The View From The Mezzanine: R&D’s Perspective on Organics

We take our guests requests very seriously at Stonewall Kitchen. If you remember, not that long ago, we embarked on a quest to become organic certified because we had heard from our guests that this was a gap in our product portfolio that they wanted us to fill. So we did! We got some insight from our R&D team on exactly what we had to do as a company to become organic certified as organics continue to be a focus for us with each product launch.

First, we researched what ‘organic’ was all about: what did that term signify in terms of the rules and regulations and what exactly were those rules and regulations? Who was in charge of awarding certification? What would it take for us to become certified? How much time would it take? What products would we choose to make and where would we get the organic ingredients from, assuming they were even available? And that was just the beginning…

organiclogo

Let’s take a step back to the first question – what does it mean to be ‘organic?’ According to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP): “organic food is produced using sustainable agricultural production practices.” In order to produce and market organic products in the United States, a food manufacturer must become certified by a USDA-accredited organic certification agent. In our case, MOFGA, or ‘Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association.’ They annually review the practices of farms and food processors to help assure the public that food labeled as “certified organic” (indicated either by the USDA organic logo, the MOFGA certified logo, or both) meets nationally accepted organic standards.

Manufacturers must adhere to strict production guidelines, and employ stringent pest management practices. All necessary measures must be taken to prevent the commingling of organic products with non-organic products and prohibited substances. Organic ingredients must be stored separately and organic food production must be scheduled at different times from non-organic production to assure mixing never occurs. Organic manufacturers are required to keep detailed logs of almost every aspect of their operations, which are reviewed annually by certifying agents who also perform annual on-site inspections (both scheduled and ‘surprise’ inspections).

USDA Organic Seal

We also had to consider what level of organic we were going to be. There are ‘levels’ of organic labeling, including:

  1. “100% Organic” – every ingredient in the product is certified organic and is allowed to use the USDA Organic Seal.
  2. “Organic” – 95% of the ingredients (and 100% of the agriculturally-derived ingredients) are certified organic. The other 5% are organic compliant. All organic ingredients must be labeled as such in the ingredients section of the packaging. This level is also allowed to use the USDA Organic Seal.
  3. The remaining two levels contain 70% or less organic ingredients, and therefore can only use “made with organic ingredients” on their labels and are prohibited from using the USDA Organic Seal.

We definitely wanted to use the USDA Organic Seal on our labels, but were limited by the fact that there are no organic pectins available, which of course is an essential ingredient in our jams and jellies. Since pectins are organic compliant, and we use far less than 5% in our formulas, we went the ” 95% organic” route.

Organic Jams

Our next step was developing the recipes that not only met organic requirements, but also met our high quality standards. Decisions were made not just on what flavors we felt would be the most desirable, but also what ingredients were available in organic form and were available in bulk quantities. Our list started out small but over the past couple of years we have expanded our flavors and categories to include 15 products to date. You can view our entire selection here and check back as we continue to add more with each product launch!

For more information about organic products in general, including inspection and certification information, we recommend that you visit this website.

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