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Coffee Trends:The Dynamics of Organics

The Dynamics of Organics


April 30, 2008
By Brian Martell

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You’d be hard pressed to go to any mainstream grocery store these days
and not find organic products on the shelves. Ten years ago, only
specialty health food stores carried organics in any great quantity,
with a smattering of them showing up in the national chains almost as a
novelty item.

You’d be hard pressed to go to any mainstream grocery store these days and not find organic products on the shelves. Ten years ago, only specialty health food stores carried organics in any great quantity, with a smattering of them showing up in the national chains almost as a novelty item.

Through careful marketing campaigns and much ink in mainstream media, organic foods are now perceived to be healthy alternatives to conventional food grown using traditional methods (at least traditional to the last 50 years). Further, they are gaining market share with a retail value of about $1-billion in Canada, in spite of some organic products being easily twice the price of their non-organic counterparts.

As to what constitutes organic foods, there has been much conjecture with some of the frontrunners leading the pack on definition. The Canadian government recently leapfrogged the Americans on regulating the organic industry with the imminent appointment of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as the watchdog for all things organic.

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And while many people have a vague idea of what organic is, there is still quite a bit of doubt as to the exact meaning of the word as it pertains to the food and agriculture industries (the fundamental meaning of the word, as in the term “organic chemistry” means anything that is carbon-based; in the context of this article, it means something quite different).

Further, this year, the Canadian General Standards Board has published the “Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards” outlining what is and what is not organic using their own criteria. A partial list of what makes organic produce “organic” is listed as those items not having or using:
•    GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
•    Synthetic pesticides
•    Any item used as a pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer not listed on the CAN/CGSB-32.311 document (As Canadians, we paid heavily in taxes for this document to be drafted, and if you want it, it’s yours for only $62.00.)
•    Soil amendments (sludge)
•    Synthetic growth regulators
•    Synthetic processing aids (nitrates, etc.)
•    Irradiation processing
•    Synthetic fungicides or fumigation
Internationally, organic certifying boards use much of the same criteria in determining organic status, which helps to standardize the certification process. And while there is consensus on most levels, there is still some disharmony among various organizations. This has led to the creation of accredited certification bodies which Canada recognizes; outside of this list the products are not considered organic within our borders.

With the general organic movement taking firm hold of a significant portion of Canadian consumers, coffee has also become part of the fold.

Organic coffee has to be not only certified organic in the country of origin, but needs to be processed in a certified organic roasting plant for it to be sold as organic.

Starting this fall, the CFIA will be responsible for not only guaranteeing that all products grown as organic in Canada are indeed organic, but also those products processed in Canada (roasted, milled, packed, baked, etc.) are done so following the standards set out by the CGSB and the accrediting agency to which the processor is ascribed.

Coffee roasters must be accredited by a recognized certifying agency if they are to legally claim to sell organic coffee. Therefore, those roasters who buy organic green coffee, and then roast it and
sell it as organic without the proper accreditation may run afoul of the law.

To be certified organic, roasters must establish an internal process that meets the standards set out by the accrediting body. Often, this will mean new procedures have to be put in place at the manufacturing level, not to mention new accounting protocols to follow.

For the most part, the organic movement focuses on the process rather than the product. The stipulated aim of the CGSB in promoting organic agriculture is not to improve the healthiness of the products we consume, but to change the way in which we produce/grow the products we consume.

Most organic products could not be identified as being so from their non-organic cousins by empirical means.

What also comes across as a paradox is that coffee arriving in Canada is subjected to fumigation if it is found or suspected to be infested with any number of blights that typically attack coffee.

The most commonly used product in the fumigation process is methyl bromide, which definitely does not meet the grade when it comes to accepted organic fumigants. 

Government inspectors do not discriminate if the infestation is on organic or non-organic coffee, presenting a quandary as to whether the coffee can still be delivered as organic to the roaster after the treatment.
If not, then there has to be a decision as to who will pay for the reduced value of the coffee by removing its organic status: the importer, the roaster, or the grower (it definitely will not be the government). If it is still considered organic, then the credibility of the whole organic movement is drawn into question.

In closing, while organic products are enjoying broader appeal among Canadian consumers, like most things in life, there is more to it than appears on the surface.

Questions or comments?  Reach Brian at Brian@heritage-coffee.com. o


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