Organic, Inc.

Published By: Mariner Books

Book Category: Non-Fiction,

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Reviewed by Dr. David Frisbie

Subtitled: Natural Foods and How They Grew

When you think of organic foods, do you mentally picture aging hippies in co-ops, small roadside stands, and stores with counter-cultural values? That image was probably valid until the 1980’s, but has rapidly been displaced since.

Organic foods sales grew at 20 percent per year during the 1990s, attracting the attention of the food business. In the process, organic went mainstream and became an accepted niche market at grocery chains and even big-box retailers such as WalMart and Target. The author’s real question is whether this represents “progress” or “problem” for fans of simpler lifestyles and all things organic.

The documented answer is some of both. Fromartz is a highly accomplished business journalist who takes a (mostly) unsentimental look at the business of marketing organic foods. Interviewing small and large merchants plus the ‘man on the street,’ Fromartz discovers that organic is profitable and growing, yet at the same time poses a risk to traditional fans who are unlikely to shop at big boxes for the food they know and love. While the mainstream consumer ‘discovers’ organic, the core organic customer may be wondering if she can trust anyone, anywhere, any more. This dilemma, the author notes, resembles putting up “a neon sign for an organic Twinkie.”

After an entertaining and excellent investigative look at the business of organic, Fromartz holds out hope that both kinds of organic – mass market and small market – may find ways to thrive. For the core customer, related values like humane treatment of animals, fair market pricing, and sustainable agriculture may become more relevant indicators of value than the simple phrase ‘organic.’ These savvy shoppers may continue to trust the small, unique brands and identities of traditional organic suppliers.

Meanwhile a certain amount of industrialization, mass-market methods and persuasive advertising messages can be expected to boost sales of anything termed ‘organic’ in the aisles of a mega-retailer near you, where the organic business is currently booming.

Whether you like your organic “all natural” or with “always low prices,” you’ll be likely to find it readily available. Which type you choose will say a lot about your personal values and expectations.

Armchair Interviews say: The good news, from the author’s point of view, is that at least you’ll get to choose! In a free market, our choices define our future opportunities.

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