Local organic foods markets: healthy and growing
by Delia Hitz
onsumers and businesses are catching on that producing
and buying organic foods makes sense both economically and environmentally.
Nationwide, organic food industry sales topped $2 billion last year, an
increase of 22% from 1993. Over the past six years, the industry has seen
sustained annual growth of over 20 percent.
Natural foods stores report the biggest gains in organic
sales, with organic produce bringing in a record $333 million, an increase
of 32% over 1993. Real growth in organic products also took place in supermarkets,
where sales increased 23 percent over 1993 to $172 million, with much of
that growth coming from fresh organic produce.
What's in store
In San Diego, the natural foods stores are the stars of the show.
Jimbo's ... Naturally (in Del Mar and North Park) shows
remarkable growth. Their overall sales have increased 60 percent in the
last 20 months, and they are looking for a site for a third store. They
generated $2.5 million in organic produce sales last year, up 30 percent
from 1993. Jimbo's won the 1995 Store of the Year award from Health Food
Business magazine. According to the magazine's profile of the store in Del
Mar, "Jimbo's has the largest variety of organic produce in the state,
but sells it at prices comparable to those of nearby supermarkets."
Ocean Beach People's Natural Foods Market sees "tremendous
potential for organics," according to manager Pat Denley. "We
emphasize them more and more - promoting organics is in our future."
OB People's will need to expand or relocate to accommodate their growing
sales. In addition to organic produce, they carry a wide variety of organic
baked goods, cereals, grains and nuts, dairy products, beverages, canned
goods, frozen foods, deli items and condiments.
Ed Bennett of Greentree Grocers notes a real increase
in consumer awareness of organic foods. He says the demand for organic produce
is very strong, and more organic packaged foods are now available. Greentree
now uses organic flours and grains in their bakery, and buys organic produce
directly from farmers to keep the prices low. Bennett says their prices
are now on a par with commercial produce - and sometimes even better. He
attributes this to the growing infrastructure and organization in the organic
industry. "There has been a great increase in shipping, transportation,
storage and marketing over the past few years, and this has led to greater
availability and better prices. Even large commercial growers have seen
the demand and converted to organic," he notes, which results in lower
growing costs and healthier soils.
Two years ago, Casady's Whole Foods had one store in
Encinitas. Now there are two in Encinitas, one in Point Loma and plans to
open a fourth in Orange County.
Ralphs Grocery Co. regularly carries a limited selection
of organic produce, and a wide selection of organic packaged goods. Their
"Nutri-Clean" program tests produce at the dock to determine whether
the pesticide residues are below the EPA limits. Produce items that pass
the test with no detected residues are known as "Nutri-Clean certified."
Produce items that don't show the Nutri-Clean sign have not passed the test
- unless they're certified organic, of course. But, like the other large
supermarket chains, Ralphs has yet to respond to the demand for organics
by providing a wide selection of organic produce.
Boney's Marketplace stores also have been slow to respond
to consumer demand for organic produce, but do carry a wide selection of
packaged organics. They had previously carried organic produce, but felt
that customers weren't buying it. They are now beginning to look into buying
organic produce from local farmers.
Observers note that organics in supermarkets will probably
pick up during 1996, when a large natural foods supermarket, Whole Foods,
will be locating in San Diego. This store chain, known as a "supermarket
format" natural foods store, has seen the largest growth of any sector
of the organic industry: their sales of organic produce leaped 98 percent
from $94 million in 1993 to $186.5 million in 1994.
Direct marketing of organics has seen its share of increase as well, up
almost $36 million in 1993 from $357 million. Tom Haller, Executive Director
of California Alliance of Family Farms, publishes the "California Farm
Fresh Directory," which lists farmers' markets, "u-picks,"
farm stands and other direct marketing farms in California. He notes that
20 years ago, there were 4 farmers' markets in California, and now there
are 250. In San Diego, we have 15 farmers' markets spread across the metropolitan
area, at least one each day of the week.
A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a membership club that buys produce
directly from a farm. The Be Wise Ranch delivers to various locations in
San Diego for pick-up.
"Consumers across San Diego are clamoring for organics,"
says Kari Gray, a new mother and resident of Pacific Beach. "I couldn't
find much organic produce at any of the local markets, so I joined the CSA
program at the Be Wise Ranch. We get a big box of tasty farm fresh produce
once a week for $15. It's usually more than we can eat! I wanted to be careful
during my pregnancy, but now I just love the way it tastes."
Another CSA program in the county can be found at Little
Creek Acres in Valley Center where they offer classes, demonstrations and
an "Adopt a Goat" program, all dedicated to sustainable agriculture.
The ten-acre farm has "never had a toxic substance applied" and
features 80 raised gardening beds, compost piles, seedling greenhouse, farm
stand, bees, dairy goats, chickens, herbs, alfalfa, orchard with stone-fruits,
apples, subtropicals, citrus, avocados, dwarf and full-size trees, grapes
and value-added processes such as juicing and solar drying. The public is
invited to visit and learn about all aspects of sustainable living.
Buying organic in San Diego
There are farmers' markets in every area of San Diego that sell organic
produce. Call the Shoppers' Campaign at 272-7370 or the Downtown Business
Association of Escondido at 745-8877.
The following stores carry a full selection of organic produce and processed
Casady's Whole Foods Market
284 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas - 436-3663
745 First St., Encinitas - 633-3663
3960 W. Point Loma Blvd. - 523-3663
Cream of the Crop
2009 South Hill, Oceanside - 433-2757
8704 Lake Murray Blvd., La Mesa, - 463-7267
3560 Mount Acadia, San Diego - 560-1975
7055 University Ave., La Mesa - 462-2532
3918 30th St. - 294-8055
Jimbo's Del Mar
12853 El Camino Real, Del Mar - 793-7755
Ocean Beach People's Natural Foods Market
1763 Voltaire St., Ocean Blvd. - 224-1387
Ralphs Grocery Co. carries some organic produce, but not a full selection.
They also carry some organic processed foods. Trader Joe's and Boney's Markets
carry many natural foods and some packaged organic foods, but they do not
carry organic produce.
3351 Adams Ave., San Diego 282-4116
4652 Mission Blvd., San Diego 272-7399
1237 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar 793-1500
1020 San Marcos Blvd. 736-4949,
2949 5th Ave., San Diego 297-2883
Ki's Juice Bar
2591 Coast Highway, Cardiff 436-5236
431 W. 13th Ave., Escondido 740-9596