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NEWS | March 29, 2006

Commissaries meet demand for more organic products

By Tech. Sgt. Marina Evans 480th Intelligence Wing Public Affairs

Organics are “in” and military consumers are demanding more. That’s why customers in most large U.S. commissaries will find a growing selection of organic products offered throughout the store.

At Langley there are already between 75 and 100 organic products available. These include organic breads, cereals, produce and dairy products, among others.

“Organic dairy products are the biggest sellers right now,” said Langley commissary store director, Arthur Lehman.

“We have eight different types of organic milk,” he explained, “and these are doing very well.”

Customers may have noticed the entire “organic” section in the produce department which offers a selection of organic fruits and vegetables. These are also doing well, said Mr. Lehman.

“Our larger stores have more than tripled the number of organic products they have in stock. It’s the fastest growing category this year,” said Patrick B. Nixon, chief executive officer and acting director of the Defense Commissary Agency.

Langley is no exception, and the commissary is also looking to increase their organic stock.

Within 90 days, Mr. Lehman says they expect to have 200 more organic products available.

Where are these items found in the commissary?

Customers will generally find organic products located with their non-organic counterparts, but they will be easily identifiable.

Shoppers should look for shelves marked with small green signs and yellow writing that says “Organic.”

This is the organic seal of the United States Department of Agriculture and the best way for customers to know which products are organic.

“The seal means the product meets a set of national standards for food labeled ‘organic,’ whether produced in the United States or imported from other countries,” said Joan Shaffer of the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Although the USDA makes no claims that organic food is safer or more nutritious, organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic food is also produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.

Before a product can be labeled organic, a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to the commissary must be certified as well.

Shoppers should read product labels to determine exactly what’s in the food they buy at the commissary -- whether they want reduced fat, lower sodium, or organic.

At the current growth rate, organics will reach more than $10 million in commissary sales in 2006, but commissary customers will find they can “go organic” and not have to take out a loan.

As with other products, organic foods at the commissary are sold at cost, which translates into substantial savings over commercial grocery or specialty stores.

“Outside the gate the cost for organic products almost triples -- but at the commissary the price is staying low, and we’re able to offer affordable healthy organic products,” said Mr. Lehman.

In today’s health-conscious society, many military commissary customers are choosing organic.

“Increasing our organic product selection fits in with our emphasis on the commissary as the place for military families to shop for healthy food at healthy savings,” said Mr. Nixon.

“Customers are demanding organics and our mission is to listen and respond.”

As such, the Langley commissary store director wants customers to speak up so he can stock and provide for the needs of his customers.

“Customers can call 764-7604 or e-mail me directly at if they have any questions, concerns or requests,” said Mr. Lehman.

Editor’s Note: Bonnie Powell, DeCA, also contributed to this article.