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Pesticide Free: The New “Economy” Organic

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Organic may deliver the full package, but not all health-conscious consumers want to go as far as considering the full environmental impact of the food they buy. Many just want food that is free from pesticide residues, and, above all, affordable. Pesticide residue-free fresh produce fills this niche very nicely, and it could well become the new industry standard for the growing category of child-positioned fruit and vegetables.

What Do Shoppers Care About?

Organic may be the be-all and end-all for some, but it is certainly not the only option for fresh produce growers who want to appeal to the growing flock of consumers concerned about their health first and foremost, followed by environmental issues.

As survey after survey has shown, shoppers’ prime motivation for buying organic food – and organic fresh produce in particular – is to avoid pernicious pesticides. And although the incidence of sickness reliably diagnosed as resulting from pesticide-contaminated food is very low, consumer fears cannot be brushed aside as entirely “irrational”.

The fact is that conclusive long-term studies on humans investigating these matters are virtually impossible to carry out, and animal studies can only ever hope to deliver the merest of approximations. Hence, we have a very hazy idea of how the long-term build-up of pesticides in the body’s tissues affects health, and we know even less about how these residues interact with each other or with bodily metabolites.

No Need for Growers to Go All the Way

For farmers, attaining organic certification is a complex and far-reaching process, which encompasses every aspect of farm management, including fertiliser use and the taking into consideration of surrounding wildlife. It is also costly. So, instead of embarking on the onerous path of converting their farms to wholly organic, some growers just want to cater specifically to consumers who are set on avoiding pesticide exposure, nothing more.

The obvious solution is to certify their produce as pesticide residue free, and this seems to be catching on. For instance, Tanimura & Antle, a lettuce grower in Tennessee (US), launched pesticide residue-free, hydroponically-grown lettuce in October 2013. California-based Nagata Bros Farms Inc recently reported that it has attained pesticide residue-free certification for its California Sweet brand of fresh blueberries, available in Albertson’s and Stater Bros grocery retailers from the end of March 2014.

The certifier, in both cases, is SCS Global Services, based in California. SCS stands for Scientific Certification Systems, and the Kingfisher Pesticide Residue Free certification mark is one of the company’s products. For the certification to be awarded, the detection standard for pesticides is set at 0.01ppm (parts per million) or less in the final product.

Child-Positioned Produce a Prime Focus

Pesticide residue-free certification plugs an obvious gap in the market, and it has serious potential to become the new industry standard for fresh produce specifically targeted at children. Over the years, our health and wellness research has consistently shown that organic baby food, unlike other organic food and beverage categories, is virtually recession proof. This is because an appreciable number of parents are unwilling to take any risks where their offspring’s wellbeing is concerned. After all, no amount of pesticide is “safe”, and the effect even a minute quantity may have on still developing organs and on immature nervous and immune systems is unknown.

Fruit and vegetables specially selected and packaged for children, such as cherry tomatoes, seedless grapes, miniature cucumbers and apples, is a growth market, and any fresh produce tested and certified as pesticide free will have a definite edge.

Care needs to be taken in terms of price points, though. Child-positioned produce may warrant a price premium in its own right, but marketers of pesticide residue-free fresh produce still need to ensure that their offerings remain appreciably cheaper than their organic counterparts. Pesticide free is a highly attractive positioning platform, but consumers, on the whole, still know that organic is best, making price the crucial factor in shoppers’ purchasing decision.

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