Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wal-Mart & 7-UP: Going au natural?

This should be filed under "You know it's big when..."

Wal-Mart has announced plans to stock organic food. When your head stops spinning, consider the sorts of products Wal-Mart is aiming to sell. From the NYT, May 12th, by Melanie Warner:

Most of the nation's major food producers are hard at work developing organic versions of their best-selling products, like Kellogg's Rice Krispies and Kraft's macaroni and cheese.

So I guess this is good? It's good for organic farmers, and its good for the land, but it seems unlikely to do a lot for human health. The problem with Rice Krispies isn't that they aren't organic, it's that they're Rice Krispies! And therefore loaded with empty calories and fat. But I will say that I am anxiously awaiting the natural/organic version of Mac & Cheese. I'm sorry, but the Trader Joe's and Annie's versions are just not the same. I can't wait for Mac & Cheese stripped of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives... to have you know, once in a blue moon to fulfill that craving.

Wal-Mart says it wants to democratize organic food, making products affordable for those who are reluctant to pay premiums of 20 percent to 30 percent. At a recent conference, its chief marketing officer, John Fleming, said the company intended to sell organic products for just 10 percent more than their conventional equivalents.

Admirable intention -- even though we all know the real reason Wal-Mart is getting into organics:

While organic food is still just 2.4 percent of the overall food industry, it has been growing at least 15 percent a year for the last 10 years. Currently valued at $14 billion, the organic food business is expected to increase to $23 billion over the next three years, though that figure could rise further with Wal-Mart's push.

I'm glad they're getting on the bandwagon & at least trying to respond to the emerging zeitgeist. But I sympathize with the critics:

But Wal-Mart's new push worries Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group that lobbies for strict standards and the preservation of small organic farms. He said Wal-Mart did not care about the principles behind organic agriculture and would ultimately drive down prices and squeeze organic farmers.

So overall... this could be a good thing, but I hope "organic" doesn't just become a watered down version of what began as a radical new movement. It would be amazing if people actually began to care not only about their own health, but also about the health of our environment & our farmers.

In further "you know it's big when..." news, 7-UP is rigorously marketing their soda as "all natural." Yep, they took out the sodium benzoate (which when mixed with citric acid tends to form benzene, not good for you!) and the artificial flavors. Laudable move -- if I feel like drinking pure empty calories, I'll be sure to pick up a 7-up. Being less cynical for a moment, I would actually drink the new 7-up before I took so much as a second glance at a Pepsi or Coke.

I'm not the only one questioning the use of the word "natural" here -- turns out the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) is suing the soda company for false advertising.

Let's look at these "all natural" ingredients...

1. Water. OK, sure.

2. High fructose corn syrup. Eh -- not that natural. Turning corn into corn syrup is a highly industrialized process, and it yields a calorie-rich substance that recent studies suggest our bodies don't even recognize. Problematic because you've just drunk 200 calories of sugar, and you don't feel it.

3. Citric acid. Sure.

4. Natural flavors. I refer you to Fast Food Nation. Although my response to "natural" flavors is still more positive than toward artificial (as illogical as it may prove to be).

5. Potassium citrate. Sure, whatever.

So maybe it's not looking tons healthier, but it's a step in the right direction.

I love seeing the huge soda companies and Wal-Mart respond to consumer demand for natural and/or organic products. Makes me get the warm fuzzies all over.

1 comment:

karuna said...

This is exactly what we all need. Once organic food becomes more popular, it will be cheaper and easier to find. And we won't have spend a fortune at Whole Foods.