Making matters worse for Whole Foods, consumer interest in organic food appears to be leveling off after several years of double-digit growth, according to the Hartman Group, a market research firm specializing in health and wellness.
Laurie Demeritt, president of the Hartman Group, said core consumers for organic goods, about 15 percent of the population, are becoming even more committed. But people less attached to such items are continuing to buy organic dairy products, produce and meat, and are buying fewer organic goods among packaged items, like cereal and crackers, she said.
"They don't see those center-store categories as being so important," she said. “The economy has only exacerbated that situation.”
Maybe, just maybe, serious eaters are smarter than marketers think we are. People should be buying fewer organic goods among packaged items, and they should be committed to buying organic or sustainably and responsibly grown and raised dairy products, produce, and meat. Why?
Because dairy products, produce, and meat are naked, exposed foods that are profoundly affected by shoddy handling and processing. We don't need milk from herds of cows injected with growth hormone. We've all read plenty about meat recalls and conditions in meat processing plants (see Fast Food Nation), and when the FDA can't identify what's made a thousand people sick with salmonella, you know it's time to buy organic and responsibly raised and grown food.
On the other hand, people understand that there are fewer benefits to be gained from consuming organic breakfast cereals, organic sodas, organic frozen mac and cheese, organic packaged chocolate chip cookies, and organic potato chips. These are all highly processed foods anyway, so it's harder to see what we derive from eating them—all while paying more for the privilege.
So when times are tough, serious eaters forsake higher-priced, processed organic food—with good reason. We ain't that stupid.