By Amy Chapman
From fruits and vegetables raised locally on small organic farms to organic milk produced by the nation’s largest dairy processor, Americans are demanding and consuming more organic foods than ever.
Colleen McCabe, manager of the Bethel Foodliner, has seen that trend reflected in her store. “Requests for organic, natural, and local products have really picked up in the last few years,” she said.
As a nation, we now spend about $30 billion annually on organic foods, according to the Organic Trade Association. In 2011, the industry group says, organic food sales grew by 9.4 percent, and represented more than four percent of all food sales in the US.
Once found only in specialty health food stores and farmers’ markets, organic foods can now be found nearly everywhere people shop for food.
Cathy Autrey of Bethel said she had noticed a small increase in the number of natural and organic products available at the Foodliner recently, and she hoped more choices would be added, especially those from local sources.
“I do try to buy local products when they are available,” she said. “I don’t mind paying more if necessary because I know how hard it is for local farmers to make a living.”
Because the Foodliner is independently owned, McCabe said they are not bound to a single supplier. “We have the flexibility to buy as much as we want from specialty producers and local farmers,” she said. “We’re trying to expand the amount of local foods we carry as much as we can.”
McCabe’s brother, Shawn Glidden, manages the meat department, where she said he often has requests to stock local grass-fed beef and other locally-raised meats. They are currently looking for a supplier.
Rather than having all of the non-perishable organic foods grouped in a single aisle, McCabe said they are stocked throughout the store on the shelves next to their non-organic counterparts. That lets people compare prices easily and, as one shopper said, “I might pick up an organic version of an item instead of the brand I usually buy, just to try it out.”
A tour of the store showed organic and natural alternatives in nearly every aisle: Hannaford’s line of Nature’s Place organic greens and herbs in the produce department; Wicked Joe Organic Fair Trade coffees; Kashi Organic Promise cereals; Nature’s Place peanut butter, jams, and jellies; Stonyfield Organic Yogurt in the dairy section.
Gould Academy faculty members Andee and Doug Alford said that although they make occasional shopping trips to Portland, where they stock up on groceries at Trader Joe’s, they shop at the Foodliner almost every day.
“There may be a few things we can’t get here, but usually they have just about everything we’re looking for,” said Andee Alford.
She added that she believes it is more important to buy foods that are locally produced than to focus on always buying organic. “We like to buy local whenever we can. Not necessarily organic; I think that’s a label that has been overused and has lost some of its significance.”
“Basically, we eat fresh fruits and vegetables as much as we can because they’re healthy,” added Doug Alford. “For our regular shopping, we come here. We only live a block and a half away, and sometimes we’re here two or three times a day.”
McCabe said that in addition to requests for natural and organic products, the demand for food items for special diets, especially gluten-free products, has soared.
“Spaghetti, crackers, you name it, people are looking for a gluten-free option,” she said. She tries to respond to all special requests, searching out new suppliers when needed.
“We’ll try anything once to see if it will sell. Being a small store, when we order a new product, we do have to make sure we can turn it over.”
“We take requests all the time. We love getting special requests because that lets us know exactly what people are looking for.”