Saturday, May 03, 2008

Organic Trade Association annual conference

this is my 4th year to go and every year I am impressed with the growth. I guess 50% growth each year that I have gone. some really great products are hitting the market and the companies really have some good marketing behind them. And that's good considering the competition the industry has from conventional food and how small the organic market still is compared to conventional food.

One worrisome tone of the conference was the impending supply shortage. There are just not enough organic farmers in the US and there are not enough people converting to organics. On one hand it's hard to believe, considering the incredible opportunities there are. But on the other hand it just seems like a cultural shift as America evolves into a more highly-skilled labor force. It certainly takes skill to grow organically, but not the same type of skill it takes to create nano-machines.

so, this supply shortage will mean rising prices in a slumping economy....not the best combination. some people are going to be turned away by the prices. Lots of people, I think. My only hope is that their opinion of Organics is not tarnished by the prices and when the supply crunch is abated they will return as consumers.

I got to catch up with some of the veterans of the industry. Karen wilcox, who has ushered the OTA into a new era with clout in DC, will be leaving. She did some really hard work and won some much needed concessions in the Farm Bill. Can you believe that right now Organic farmers have to pay a premium for farm insurance? Even though their practices are healthier for the land and they are shown to be more resistant to drought, disease, and pests? Incredible. Also, when Organic farmers do make an insurance claim, they are only reimbursed at the conventional price for the product, not the Organic price. Thanks to Karen, both of these will change. Also, she was able to secure more funding for Organic research.

Lynn Clarkson seems to be getting more involved in politics and less in business. That's good because he seems to really understand what it takes to pitch the Organic message to all sorts of people.

and best of of my favorite little snacks - sour gummi worms - is now available organically. And they're made with fruit puree instead of what seems like plastic. They're awesome.

The conference really invigorated me to keep fighting the good fight. I also attended a Sustainability meeting where industry leaders were addressing how they could not only produce Organic goodness, but do it sustainably. It was great to see this issue being tackled.

and, on the way home, I was on the same plane as Margaret Wittenberg, an incredible industry veteran who has done wonderful things for Whole Foods and who is apparently starting to branch out on her own with a couple of books she's publishing. I hope she let's me buy her coffee or lunch sometime so I can hear more of her story.

No comments: