All Natural

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A bottle of 7-Up came across my desk today for work. I'm not a big soda drinker so I didn't think anything of it until I looked closely and noticed a small band underneath the familiar 7-Up Logo.

"7-UP. Now 100% Natural."

I remember a time in my early 20s, ringing up customers and stocking shelves at the original Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. Organic and natural foods were from another planet, where brands like Ah Soy and Amy's were staples and you'd never see a mainstream, conventional brand even come through the receiving back door.

How times have changed. Whole Foods is no longer that little hippie grocery store on North Lamar, and retail behemoth Wal-Mart has announced their large-scale effort to court the organic and natural shopper by increasing their natural category.

Is this a good thing? I have mixed feelings.

I believe in food in its most pure, unadulterated state. I get organic. I prefer foods free from additives, foods that have been minimally processed. But I can't help but feel that major food manufactures are simply jumping on a bandwagon for the sake of sales.

Full disclosure: I am still in the grocery business. I do not mean to bite the hand that feeds me. It's just all so interesting to me.

Considering that the organic trade is the fastest growing category of foods in the retail sector I suppose all this makes sense. There was a time when eating natural and organic meant filling your body with pure, balanced, good-for-you foods. You weren't overloading on sugar and hydrogenated fats because that simply wasn't the profile of the category. But now it seems several companies are revamping their ingredients list so that they can be seen in a new, natural light.

Consider this: Silk Soy Milk is from Dean Foods. Cascadian Farms is owned by General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive recently bought Tom's of Maine. Kraft owns Boca Burgers, and Unilever recently introduced organic Ragu. Hormel has a new line called Hormel Natural Choice, and Frito Lay Natural & Organic has been available for some time.

So I ask: Is this a good thing? Is organic less important because it's backed by a large food comglomerate? Is it better because more people are eating natural and organic foods? Or are they just eating the same unbalanced foods but this time they're non-gmo, non-hydrogenated and less processed? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

8 Responses to “All Natural”

  1. Anonymous L 

    Matt - great issue. Not that my humble and very uneducated opinion really matters in this, but I think that the big corps trying to be more organic is certainly better than not... even if they are in it for the buck. If it means using less environmentally bad stuff (like my oh-so-technical jargon?), who wouldn't?

    That said, I also think it's important to support small producers and those companies that are really innovating in the space... not just following along for the ride.

  2. Anonymous kevin ashton 

    dear Matt,

    My first visit to your blog...but definately not my last.

    The realist in me says for whatever reason its good that large companies have bought into organic foods.

    The trend both sides of the Atlantic seems to be towards organic, though only in "grown up foods" whilst kids are targeted as easy prey by the purveyors of junk food.



    come check my blog and say hi

  3. Anonymous Dianka3103 

    Great topic and nice blog, Matt! I am from LA as well and I feel the more I go to Whole Foods the more commercial it gets. However, the produce and meat are still the best I've seen. Heavan knows, for me, walking into a Vons or Ralphs is a hydrogenated-corn syrup mess! Please visit my new food blog at:
    Hope you like it!

  4. Anonymous bea at La tartine gourmande 

    Interesting topic indeed. I have lived in the US for about 8 years now and all I can say is that I myself have seen a change. I used to love WholeFoods, but I have seen it change as well, not for the best. I still think though it is a great place to shop, and this is where I do most of my shopping as a matter of fact. I however think that it matters to make sure that what you eat is really organic. ANd the more you eat non processed food, that is you cook the food rather than you use ready made products, the healthier you are. The education needs to happen in the household first. There is a whole debate whereby some companies write natural, organic et on items when they truly are not 100% organic. In France as a matter of fact, the issue exists as well.

  5. Anonymous ilikeredbean 

    i love organic but can't always afford it. but i do think organic meats/eggs etc just TASTE better.... i usually do my shopping at, whole foods, or treasure island here in chicago and i live by the idea that you should buy the very best item that you can afford because ultimately it will make you happiest in the long-run (great advise from the cookbook ALL ABOUT BRAISING).

    that being said, the economics of "organic" food items amazes me. hopefully if organic goes mainstream --- maybe it'll lower costs?

  6. Anonymous Pippa 

    Is it just me am I being overly cynical, but what are the checks and balances for large multinationals and "their" idea od organic? Something tells me that a small wholistic organic producer does not have the same approach as a large multinational in it for the money! We hve all heard the scandals before of what goes on behind the scenes so cn we really trust that what we are eating is what they say we are eating? Also I am worried that the small producers will be put out of business.....

  7. Anonymous Paul C 

    I'm going to respond to your blog as well as the responses.

    You and I come from the same place on this issue Matt.

    I think the environmental point of view makes sense (i.e. regardless of their motives, the more companies use sustainable practices, the better). Also, I think any trend away from Hydrogenated oils and trans-fats in general is a positive thing.

    We all have a sort of romantic idea of what "health food"used to be. It's not as if everything Whole Foods or Wild Oats used to sell was always good for you. It's entirely possible to go on a junk-food binge at any health store, and that hasn't significantly changed.

    I also have to strongly disagree with "the more you eat non processed food, that is you cook the food rather than you use ready made products, the healthier you are." That's a ridiculous conceit with no basis in reality. I'll happily make french fries from fresh organic potatoes, serve them with free-range beef burgers (if I were in the mood, I might would even stretch my own mozzarella to make a cheeseburger), and finish it all off with a slice of organic chocolate cream pie made from scratch. It's overly idealistic to think that "home-made"and "natural"are automatically healthier, just as it is ridiculous to assume that all processed food is unhealthy (or to even assume that the occasional burger and fries are bad for you).

    As far as small producers are concerned, certainly large agri-business poses a potential threat. It's a two-sided sword though, as large commercial entities raise awareness of organic and "natural" foods, they expand the market, and create room for more diversity of product. This diversity of the marketplace gives small business' an opportunity to find their own market share.

    Whole Foods has certainly changed with the times. In large part because the variety and quality of products which meet their "Quality Standards" has multiplied exponentially over the last ten years. This is potentially a drag for the anachronistic food-hater (some one who defines their culinary life by what they don't eat), but it makes the store far more accessible to more shoppers, allowing more people to do more (or all) of their shopping in their stores. Obviously this is a smart business model, but it can also be seen as providing a good role model - if customers see that they can eat food that is familiar and comfortable to them, and still support the environment and potentially eat healthier, how is that a bad thing?

    The biggest issues with organic and "natural" foods, involve wealth and class. It's no coincidence that countries where organic farming is in vogue (Germany, Brittain, the US) are all wealthy first world countries. Consumers who are willing to spend their money on organic produce have the luxury of not remembering a time when it was difficult or expensive to put any food on the table. Even in our country, organic food has traditionally catered to the upper-middle class, pricing itself out of the reach of lower and lower-middle class consumers. To that end, I think it's a positive step that Wal-Mart is marketing organic products to a whole new group of consumers - does it mean that poor american's will eat more fresh produce? I kind of doubt it, but I think that just lowering the hydrogenated oil consumption of most american's will help lots of our national health issues (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension).

    Lastly, to those that aren't aware. The USDA has a strictly regulated set of standards that define the term "Organic" and control the use of that word on labeling and marketing material. The criteria is not as strenuous as some would like (including myself), but there are some legitimate requirements that make some difference.

    Phew... Sorry for the screed. Nice post, thanks for the interesting discussion.

  8. Anonymous Christine D. 

    Yeah I just heard that they lowered the requirements/standards on the "Organic" label.

    What ticked me off about that "Now 100% Natural" label on the 7-Up is that there are probably going to be more people drinking it and/or drinking it more and still getting fatter because of the high fructose corn syrup. Hate that stuff and the fact that it's everywhere!

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About me

  • I'm Matt Armendariz
  • From Los Angeles, California
  • A man with a passion for good food and a wonderful life with a dash of irreverence. Read at your own risk. Advertising director by day, wino by night. All photos on this site by Matt Armendariz.
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