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2011 Predictions: The Rise of the Conscious Consumer

12/15/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: GMO, chemicals, animals, grow food, products, natural products

As another year moves to a close, predictions for the next one start rolling in. I found a lot to smile about in these from Steven Hoffman, president of natural products research and marketing firm Compass Naturals. These are my favorites—and here’s to the year of the Vigilante Consumer

1. Shoppers will get savvier. As the job market continues to lag, hard-pressed consumers will be more discerning in their budgets for organic, and low-income families will find it particularly hard to find healthful food. Coupon redemption was up 25 percent this year, with Internet coupons accounting for the fastest growing segment in the business. Private-label product sales increased from 15 to 18 percent of total food sales, according to research firm Booz & Company, which also reports that the new frugality may be here to stay. Consumers continue to feel they are on shaky ground.

handful of radishes 
Affording healthful food will be difficult for low-income families in 2011 as the job market continues to lag. Photo By Jen Maiser/Courtesy Flickr. 

2. We’ll rebel against the chemicals. Finally, Americans are protesting the cumulative public health effects of chemicals in our environment, food and packaging. The average school age child has an estimated 10 to 13 pesticide residues in her body every day, and the President’s Cancer Panel reported on “pre-polluted babies” born with as many chemicals in their umbilical cords. Families are reacting: 41 percent of parents report buying more organic foods today than a year ago, according to a joint survey released this month by the Organic Trade Association and Kiwi Magazine.

3. We’ll pay attention to packaging. In the latest packaging scare, fast food and deli paper wrap and microwave popcorn bags were found to leach cancer-causing chemicals into our food. As stories like this continue to emerge, more people will ask for packing that won’t clog up landfills or leach chemicals into food. Many natural and organic products companies have reduced their packaging content and now use BPA-free cans.

4. We’ll grow more Victory Gardens. Organically grown Victory Gardens are giving more people access to fresh, local produce. Farmers markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and small-scale urban farms are growing fast.

San Francisco Victory Garden 
Victory Gardens, such as this garden by Slow Food Nation in San Francisco, will continue to grow in popularity in 2011. Photo By In Praise of Sardines/Courtesy Flickr. 

5. We’ll be kinder to the animals we eat. We’re entering a new era of animal rights advocacy that addresses the inhumane, intensive confinement conditions in which most animals are bred for food. Beginning January 1, Whole Foods Market will sell only meat that’s rated under new animal welfare standards. Whole Foods created Global Animal Partnership as a nonprofit third party certifier to establish ratings, conduct inspections and administer the standards.

6. We’ll need to be vigilant about GMOs. As numerous food allergy and health concerns surrounding GMOs in food emerge, consumers are looking to the Non-GMO Project to verify that their products are GMO-free. The FDA is evaluating genetically engineered salmon—the first potential GMO animal for commercial consumption—and also a GMO apple that doesn’t turn brown when cut open. If you are not choosing organic or if it doesn’t say non-GMO on the label, chances are your food contains GMOs. An estimated 80 percent of conventional grocery products do.

7. We’ll think and shop locally and globally. As consumers respond to the ‘buy local” trend, they also see that “local” can mean choosing organic and fair trade products that support local economies around the world.

8. Bonus Trend: Young people are going back to the land. USA Today reports that an emerging movement of young people, “most of whom come from cities and suburbs,” are taking up organic farming on small-acre farms as an “honorable, important career choice.” The National Young Farmers' Coalition is a new organization for young and beginning farmers, and a soon-to-be-released documentary, The Greenhorns, explores the lives of America’s young sustainable farming community.

What do you see coming down the pike? Tell us your predictions for the coming year in the comments section.


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