Organic food trend chips out a niche in snack food aisle
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Organic food is breaking out of the produce section to a spot few anticipated: the snack aisle.
Forget stereotypes of pristine strawberries or zucchinis untouched by preservatives, pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. It's sales of organic snacks, also produced in accordance with government rules to be labeled "organic," that are on fire.
Sales of organic chips, nuts, nutrition bars and candy jumped 29.6% last year. That was outpaced only by organic meats (including poultry and fish), reports the Organic Trade Association.
All the good things about the $23 billion organic food industry are being processed by foodmakers at a near-frenetic pace into convenient snack foods.
Organics are Frito-Lay's fastest-growing line. In a year, Frito-Lay has emerged as the No. 1 seller of organic snacks. It recently introduced organic Tostitos chips. Now, it's working on an organic Doritos line; perhaps, someday, potato chips.
"There's a perception that the organic consumer is living in a commune somewhere," says Stephen Quinn, marketing chief at Frito-Lay. "She's not. She's my wife."
Adding to the trend: more snacking of all kinds. For many time-pressed, two-worker families, a stream of snacks has replaced family meal time.
That's one reason a record 120 organic snacks are scheduled to be introduced this year, up 40% from last year, estimates Lynn Dornblaser, director of consulting services at Mintel, a research firm.
For some consumers, there's a who'd-a-thunk-it factor to organics' growth in snacks. "It seems to be a disconnect," says Dornblaser.
|Justin Sullivan, Getty Images|
|More schools, like San Francisco's Mission High, are introducing vending machines which feature organic foods and snacks.|
Nor are nutritionists overjoyed. "These are all dead, processed foods," laments Cynthia Lair, author of Feeding the Whole Family. "Organic or not, they won't make you healthier or give you more vitality. It's better to eat an apple."
Organic snacks are late to the party, says Peter Meehan, CEO of Newman's Own Organics. "Things like organic produce and dairy have all grown years ahead of them."
Perhaps that's why sales of Garden of Eden's organic tortilla chips grew 41% in the past year. The company's organic snack business has grown more than 20% in the past year, says Ellen Deutsch, chief growth officer at parent company Hain Celestial Group.
Such numbers have even some organic specialty companies that don't make processed snacks trying to squeeze into the snacking arena.
Take Earthbound Farm, the biggest producer of organic produce, including those familiar bags of baby carrots. "My snack as a kid was a Twinkie," says Larry Hamwey, head of marketing. "But my three kids all know they have to have healthy snacks."