Although small-scale organic food makers are the movement’s roots, they sometimes struggle to produce enough, often because of forces outside their control (weather, commodity price fluctuation, sourcing difficulty) that can drive up prices.
In contrast, large companies are able to lean on a deep and wide supply network, which mitigates some of the variables all food producers face.
Let’s say, for example, that you make a fantastic granola with certified-organic ingredients in a small commercial kitchen. You might order your oats from a nearby farmer you know personally and your nuts and dried fruit from in-state sources. But then you decide to expand your business, so now you need to make a lot more granola. That probably means connecting with suppliers you don’t know but who can provide larger quantities, perhaps from distant or even international farms.
In addition, now your ingredients travel from all over the world to reach you, and you must ship your finished product in all directions—using vastly more production resources and fossil fuels than before. So more people get your organic granola, but it’s a trade-off.
“Scale has always been a challenge in organic food for the simple reason that conventional farming, organics’ antithesis, uses herbicides, pesticides, and GMOs to maximize crop yield in the shortest time possible. Large-scale organic operations also aim for healthy yields but subscribe to a broader ethical and sustainable farming approach,” says Danny Houghton, vice president of marketing and sales at One Degree Organic Foods in Abbotsford, British Columbia. “Choosing to compete in this way with conventional farmers is not something that should be passed over lightly. It’s a daunting task.”