Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Going organic online

With organic foods breaking out of health food stores and into supermarket chains, more and more people are turning to the Internet for help in understanding the growing trend in organic eating.

"Many people are looking for information and searching for answers about the food questions that challenge us every day, and the Internet is often one of the first places people go," says Peter Fuchs, a partner in WOW Foods, an online organic food delivery service based in Brampton, Ont., that caters to the Greater Toronto Area. "For us, it's a perfect match with that demographic because the Internet is more than a marketing tool - it's our store."

WOW Foods, like many other organic delivery services, is using the Internet to reach a larger market. Across Canada every day, people are receiving fresh organic produce delivered right to their door after ordering it online.

Understand the meaning of organic

Currently in Canada, there is no legal definition of organic, states Bill Breckman Special Advisor Organics with Agriculture Agri-Food Canada. The definition of and regulations for organics is currently being developed by the Government of Canada with the help of industry consultants.

In the meantime, Breckman points to the National Organic Standard, which, he says, outlines what you can and can't do to a product and describes a production process rather than a product guarantee. He adds that there are some well-known distinctions that define organic produce. They include food grown without the use of:

Genetically modified organism (GMO)

Breckman says it's important to ask an online delivery service or store is if the product is "certified organic," which means it has been produced in accordance with National Organic Standards and certified by an accredited organization. "If the consumer wants to buy an organic product, our position is that they should get what they pay for," he explains.

Discover the benefits of eating natural food

Bill Jones, chef and author of the World Cookbook Award-winning Chef's Salad lives on a farm and mostly cooks with produce that is available locally.

Jones notes that the better the ingredient, the less he wants to process it, noting that there is nothing tastier than an organic tomato with a dash of olive oil, or an organic carrot with a little butter. "Many times, using conventional ingredients, people mask the lack of taste by roasting, puréeing, loading it up with herbs," says Jones, whose philosophy is to try to do "less and less with better-quality ingredients."

The sale of organic food has risen 15 to 20 per cent per year over the past 10 years, says Hugh Martin, Organic Crop Production program lead for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Martin suggests that this strong growth is partially due to the increased media exposure and information about organics as well as larger retailers who are starting to carry a broader line of organic food, making it more available to the general population. But the question remains: Is organic food better for you?

Cathy Hayashi, a registered nutritional consultant at the Big Carrot health food store in Toronto, says she has several reasons for choosing organics over conventional produce:

Organics are grown in healthier soil, which has a wider range of nutrients and minerals and is better for the environment. "If you look at a product like broccoli, it's supposed to be high in calcium - but if the soil quality isn't good, then the plant has nothing to get that mineral from."
Certified organics are not genetically modified, meaning the genes of other plants or animals have not been spliced into the genetic material of the plant being grown.
Websites like FoodNews can help you find information on the best foods to substitute with organics.

Receive fruit and vegetables seasonally

Although buying organic food can cost a bit more than regular food, ordering online through a delivery service can help. "We sell what is in season and readily available so that we don't have to worry about passing shipping costs on to our customers," says Graham, owner and operator of Farm Fresh. "As well, we buy only what we sell so the issue of spoilage and housing excess inventory is not a concern."

Also, since an organic retailer's business is done on the web rather than in a traditional store, operational savings can be passed on to customers.


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