'New and improved' organic
No news in that; "new and improved" has been a cliché for shilling boxed foods since the 1960s, and food-processing execs are forever toying with packaging in hopes of jacking up sales.
The above statement, then, would fit into nearly any food-industry press release since the 1980s (the "low fat" business means it couldn't have emerged any earlier); however, that statement surfaced just a few days ago, from the PR department of none other than Hain Celestial, by its own reckoning a "leading natural and organic beverage, snack, specialty food and personal care products company in North America and Europe."
And thus we view the organic label's inexorable slide into tool for marketing heavily packaged and advertised junk food.
Certainly, there's no surprise in that development. As I've written before, the overall U.S. food market has matured, leaving industry heavyweights to scramble for new markets in the so-called developing world. The other way the food-processing titans such as Kraft and Heinz can eke out growth in a stagnate market is to roll out new products.
But Heinz can only tweak its (high-fructose corn syrup-laden) ketchup so many times, just as there's only so much Kraft can do to its mac and [processed] cheese [food]. One way forward for those companies is to roll out organic products--or buy into existing organic brands. Many readers will already know that Heinz owns 20 percent of Hain. Reader Lulu LaMer (note her blog's independently conjured title) has alerted me to this handy guide to which transnational industrial food giants own which allegedly sustainable-minded "health" food brands.
The attraction is obvious. This 2002 study from the USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) shows the premiums frozen organic vegetables get at the retail level over their conventionally grown peers. Organic frozen broccoli, for example, is 72 percent more expensive than conventional, while green peas draw a whopping 110 percent premium and green beans get an extra 76 percent by displaying the organic tag.
Thus while these companies maintain their slow-growing cash-cow products like mac and cheese and ketchup (which remain profitable because producing them is so cheap), they're rushing in to leverage organic cachet. The result has been the industrialization and commodification of a movement that arose to fight the industrialization and commodification of food. Here's how ERS describes processed organic food:
There are two basic marketing channels for processed organic foods. In both cases, farmers first produce raw commodities. In the first case, these commodities are then sent to the manufacturer, who converts them into a processed product. A distributor acts as a middleman, moving processed products from manufacturers to retailers. In the second scenario, a middleman (shipper) procures raw commodities from farmers and delivers them to manufacturers. After creating the processed good, the manufacturer moves the products through to retailers. The middleman secures the quantities needed; he or she also ensures that the commodities are high quality and meet the manufacturer’s organic standards.
Thus the power relations of industrial agriculture are preserved; the pricing power goes to the middlemen, the manufacturers, and the retailers, leaving little for farmers, who once again face the "get big or get out" edict of a market controlled by a few consolidated buyers. And farmers stop growing food for people to eat, but rather commodities--inputs in an industrial process that after much energy expenditure creates something like food.
The result may be free of pesticides, but I can't imagine it being delicious or particularly healthful.