Organics go mainstream

Apples
Starting this summer, there will be a lot more organic food on supermarket shelves, and it should cost a lot less.
MPR Photo

For years, organic foods were marketed primarily to socially-minded, health-conscious foodies who had the money to pay premium prices for free-range chicken and apples grown without pesticides.

But today organic foods are making their way to the masses. Kellogg is developing organic Frosted Mini Wheats. Kraft is working on an organic adaptation of its macaroni and cheese. And Pepsi says it plans to introduce organic versions of many of its products later this year.

Organic food has become a $15 billion-dollar industry, one that's expected to increase to $23 billion in the next three years. Organics are big business and it seems everyone wants in on the action.

This spring, Wal-Mart announced plans to double its organic-grocery offerings. As a result, the retailer could soon be the nation's largest seller of organic products. Currently, organic foods cost an average of 25 percent more than non-organic ones. Wal-Mart says its goal is to sell organic products for just 10 percent more than their conventional equivalents.

Best-selling author Michael Pollan says it's great that more people will be able to afford organics. But he warns that "organic is becoming what we hoped it would be an alternative to."

Many assume that organic foods are not only free of pesticides, but that they are also grown by local farmers on bucolic plots of land. Pollan says this isn't always true. In his new book "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," Pollan says many organic operations hardly differ from their non-organic counterparts. In fact, many chickens advertised as "free-range" never touch a patch of grass in their short lives. Pollan says big retailers like Wal-Mart -- and Whole Foods -- require big organic suppliers. And that's changed the way organics are produced -- and defined.

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