Organic food and beverage sales surpassed $45bn in 2015, which represents a 72% increase in less than a decade. US organic food and beverages currently make up 5% of all food and beverage sales in the US and this category is expected to grow approximately 3% annually through 2018.
In the US, organic certification means that products were grown, produced, inspected, and certified to be in compliance with the organic standards of the National Organic Program (NOP), a programme of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Many consumers have a basic understanding of what organic means, but it carries practical implications to product developers and brand owners, especially compared to other characterisations of healthful products. I’m not a regulatory expert, but I hope that these explanations of the basic tenets of organic certification from both the technical and business perspectives help clarify this new standard of natural product positioning.
A finished product needs to contain at least 95% organic-certified ingredients by weight in order to obtain the USDA organic seal. The remaining 5% of the ingredients have to be organic compliant or fall within the allowable synthetic ingredients listed by the NOP. In order to make the 100% organic claim, a product must only contain ingredients that are certified 100% organic and have been processed with equipment that also meets the organic requirements. Water and salt are not included in the weight or fluid volume of a product.
On the other 5%:
For organic compliance, ingredients cannot be synthetic, produced using synthetic solvents and/or carrier systems or any artificial preservatives, must not be derived from products or ingredients that have been genetically modified or have been produced with genetic modification. They also cannot have been processed with sewage sludge and must not have been irradiated. (Not only is sewage sludge a real thing, but it’s often used as fertiliser.) Additionally, if an organic option is available for a particular ingredient, the organic option has to be used.
On the certification:
There is a wealth of marketing language that is used to imply that a product has natural or organic positioning. “Natural”, “simple” and “fresh” are just a few terms that communicate this brand positioning. Due to the lack of definitions by the FDA, especially of “natural”, obtaining the organic certification is much safer in today’s regulatory climate. While it might be a slightly arduous process to obtain organic certification on a finished product, sales margins prove that it might be worth it.
By definition organic is used to describe agricultural products, but now there are organic products in the marketplace that are not fruits, vegetables, dairy or meat, such as soda and energy drinks. Organic certification is the new standard in the natural product segment and this certification will continue to expand into other product categories. Whether consumers are looking to quench their thirst with juice, a fermented beverage (like kombucha or kvass), functional beverages (like switchel), or more conventional CSDs, data predicts that they will continue to look for these drinks with the USDA organic seal for the foreseeable future. For anyone looking to launch a product with an organic certification, I’d recommend you consult with a regulatory expert to gain an even more in depth understanding of what the process entails.
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