Local organic foods markets: healthy and growing

by Delia Hitz
onsumers and businesses are catching on that producing and buying organic foods makes sense both economically and environmentally. Nationwide, organic food industry sales topped $2 billion last year, an increase of 22% from 1993. Over the past six years, the industry has seen sustained annual growth of over 20 percent.
Natural foods stores report the biggest gains in organic sales, with organic produce bringing in a record $333 million, an increase of 32% over 1993. Real growth in organic products also took place in supermarkets, where sales increased 23 percent over 1993 to $172 million, with much of that growth coming from fresh organic produce.

What's in store

In San Diego, the natural foods stores are the stars of the show.
Jimbo's ... Naturally (in Del Mar and North Park) shows remarkable growth. Their overall sales have increased 60 percent in the last 20 months, and they are looking for a site for a third store. They generated $2.5 million in organic produce sales last year, up 30 percent from 1993. Jimbo's won the 1995 Store of the Year award from Health Food Business magazine. According to the magazine's profile of the store in Del Mar, "Jimbo's has the largest variety of organic produce in the state, but sells it at prices comparable to those of nearby supermarkets."
Ocean Beach People's Natural Foods Market sees "tremendous potential for organics," according to manager Pat Denley. "We emphasize them more and more - promoting organics is in our future." OB People's will need to expand or relocate to accommodate their growing sales. In addition to organic produce, they carry a wide variety of organic baked goods, cereals, grains and nuts, dairy products, beverages, canned goods, frozen foods, deli items and condiments.
Ed Bennett of Greentree Grocers notes a real increase in consumer awareness of organic foods. He says the demand for organic produce is very strong, and more organic packaged foods are now available. Greentree now uses organic flours and grains in their bakery, and buys organic produce directly from farmers to keep the prices low. Bennett says their prices are now on a par with commercial produce - and sometimes even better. He attributes this to the growing infrastructure and organization in the organic industry. "There has been a great increase in shipping, transportation, storage and marketing over the past few years, and this has led to greater availability and better prices. Even large commercial growers have seen the demand and converted to organic," he notes, which results in lower growing costs and healthier soils.
Two years ago, Casady's Whole Foods had one store in Encinitas. Now there are two in Encinitas, one in Point Loma and plans to open a fourth in Orange County.
Ralphs Grocery Co. regularly carries a limited selection of organic produce, and a wide selection of organic packaged goods. Their "Nutri-Clean" program tests produce at the dock to determine whether the pesticide residues are below the EPA limits. Produce items that pass the test with no detected residues are known as "Nutri-Clean certified." Produce items that don't show the Nutri-Clean sign have not passed the test - unless they're certified organic, of course. But, like the other large supermarket chains, Ralphs has yet to respond to the demand for organics by providing a wide selection of organic produce.
Boney's Marketplace stores also have been slow to respond to consumer demand for organic produce, but do carry a wide selection of packaged organics. They had previously carried organic produce, but felt that customers weren't buying it. They are now beginning to look into buying organic produce from local farmers.
Observers note that organics in supermarkets will probably pick up during 1996, when a large natural foods supermarket, Whole Foods, will be locating in San Diego. This store chain, known as a "supermarket format" natural foods store, has seen the largest growth of any sector of the organic industry: their sales of organic produce leaped 98 percent from $94 million in 1993 to $186.5 million in 1994.

Going direct

Direct marketing of organics has seen its share of increase as well, up almost $36 million in 1993 from $357 million. Tom Haller, Executive Director of California Alliance of Family Farms, publishes the "California Farm Fresh Directory," which lists farmers' markets, "u-picks," farm stands and other direct marketing farms in California. He notes that 20 years ago, there were 4 farmers' markets in California, and now there are 250. In San Diego, we have 15 farmers' markets spread across the metropolitan area, at least one each day of the week.

Community Direct

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a membership club that buys produce directly from a farm. The Be Wise Ranch delivers to various locations in San Diego for pick-up.
"Consumers across San Diego are clamoring for organics," says Kari Gray, a new mother and resident of Pacific Beach. "I couldn't find much organic produce at any of the local markets, so I joined the CSA program at the Be Wise Ranch. We get a big box of tasty farm fresh produce once a week for $15. It's usually more than we can eat! I wanted to be careful during my pregnancy, but now I just love the way it tastes."
Another CSA program in the county can be found at Little Creek Acres in Valley Center where they offer classes, demonstrations and an "Adopt a Goat" program, all dedicated to sustainable agriculture. The ten-acre farm has "never had a toxic substance applied" and features 80 raised gardening beds, compost piles, seedling greenhouse, farm stand, bees, dairy goats, chickens, herbs, alfalfa, orchard with stone-fruits, apples, subtropicals, citrus, avocados, dwarf and full-size trees, grapes and value-added processes such as juicing and solar drying. The public is invited to visit and learn about all aspects of sustainable living.

Buying organic in San Diego

Farmers' markets

There are farmers' markets in every area of San Diego that sell organic produce. Call the Shoppers' Campaign at 272-7370 or the Downtown Business Association of Escondido at 745-8877.

Grocery stores

The following stores carry a full selection of organic produce and processed foods:
Casady's Whole Foods Market
284 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas - 436-3663
745 First St., Encinitas - 633-3663
3960 W. Point Loma Blvd. - 523-3663
Cream of the Crop
2009 South Hill, Oceanside - 433-2757
Greentree Grocers
8704 Lake Murray Blvd., La Mesa, - 463-7267
3560 Mount Acadia, San Diego - 560-1975
Growers Direct
7055 University Ave., La Mesa - 462-2532
Jimbo's Naturally
3918 30th St. - 294-8055
Jimbo's Del Mar
12853 El Camino Real, Del Mar - 793-7755
Ocean Beach People's Natural Foods Market
1763 Voltaire St., Ocean Blvd. - 224-1387

Ralphs Grocery Co. carries some organic produce, but not a full selection. They also carry some organic processed foods. Trader Joe's and Boney's Markets carry many natural foods and some packaged organic foods, but they do not carry organic produce.


Jyoti Biyanga
3351 Adams Ave., San Diego 282-4116
Second Nature
4652 Mission Blvd., San Diego 272-7399
Garden Taste
1237 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar 793-1500
1020 San Marcos Blvd. 736-4949,
Kung Food
2949 5th Ave., San Diego 297-2883
Ki's Juice Bar
2591 Coast Highway, Cardiff 436-5236
The Vegetarian
431 W. 13th Ave., Escondido 740-9596