Canadian organic sector sets roots in consumer markets

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Canadian organic sector sets roots in consumer markets

In one of the strongest organic food markets in the world, Canada's Organic Week can be described as a grassroots celebration of a blossoming industry.organicstrawberry

Today marks the conclusion of the fourth annual Organic Week in Canada, wrapping up eight days of special promotions and events that started on Sept. 21.

A collaborative national effort, the educational week now includes over 150 contributing organizations, estimated Stephanie Wells, senior regulatory affairs advisor of Canada's Organic Trade Association (COTA), one of the week's founding partners.

"We started Organic Week four years ago. We were looking at it as an opportunity to salute our farmers at harvest time, as well as to educate consumers. It’s very much a grassroots celebration. We have all kinds of groups, whether it’s local, organic farmers, farmers markets or CSAs. There are all kinds of organizations across the country," Wells told

"They’re having harvest picnics, organic beer fests, showing films about the organic movement, about food systems and building the soil."

When the week began in 2009, the Canadian government had recently established official standards for categorizing local and imported organic foods. The category now comes with an "Canada Organic Biologique" logo to ensure product compliance.

The label indicates how food is grown and prepared. For produce, it provides assurance that products were "grown without toxic and persistent synthetic pesticides," are free of GMOs and have not been irradiated.

This logo plays a key role in promoting awareness and encouraging Canadians to choose organic products, explained Helen Sherrard, president of the Canadian Health Food Association (CFHA), another official partner of the week.

"CHFA is participating to help ensure Canadians know when they see the Canada Organic logo they are not only investing in their health but they can feel confident they are purchasing products made without the use of toxic chemicals, which support sustainable environmentally friendly practices and animal welfare," Sherrard said.

As Canadians turn increasingly more to organic products, these official regulations play a part in the week's celebrations, explained Tegan Renner, the New Brunswick coordinator of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN).

"The major drive for starting it was that 2009 was the year Canada got national organic regulations. With that came a new Canada organic logo. We knew customers were going to begin seeing that on the shelves," Renner said.

"It was a time to celebrate and to educate so that customers knew across the whole country what organic means and know that when you see that word, you should see the logo. That’s a big goal: celebration and education."

In Canada's four Atlantic provinces where ACORN is present, Renner said there were around 60 events during the week, including in-store specials and promotions through retailers, organic meals at restaurants and educational talks from farmers.

To add to the week's momentum, Renner said the week also received official recognition from the New Brunswick government, adding to endorsement by government bodies in Manitoba and British Columbia.

Such endorsements, in theory, contribute to the sector's rapid growth, demonstrated by national statistics.

Organic Biologique indicated that Canada is now the fifth largest organic market in the world, far outpacing its ranking as the world's 35th most populated nation.

According to COTA statistics, Canada's organic market grew to US$3.6 billion in 2012. Since 2006, the value of the sector has tripled, outpacing growth for all other agricultural sectors.

"COTA has been wrapping up organic consumer research and found that 58% of Canadians buy organic groceries at least once a week. Our efforts over the past four years are hopefully contributing to that in part," Renner said.

Even with major strides achieved, Wells added that there will always be work to be done to continue growing the sector.

"The more we can teach consumers, the more there will be consumer demand and we hope that will translate into more acres farmed organic, which is only a good thing," Wells said.



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