'Organic' label appearing on more food boxes, cans


Look for more processed foods to show up with "organic" on the label, predict industry insiders.

Processing takes organics beyond the fresh-produce aisle and serves up the ready-made convenience Americans crave. And it solves a problem: Fresh organic produce that's often not picture-perfect, partly because it's not treated for long shelf life.

Washington's Cascadian Farm is an industry leader, producing many processed products from organically grown fruits and vegetables that are sold nationally.

Health Valley of California is another leader, with its organic breakfast cereals showing up in many supermarkets.

Earth's Best, an organic baby food made in Vermont, is showing up in supermarkets and natural-foods stores.

Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., the country's second-largest baby food maker (after Gerber), has introduced its own organic baby food line. Its advent is considered a major development in the organic food industry. With a large company like Beech-Nut in the organics business, other big corporations can't be far behind, some believe.

In fact, within days after Beech-Nut announced its organic line, several other major national food manufacturers called to inquire about organic produce, says Bob Scowcroft of California Certified Organic Farmers, the country's largest organization of organic growers.

A government report says annual sales of organic foods -- both fresh and processed -- now exceed $1 billion, up from $174 million in 1980. It's still just a tiny fraction of all food sales, but it's rising steadily, even though the boom that accompanied 1989's Alar scare has subsided.

Natural-food stores and specialty supermarkets remain the chief outlets for organic products, but that's a growing market.

Gene Kahn, president of Cascadian Farm, predicts more movement into mainstream supermarkets. "In the long run," he says, "[organic foods], fresh and processed, will be found in supermarkets throughout the country. But we have a way to go."

Consumer confidence could get a boost from a federal law passed last year setting national minimum standards for certifying foods as organic.

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