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USA TODAY

More consumers choose to go organic

By Bruce Horovitz,

The terrorists certainly didn't expect this. But among cosmic fallout from their terrible deeds is a spurt of interest in all things organic.

Result: Make way for a new breed of organic marketer. Organic isn't just about healthier food anymore. It's about a lifestyle change that is increasingly striking a chord with consumers who suddenly feel disconnected — if not fearful — in an unpredictable world.

One small step toward solace: Organic Style, a magazine that hit newsstands in August just weeks before the terrorist attacks. The magazine's circulation base has jumped to 500,000 from the 400,000 it started with. And it's managed to attract some very familiar — but not necessarily organic — advertisers, including Buick, Home Depot and Sony PlayStation.

Organic is hot. There're the Organic Pages, an online directory of all things organic. Organic products are becoming as common as, well, chemical additives. Everyone's heard of organic baby food, but what do you make of organic baby toys? Or organic animal food? Organic airline food? And, yes, even organic golf tees — made from corn.

Little wonder that sales of organic products are expected to top $9.3 billion this year — about 25% more than last year, reports the industry trade group Organic Trade Association. By 2005, the trade group expects annual sales to reach $20 billion.

It's no wonder. Upward of four in 10 shoppers purchase some kind of organic food when they shop, according to a recent consumer survey by Rodale Press.

What's driving this national organic craze? Among other things: sophisticated marketing.

An ad for Horizon Organic Milk is arguably as consumer savvy as any Pepsi ad — featuring a freckle-faced boy smiling above this headline: You are what you drink.

At the same time, makers of organic products are cashing in on a growing national desire to turn away from fears of the unknown — such as terrorism — to return to a seemingly simpler life.

By traditional definition, organic means products produced with no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, no irradiation, no genetic engineering, no hormones, no antibiotics.

But editors at Organic Style prefer to redefine organic as "whatever is authentic to your nature as a general way of life."

In confusing times, "people want to live meaningful lives, even on a small scale," says Maria Rodale, editor of Organic Style. Her grandfather, J.I. Rodale, founded Rodale Press with Organic Farming and Gardening (now OG) magazine in 1942. Many Whole Foods grocery stores sold out of the first issue of Organic Style.

While the magazine's beginnings had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, its message has proved relevant to some readers. It's no accident that the most recent issue has an article called "Little Cabins in the Woods." And another with tips on praying, dubbed "Say a Little Prayer." The article, written before the attacks, was rewritten to include a Muslim prayer, Rodale says.

Here are some new ways the organic world is reaching out to the masses:

  • Airline food. Even in its current financial turmoil, Swissair continues to be the only airline serving organic food. About half the food it serves to passengers is organic, says Kinga Toth, manager of communications. That includes everything from organic yogurt to vegetables to wines.

    The airline considered killing the program, marketed as Natural Gourmet, because it adds to food costs. But it opted to keep it because it's so popular with passengers, Toth says.

  • Mass merchants. Wal-Mart added some organic foods to its Supercenters last year in areas where customers requested it, spokeswoman Karen Burk says. Among organic products sold at some Wal-Marts: packaged salad, dairy products and fresh produce.
  • Toys. Can a toy be organic? Well, Foundlings says its stuffed toys are made from 100% organic cotton and filled with unbleached cotton clippings. It requires 3 years of chemical- and pesticide-free farming to certify a cotton crop as organic.

    The Vermont-made washable toys sell from $9.95 (whale) to $29.95 (puppy).

  • Golf tees. Wooden golf tees too environmentally unfriendly for you? Well, how about a biodegradable golf tee made from corn? Eco Golf makes the tees, which are commonly used on Disney World golf courses. A bag of 15 tees sells for 50 cents. The company makes — and sells — 1.3 million of the tees weekly.

    Eco Golf also sells golf balls made from grain rawhide. These balls are especially popular with environmentally sensitive folks who like to hit golf balls into the lake or ocean, says Todd Baker, president of Eco Golf.

  • Soups. After the Sept. 11 tragedies, organic food maker Acirca donated 200,000 jars of its Walnut Acres brand organic soups to relief workers. Earlier this month, the company acquired Mountain Sun, one of the largest organic juice makers.
  • Big Mac cartons. Coming soon to a McDonald's near you: Big Macs tucked into biodegradable cartons made of natural limestone, reclaimed potato starch and 100% recycled fiber.

    The packing, made by EarthShell, is being tested at Chicago-area McDonald's before it will be further tested on the West Coast.

  • Pet food. Even dogs and cats are going organic. PetGuard Premium Dog Foods are organically made and contain no byproducts or artificial colors or flavors.

But is Fido ready for Liver & Vegetable & Wheat Germ Chunky Dinner?

 

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