We’ve been bombarded with different diet trends for decades. Low-fat, quick weight-loss programs towards the end of the 20th century have given way to more sustainable lifestyle eating trends like gluten-free, vegan, and paleo diets. There are a variety of different reasons for adopting these food guidelines, whether they’re related to health, beauty, weight loss, or more. One healthy eating habit that is not limited by any trend is the notion that the quality of the food entering your body is important above everything else.
How do we know that the food we eat is actually good for us? Even fresh fruits and vegetables, staples in any diet, can be contaminated with dangerous pesticides, while animals may be stuffed full of growth hormones. The safest way to avoid these harmful additions is to eat food the way our ancestors ate it: organically, without the use of chemical fertilizers.
Why should I eat organic?
First, let’s examine what it actually means to eat organic food. According to Galgano, Tolye, Antonietta Colangelo, Scarpa, & Carmela Caruso (2016), “organic production is a system of farm management and food production that combines the best environmental practices, a high level of biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high animal welfare standards, and a production method in line with the preferences of certain consumers for foodstuffs produced using natural substances and processes”.
Since pesticides have been common since the 1950s, we’ve grown up learning to wash our fresh produce thoroughly to ensure it’s clean. However, simple scrubbing alone isn’t enough to get rid of the effects of chemical fertilizers. And while a small amount of pesticide isn’t enough to hurt us, in the long term the chemicals can be incredibly damaging.
In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared the common pesticide glyphosate a “probable human carcinogen”. Furthermore, a study conducted in Sweden by Hardell, Eriksson, & Nordström (2002) showed an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or hairy cell leukemia as a result of exposure to herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides.
Pesticides aren’t just found on the food we eat; they’re also in the air around farms after being sprayed on crops. Supporting organic farming helps to ensure agricultural workers get to live and work in a cleaner environment.
It’s not the fruit and vegetables we eat that can be harmful. Livestock farming also usually involves the use of antibiotics in animals, which can be passed on to humans through meat and dairy products. When we overuse antibiotics, or take them when we don’t actually need them, we start to build up an antimicrobial resistance. Eventually, this leads to antibiotics being ineffective when being used to treat the infectious diseases they were intended for.
Organic food not only keeps you away from the dangerous effects of some modern farming methods, but it also provides more health benefits as a result. Organic foods have been found to have anywhere from 18% to 69% more antioxidants, which can help keep your eyes healthy longer.
While fad diets of the past conditioned many people to think fat was bad, the right fatty acids are essential to a healthy diet. Galgano et al. (2016) found that polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have a higher concentration in organic foods, help to prevent a variety of diseases. Not only are you decreasing your exposure to probable carcinogens by eating organic food, but you’re also giving your body some of the tools it needs to fight off illnesses.
Of course, being healthy enough to live a long and full life means nothing if the Earth falls apart in that time. By eating organic food, you’re not only helping yourself, but you’re helping the environment as well.
According to the World Health Organization, organic agriculture is “a holistic production management system that promotes and enhances agroecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity”. Soil contains about 25% of the Earth’s biodiversity, and thus contributes to sustaining all kinds of life forms. The quality of that soil is, in turn, affected by farming practices. Organic agriculture, in contrast to conventional farming, takes into consideration the importance of these ecosystems and emphasizes soil biodiversity (Underwood, McCullum-Gomez, Harmon, & Roberts, 2011). And it seems to be having an effect; a 2002 study (Bengtsson, Ahnström, & Weibull, 2005, as cited in Underwood et al., 2011) found species richness to be 30% higher on organic farms than conventional farms.
So why should my food shop go organic?
Even if you eat organic at home, it can be difficult to pass those habits on to your work practices. With longer farming times and a lower output, organic food products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts. And while you might be able to justify paying the extra price at home for the health boost and better taste, it may take some convincing for your customers to see the benefits of eating organic in relation to the price increase of their favourite products.
There are other limitations to serving organic meals as well. Even though it has become more popular in the past few decades, organic food is still in limited supply, making it hard for large chains or organizations to order enough to meet their needs. Delivery of organic foods is also a struggle (Mikkelsen & Sylvest, 2012), as natural foods often spoil quickly and can come into contact with toxins during the delivery process. However, for small food businesses, these should not be huge hindering factors. Most supermarkets now offer organic versions of the most popular produce, dairy, and meat products.
Switching to organic ingredients might provide some unexpected internal benefits to your shop. A study conducted among Danish institutions that were introducing organic foods noted that the conversion from conventional to organic food required updated rules on food handling and preparation. For many of the institutions involved in the study, implementing these changes led to a re-evaluation of overall work processes, thus allowing them to optimize their procedures and save on unnecessary costs. The same report also revealed that the higher costs of organic food led to redesigning menus, often resulting in healthier food options (Mikkelsen et al., 2012).
Going organic may lead to higher sales as well, if you target the right group. Millennials have some of the highest buying power right now, and serving organic products speaks to some of their values. Young shoppers, having realised the importance of sustainability, are likely to make purchase decisions based on company values like environmental responsibility. They also want transparency from a company; by promoting the fact that you cook using organic ingredients, you’re being open with your practices and showing that you care for others’ wellbeing by supporting less dangerous farming methods.
Naturally, millennials don’t just want businesses supporting environmental sustainability – they want to contribute to it themselves as well. Euromonitor listed “consumption as a route to progress” as its number two global consumer trend for 2015, emphasizing the emergence of green products. It also mentioned the socially conscious nature of millennials.
Additionally, a study by Forbes found millennials to be brand loyal. So, if you can encourage young consumers to try your product and blow them away, you may be looking at a customer for life.
I’m convinced. Now what?
First, think about the ingredients you currently use in your baking or cooking and what you could replace with organic products. If you don’t think you can switch to completely organic offerings right away for financial reasons, consider making changes in steps. The Environmental Working Group releases an annual list they refer to as the “Dirty Dozen”, listing produce items with the highest amount of pesticides. Topping 2016’s list were strawberries, apples, nectarines, and peaches, which are all common items used in baking but usually have widely available organic versions. Also on the list were tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers, which you may even be able to grow yourself. (In addition, EWG has a “Clean Fifteen” list, so you know which produce items you can leave to replace last.)
There are other quick and easy changes you can make when it comes to baking with organic products. Instead of conventional ingredients, choose eggs from organically-fed chickens, sweeteners without additives, and organic milk; you could even try using non-dairy alternatives such as soymilk, which is easy to find as an organic version.
Once you’ve made the switch to organic cooking, it’s time to get the word out. Even if you haven’t been able to commit to a complete replacement of your ingredients, advertising a few of your products as organic may be enough to convince your customers to give them a try.
A study of food packaging found that a higher perception of naturalness of a product increases its “levels of credibility, quality, attractiveness, and purchase intention” (Binninger, 2014). Hemmerling, Asioli, and Spiller then used this result to learn more about what organic food consumers value (2015). Their research examined organic food consumers in six European countries and, while some of the results were mixed depending on country, freshness and natural flavour were found to be key advantages of organic food products. The most important contributing factor to organic purchases was taste (Hemmerling et al., 2015).
How does that help you? It means that just (correctly) labelling your products as organic will give the perception that they are more delicious and nutritious. And when consumers choose to buy a meal or snack rather than making it themselves, they want to know they’re getting their money’s worth.
Deciding to run an organic food shop requires a major commitment of money and time, and a dedication to improving your knowledge about food quality. But remember that you’re not just investing in your business – you’re also improving the wellbeing of others and contributing to a healthier environment.
Binninger, A.-S. (2014). Perception of naturalness of food packaging and its role in consumer product evaluation. Journal of Food Products Marketing, 1-17. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com
Galgano, F., Tolve, R., Antoinetta Colangelo, M., Scarpa, T., & Carmela Caruso, M. (2016). Conventional and organic foods: A comparison focused on animal products. Cogent Food and Agriculture, 2(1).
Hardell, L., Eriksson, M., & Nordström, M. (2002, Jan.) Exposure to pesticides as risk factor for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia: Pooled analysis of two Swedish case-control studies. Leukemia & Lymphoma, 43(5), 1043-1049.
Hemmerling, S., Asioli, D., & Spiller, A. (2015). Core organic taste: Preferences for naturalness-related sensory attributes of organic food among European consumers. Journal of Food Products Marketing, 1-27. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com
Mikkelsen, B. E., & Sylvest, J. (2012, Jan.) Organic foods on the public plate: Technical challenge or organizational challenge? Journal of Foodservice Business Research, 15(1), 64-83.
Underwood, T., McCullum-Gomez, C., Harmon, A., & Roberts, S. (2011, Oct.) Organic agriculture supports biodiversity and sustainable food production. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 6(4), 398-423.