Consumers flocked to organic produce markets throughout California following reports of tainted Chilean grapes and unsafe apples.
"The Chilean situation on top of the Alar scare boosted sales phenomenally," said Pam Musante, produce manager at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. She said that sales of organic produce jumped about 30 percent in the past week.Other organic produce markets reported similar increases in sales as a result of the Chilean fruit scare and a recent report claiming a cancer risk of a chemical called Alar used on some apples.
"We're seeing about 30-35 percent increase in our vegetable sales and a six-fold increase in sales of organic juices," said Dennis Wells, owner of the Good Nature Grocery in Walnut Creek, about 20 miles east of San Francisco.
Real Food Co., which owns six stores in San Francisco and Marin County, said its sales rose at least 25 percent since both stories broke.
The discovery of cyanide in seedless red grapes from Chile, which followed a threatening phone call to a U.S. Embassy, spurred the Food and Drug Administration on Monday to recommend that grocers strip their shelves of fruits imported from that country.
Meanwhile, a report last month by the private Natural Resources Defense Council charging that children are at risk from Alar led schools nationwide - including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York - to ban apples.
Alar, the brand name for daminozide, is used to improve the coloring of apples and slow ripening. But it is suspected of causing cancer.
In Southern California, Sandy Gooch, an owner of six Mrs. Gooch's markets, reported record sales. Ted McCaskey, manager of Erewhon Natural Foods in Los Angeles, estimated a 5 percent increase in customers.
Traditionally, organic produce sales have been through farmers' markets and health food stores, and more recently through grocery chains.
Under California law, produce can be called organic if no synthetic chemicals have been applied since 12 months prior to planting or bud break, said Phil McGee of the California Certified Organic Farmers.
The organic farmers group goes even further before certifying a farm as organic. The process takes at least a year and includes soil residue analysis, inspection of the farm by an independent inspector, a notarized affidavit and full disclosure of materials used in production and a land history for 10 years, McGee said.