organic market was generally labeled some sort of health nut or possibly an aging hippy. Ten years ago, the stereotype claimed the young, affluent upper-middle class. Now, it's dangerous to your bottom line to assume anything about your typical organic consumer, because there's hardly a typical organic consumer anymore.

According to Barbara Haumann, press secretary for the Organic Trade Association, Hispanics and Asian-Americans are buying more organics than the typical white population. Meanwhile, the report, "Organic 2006: Consumer Attitudes & Behavior, Five Years Later & Into the Future" by the Hartman Group, reveals that African-Americans are 24 percent more likely to be core organic consumers than members of the general population. The Hartman Group also has found that many pregnant women are lured to the organic market as they begin to become more concerned with what they're eating.

For business owners, this means even more markets to tap into. Jodi Jones, founder of Vitality Gourmet, a fresh organic meal service providing home delivery across the country, also has a line for kids and even a fresh organic gourmet meal line for dogs. She'll soon be expanding into the baby market. "I believe in organic for everyone and everything breathing," she says.

What's being bought: Seemingly everything, but there are some surprises. Fruits and vegetables, for instance, are the slowest-growing segment in the organic food industry, according to Haumann. But that's because it's the most traditional market, and it's still growing at 11 percent a year. The fastest-growing segment is meat, fish and poultry. "There isn't enough organic meat out there to meet the demand," says Haumann. "In 2005--the latest figures--meat grew at 55.4 percent that year."

Following that, the condiment market is growing at 24 percent a year, Haumann adds. And in the organic snack food category, chocolate and candy bars are the fastest-growing snack items.

The growth should only continue. According to a 2005 report, "The Past, Present and Future of the Organic Industry," put out by the Organic Trade Association, the industry overall is growing at 20 percent a year; OTA predicts the growth will continue for the next 20 years, although at a slower pace. "Younger shoppers will continue to find organic food of interest, especially as Gen Xers continue to pass down their belief systems," the report states. "Ethnic shoppers including Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans will also continue to be more likely to be organic shoppers, in proportion to their representation in the population."

Where it's being bought and grown: Pretty much, everywhere. According to OTA, organic farming is practiced in approximately 100 countries, with Australia devoting the most land--24.6 million acres--to growing organic food. Argentina is next, with 7.4 million acres, followed by Latin America, Europe and North America at 3.7 million.

It's probably not shocking that North America eats more organic foods than anywhere else in the world, followed closely by Europe, which used to be the leader several years ago. But what is probably surprising to those not in the industry, is that it's getting hard to find countries that aren't interested in organic foods. Organic exporting is growing in Uganda, Tanzania and India, and imports and exports are doing brisk business in South Africa.

This June, in Netanya, Israel, the largest health food store in the Middle East will be opening. The Eden Teva Market, a $6 million project, is expected to gobble up 15 percent of the nearly $600 million organic and health products market in Israel. And this December will mark the fifth year that Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has hosted the Middle East Natural and Organic Expo. Last year, 300 exhibitors from 35 countries participated; this year, they're expecting even more.

It's appropriate that some of the planet's oldest nations are getting involved in the organic industry. As Jones, a certified nutritionist, points out, "Many people believe that organic food is more of a recent phenomenon or trend. Actually, organic foods have been around longer than man."

Written By

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.