Organic Food Market Growing--Even in Oklahoma

Organic Food Market Growing--
Even in Oklahoma

Organic markets surviving in Oklahoma

By JENNIFER L. BROWN, Associated Press

EDMOND, Oklahoma

J.B. Pratt is betting that a large organic supermarket stocked with
non-waxy apples and pesticide-free sprouts will be a hit in a region better
known for barbecue than tofu.

His newly opened Pratt's Wellmarket is the largest organic market in the
state, and he admits it's a risky proposition, in part because of people
like David Wright.

The self-described sausage lover found himself in the new store recently
with a friend from Boulder, Colo. Wright balked at the idea of spending $3
for a dozen eggs, even if the laying chickens weren't cooped up all day or
given feed containing antibiotics and hormones. "Personally, it's not worth
it to me," he said.

Still, Pratt believes people will respond to his store, which also sells
recycled toilet paper, products made without animal testing and foods
without preservatives.

"People come in and say, 'I never knew food could taste like this,"' said
Pratt, whose family owns eight grocery stores in Oklahoma. "People are
responding. But we still have a lot of educating to do."

To help with that education, he offers free food samples and recipes in the
store. "People say this is a hamburger town. I say we'll give them organic
hamburger. Obviously, I'm a risk-taker."

Pratt carefully chose the store's location in suburban Edmond, just north of
Oklahoma City. He was concerned that an organic market might not survive
in rural towns or even in the inner cities. He's had to pull organic food
offerings out of his conventional grocery stores in some Oklahoma towns.
The store's produce is organic - grown without pesticides and not
genetically altered. And Pratt's sells meat that has not been irradiated, a
process in which radiant energy is used to kill bacteria.

Pratt, who grew up in Ardmore, said he believes Oklahoma's attitude toward
health is changing and he wants to help it along.

Akins Natural Foods Market in Oklahoma City also offers organic fare, but
the store is smaller than Pratt's and has less selection.

Akins nutrition director Mary Ann O'Dell said more people are shopping at
the market and the company's two Tulsa stores as selection improves and
prices start to decrease.

"In these areas, it just takes a little more time," she said. "The future is
going to get better."

Ronnie Cummins, national director for the Minnesota-based Organic
Consumers Association, said 10 million families in the United States are buying
organic food each week, and that number has increased by 25 percent every
year in the last decade.

This year, grocery stores across the country will sell $10 billion in
organic food, about 2 percent of all food sales, he said.

"The marketplace pressure is going to force every supermarket to carry
organic," Cummins said. "This idea of using food irradiation to clean up
filthy meat and eggs, consumers don't like that. Why should you buy
irradiated eggs and meat when you can buy organic?"

Steve Urow, spokesman for the national nonprofit GreenPeople in Santa
Monica, Calif., said some people don't want to pay more for food just
because it's healthier.

"They would rather eat junk," he said. "It's almost as though you have to
develop a taste for wholesome food."

Many organic food stores in Oklahoma say the key to growth is education.
Audra Hawkinson, marketing director for Wild Oats in Tulsa, said some
customers don't understand why their food costs more than the food at
conventional grocery stores. Some first-time customers walk out complaining.
"It's been a growing process," she said. "It's a matter of education."
Alisa Hall, who owns Down to Earth Naturals health food and vitamin store in
Edmond, said selections in the Oklahoma market are slim. She fills orders by
mail for people who can't find nutritional supplements and natural medicines
in their hometowns.

She said the state slowly is becoming more progressive and health-conscious.
Like Pratt, she believes Edmond is helping lead the way.
"New people have moved to the area," she said.
"Edmond has the income level and the educational level, but I don't know
about the attitude."

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