Q&A with Kyle Lyons, Segment Marketing Director at Mars Food Canada Inc.
How big is the organic market in Canada?
Today, two out of three Canadian grocery shoppers purchase organic items weekly, catapulting the organic market in Canada to be worth about $5.4-billion annually. Growth continues to outpace traditional grocery, posting an average increase of 9 per cent between 2012 and 2017. This proves Canadians are overwhelmingly choosing a greater portion of their total grocery basket to be organic.
What do you see as the key reasons for the strong growth of organic foods?
Consumers are becoming more aware of where their food comes from, how it is produced and the net impact it has on the environment and their health. Armed with that knowledge, they want to make small changes in what they eat, including choosing more plant-based foods. We believe that as consumers adopt more plant-based foods into their diets, organic foods will continue to play a greater role because we know organic foods often have more benefits than their conventionally grown counterparts.
What are the benefits of organic foods?
Key benefits include:
Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat. Organic is the only non-GMO standard overseen by the Canadian government – organic standards forbid the use of GMOs in seeds, animal feed and the ingredients of processed organic food and products.
When organic produce looks fresh, it is fresh, since it doesn’t contain preservatives that make it last longer.
Organic farming is better for the environment since organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility and use less energy.
What are consumers looking for in organic foods?
Consumers are very informed and educated when it comes to food choices; they repeatedly tell us that they purchase organic foods to (1) avoid highly processed foods and artificial ingredients, (2) to avoid harmful pesticides or other chemicals, and (3) because organic foods are better for a healthy environment. Now more than ever, consumers care about ingredients, sourcing, their health and, maybe most importantly, the social impact of the products that they purchase.
What are the purchasing dynamics of organic foods?
Consumer adoption of organic starts with fresh fruits, vegetables, pre-packaged salads, eggs and dairy/milk products. However, as consumers broaden their choices of organic foods, we see more inclusion of mainstream pre-packaged centre-of-the-store categories. For instance, organic baby food and organic snack foods have more than tripled in value in the last six years, and that trend will continue as we adopt more plant-based foods into our diets.
What are the key barriers for expanding organic production?
Today, only 1.8 per cent of Canadian farms are certified organic (or 1.7 per cent of acreage) – that is an alarmingly low percentage. The growth in organic acreage in Canada has not kept pace to match the $2-billion in organic retail growth over the last five years. The key barriers to accelerate organic acreage in Canada are time, money and education. It takes three years for farmers to transition crops to organic certification. During that time, farmers are not able to secure the premium price per bushel that often comes from organic production, putting financial pressures on producers. Additionally, farmers are often seeking support in the form of educational services to help them understand how to become certified and maintain their certification.
What is SEEDS OF CHANGE’s background?
SEEDS OF CHANGE was founded in 1989 to offer organically grown seeds to gardeners and farmers. Our mission began with a single-minded notion to preserve biodiversity and promote the use of sustainable organic agricultural practices. In 1997, our portfolio of food products was launched to bring the goodness of organic food to people everywhere. We are relatively a new brand in Canada having only launched in 2015, but today, we offer delicious, convenient, organically certified products across a number of categories, including rice and grains, cooking sauces and a range of legumes that include chickpeas, lentils and baked beans.
How can SEEDS OF CHANGE help?
At SEEDS OF CHANGE, we recognize that consumers are looking to make small changes in what they eat – to find simpler, delicious and convenient foods for themselves and their families. In order to truly provide the goodness of organic plant-based food to everyone, we had a bold ambition to inspire change not only towards sustainably grown and healthier foods but also a healthier planet. We want to make a difference, to give our support where it matters most: Canadian farmers.
We first approached COTA and together set up a fund, the Support Organic Change Fund (SOCF). Through this fund, we will donate 1 per cent of our SEEDS OF CHANGE sales to provide financial support and educational services towards helping Canadian plant-based producers achieve organic certification. We invite and encourage other manufacturers to join the SOCF so we can build a better tomorrow together by supporting better food today.
Do you think plant-based foods are just a fad?
We see the broader macro trend towards plant-based foods continuing. As a result, we believe the marketplace will continue to see the emergence of more plant-based products in restaurants and in more aisles of the grocery store to meet consumer demand. This for us reinforces the need for a sustainable farming supply source to keep up with that demand. This is why we believe so strongly in helping Canadian plant-based farmers with both financial support and educational services to achieve organic certification.
How can consumers help?
When people purchase a SEEDS OF CHANGE product, a portion of each sale will go towards the SOCF. In partnership with COTA, we can truly help more Canadian producers achieve organic certification, ultimately building a sustainable supply source to help provide organic food to everyone.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.