Organic is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. food industry.
Consumers are eating more organic food and using more organic products than ever before. Millions of American families now buy organic on a regular basis.
Data provided by the Organic Trade Associate (OTA) shows the steady growth of the organic food market in the last 15 years from $13.26 billion in 2005 to $57.5 billion in 2021.
The 2020 pandemic increased consumer desire for clean, healthy food as people became more increasingly aware of their health. This gave way to the most significant annual increase, with organic food sales jumping $6.43 billion from 2019 ($50.07 billion) to 2020 ($56.5 billion).
Unfortunately companies looking to capitalize on the organic food market have resorted to using terms on their packaging that people often confuse with organic, such as "natural" or "free-range" or "organically awesome". This is called "greenwashing", meaning a company is using eco-friendly terms or organic terms on non-organic products. This is bad news for consumers who are trying to find true organic products.
Deciphering a product's food label can get confusing. There's the nutrition facts, the ingredient list, dietary claims and also often organic statements. One way to ease confusion is to understand what “organic” really means.
USDA Organic Seal
What does "organic" really mean?
The term “organic” refers to a regulatory label with a strict set of rules and qualifications governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the National Organic Program.
When you see food, cosmetics, and cleaning products labeled as “organic,” it is referring not only to the product itself but how the produce or ingredients were grown and processed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires organic crops to be grown without the use of:
- synthetic pesticides
- GMOs (genetically modified organism)
- petroleum-based fertilizers
- sewage sludge-based fertilizers
Rigorous certification process
Before a product can be labeled as "organic" the farm, processor and handler must submit to take part in the NOP (National Organic Program) and submit an organic system plan that outlines all operations.
A USDA-accredited certifying agent must then inspect the farm and facilities where the food/ingredient is grown and processed to ensure the farmer, processor and handler are adhering to the USDA organic standards and rules.
The inspector will also review the farm or facility’s good manufacturing practices for cleaning, pest control, storage, transportation and organic practices proper recordkeeping, buffering from neighboring farms and long-term soil management.
This inspection process is stringent and it's not a one time inspection. Farms and facilities are annually inspected in order to enforce the standards and protect consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal. You can and should feel good purchasing products with the USDA Certified Organic seal.
How to read organic product labels?
100 Percent Organic. This description is used on USDA certified organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat or other single-ingredient foods. May also be used on multi-ingredient foods if all of the ingredients are certified organic. These may have a USDA seal.
Organic. If a multi-ingredient food is labeled organic, and at least 95% to 99% of the ingredients are certified organic. These may have a USDA seal.
Made with Organic Ingredients. At least 70% to 94% certified organic ingredients. The ingredient label must identify which ingredients are organic. These products may not carry a USDA seal.
Organic Ingredients. If less than 70% of a multi-ingredient product is not certified organic. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic. These products may not carry a USDA seal.
The PLU code on Produce
Not all organic produce will have the organic seal on its packaging, in fact most produce is not bagged or packaged. The PLU code on the produce's sticker though will inform you whether it's organic or not. PLU codes are the numbers on stickers that are used to identify the produce during checkout at the grocery store.
Did you know? Organic PLU codes have a 5-digit number that starts with the number 9. Non-organic produce has 4-digit PLU codes that start with the number 4.
We are Rooted in Organics
Our family's history with organics began in the mid 70's, with Steve and Richele starting the 20-acre Chrysalis Organic Farm in Valley Center California growing 8 acres of apples and pears and 8 acres of vegetables. This was long before any certifications or organic standards were regulated and inspected by the USDA.
With our move to Kauai in 1982, our family started growing with the addition of 3 beautiful children and the creation of our family farm, Real Noni. What started as 25 raw acres of land on Kauai has grown today into our 70-acre certified organic family farm.
We firmly believe
You are not only what you eat but also what you feed your plants.
Our commitment to organics guides us day in and day out. The quality of our food directly relates to the quality of the nutrients and the quality of care that we feed our plants. For this reason we are rooted in organic farming as it nourishes the soil and nourishes our food rather than stripping them of their nutrients.
We hope these organic label tips will help empower you to make informed choices during your next visit to the store or farmers’ market and to be better able to deduct whether a product is truly organic.