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Even the Army is Going Organic

The selection of organic products carried in military commissaries is growing, and according to experts in the field, it's a growing trend, not a short-term fad.

"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.

"Customers are demanding them and our mission is to listen and respond, but increasing our organic product selection also fits in with our emphasis on the commissary as the place for military families to shop for healthy food at healthy savings," he added. "Shoppers should read product labels to determine exactly what's in the food they buy at the commissary -- whether you want reduced fat, lower sodium or organic.

Fort Myer Military Community Commissary Director Troy Collins concurs. "People are keeping healthier lifestyles," he said, adding that the commissary's large retiree base is especially concerned with eating nutritious foods. Increased shelf space for organics is part of a continuing "attempt to meet customer needs," he said Collins said organic products can be found in various places in the store, from the produce section, to frozen foods, dairy and canned goods.

The food items are normally located next to their non-organic counterparts. When several organic products are on display in a particular area of the store, Collins said signs by store shelf pricing alerts customers to the selections.

Fort Myer Commissary Produce Manager Rebecca Shaw said produce is an "ever-evolving section."

"It's a very fast moving store with limited shelf space," she said. "It's a gymnastic exercise keeping shelves stocked."

She said spinach, bananas and pre-mixed salads were some of the more popular organic items.

Shaw said customers didn't seem bothered by the five to 10 percent higher cost of organic food. She said there is a feeling that "your body, your life is worth the extra money."

Many organic products come from small manufacturers and distributors so selection may vary from commissary to commissary. However, as demand grows, so will availability of organic products and lower prices.

Like other products at the commissary, organic products are sold at cost.

The Defense Commissary Agency claims saving of 30 percent off what shoppers will pay in commercial grocery stores.

Organic food generally means vegetables grown without the aid of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, and animal products raised on organic crops without antibiotics, growth hormones, bioengineering or irradiation.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture seal is the best way for customers to determine whether a product is designated organic.

"The Adkins trend has run its course," said Collins, alluding to the high-protein diet that eschewed carbohydrates, including fresh vegetables that have been an acknowledged part of healthful eating for eons. "There's been big growth across the board for organics."

(Bonnie Powell of the Defense Commissary Agency also contributed to this article.)