Market Analysis: Organic Food from Supermarket vs. Straight from the Producer

Published by Thursday, April 28, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Eric Burkel

Don’t allow the wool to be pulled over your eyes by supermarket organic food!

While discussing the issue of sustainable agriculture and the virtuous model of direct-channel (straight from the producer) with a friend the other day, she told me proudly that she usually buys organic food at her supermarket.

It made me think that most of us do the same and therefore we are content in the knowledge that we have most duly earned some sacrosanct “organic” brownie points!

However, it is a pact with the devil for dupes, when you boil it down. In a direct-channel model, whereby middlemen are cut out, the producer/breeder/grower gets decent compensation for his or her efforts. In a supermarket chain, the same “squeeze-the-supplier-till-he-squeals (or dies!)” modus operandi applies. How else can you explain that the major chains in France are offering organic deals at 1 € a day, for instance?

Organic growing is inherently risky and mechanically more expensive than intensively grown food. Weeds? They have to be pulled out by hand, not sprayed with the latest and greatest herbicide. Bugs? You can’t just spray the nasty freeloaders with a new-fangled pesticide.

When I asked our favourite organic Bordeaux wine-grower if he had sold out of his 2007 production (there was none to be found on his price list), he responded matter-of-factly: “We had a fungus that year and lost our whole crop.” You can imagine that it would have been soooooo much easier to spray some fungicide and make it all go away.

After factoring in such vagaries of organic farm life (without forgetting that yields are invariably lower on organic farms), someone needs to explain how in an ideal world you can have the cut-price organic prices we see in commercials all the time. Unless of course, someone is still getting shrift in the loop, as is often par for the course in our zero-sum world.

Some supermarket chains have understood the nuance and are trumpeting their programs to promote “local” procurement. This is a step in the right direction, no doubt.

So great, the chains have brought organic food to forefront our collective conscious and that must be goodness. But we must keep them on their toes to ensure that they are not just surfing the latest fad and using it their sole advantage, to sucker us once again.

Or better yet, go out of our way and support the direct-channel by joining a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) or buying directly from local producers.

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