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Organic food is the fastest-growing market at home and overseas, says the Defense Commissary Agency, which aims to get more organic groceries on the shelves. Larger Pacific region commissaries, like the one at Yokosuka Naval Base, carry about 75 organic items, while stateside commissaries stock more than 250 products.
Organic food is the fastest-growing market at home and overseas, says the Defense Commissary Agency, which aims to get more organic groceries on the shelves. Larger Pacific region commissaries, like the one at Yokosuka Naval Base, carry about 75 organic items, while stateside commissaries stock more than 250 products. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The food on Rumi Sato Duncan’s shopping list is antibiotic and growth hormone-free. It’s produced without pesticides, synthetic or sewage sludge fertilizer, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.

She shops in the organic food section.

“There are many reasons to buy organic,” Duncan said Thursday at the Yokosuka Naval Base commissary. “I think the food is healthier and I prefer the natural flavor. Plus, I have food allergies and organic is better for that.”

Duncan is part of a growing group of people in the market for organic groceries, says the Defense Commissary Agency. It has responded to demand by beefing up the number of products in the aisles.

“Our larger stores have more than tripled the number of organic products they have in stock. It’s the fastest growing category this year,” Patrick B. Nixon, DECA chief executive officer and acting director, said in a press release.

Commissaries are projected to do $10 million in organic sales in 2006. Test organic sections in U.S. commissaries proved “extremely popular,” with products “flying off the shelves,” said DECA Marketing Division Chief Bonnie Powell.

Top organic sellers of 2005 included milk, spinach pizza, vegetable lasagna, cheese enchiladas, peach yogurt and black bean enchiladas, she said.

Larger commissaries in the United States stock more than 250 organic items. This is more than overseas commissaries offer, Powell acknowledged.

“Overseas it’s more of a challenge because many organic producers are specialized and smaller companies with less opportunity (or product available) for a worldwide distribution,” Powell said. “Major manufacturers obviously don’t have quite as much challenge, but we are still limited by shelf space.”

Organic foods also require extra-delicate handling, as the refrigerated items and produce can’t be shipped via surface transportation due to short life, embargo issues and fumigation practices.

“It is different for each area,” said DECA West produce specialist Donna Baird. “There are organic salads being airlifted to Guam and Korea, but not to Japan due to embargo restrictions.”

Other organic produce in stores in South Korea, Japan, and Hawaii stores is locally grown, she said.

The Far East offers 75 dry organic items (including baby food, deodorant, pasta, cereal, juice, soup, peanut butter, honey and shelf stable soy milk), six frozen items (lasagna, enchiladas and pizza), three kinds of milk and one type of butter.

All items are certified “organic” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which maintains that organic food is neither safer nor more nutritious than conventional products. Organic food also tends to be more expensive, as it is produced on a smaller scale. For example, on Thursday, 64 ounces of organic milk costs $3.39 at Yokosuka’s commissary. The same size carton of regular milk was $1.88. But there wasn’t a single carton of organic milk left on the shelves.

For USS Kitty Hawk sailor Alberto Santillanvazquez, organic food is worth the extra cash. He popped for a jar of organic honey.

“I’m from Mexico, and there, we’re used to buying a week’s worth of groceries for $15, and it’s all fresh, local food,” he said. “In the U.S., you could spend $30 and everything is frozen. But I try to buy the healthy food that’s available.”

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