Are convenience foods really convenient?

Written by John on October 28th, 2013


Convenience is defined as being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty. I thought about this as I walked the floor at the recent Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, where amidst to latest innovations in snacking and hydrating (e.g., New York City water…really?), I had to ask myself, do “convenience foods” actually fit that definition?

There has become so much focus on the convenience of convenience food that we seem to have lost the food itself. Nuts are convenient. Eggs are convenient. Oatmeal is convenient. An apple is convenient. But the process of taking whole foods and turning them into, say a chip, feels far from it. It seems that the more we innovate products for convenience, the more food we lose from the equation.

In the end, where’s the line when the food and nutrition lost in the processing of packaged goods makes them not really convenient at all?



Written by John on April 26th, 2013

Our society is in a constant state of fascination with any grain or seed that promises to provide an extra gram of protein or few milligrams of omega-3.  Pomegranates, Quinoa, and Flax have all had their moments in the spotlight, and felt the sting of unrequited love from our hungry nation.

Most recently it’s been Chia’s turn.  Once the domain of late night TV hawkers selling novelty planters sprouting green hair, Chia has become the “IT” seed for the food industry.  At this year’s Natural Products Expo West, we saw this diminutive seed in everything from chips and pasta to peanut butter and oatmeal bars.  There’s even a chia beverage offering extra omega 3 (if you can swallow the lumpy texture).

Country Choice Organic won’t be launching Chia Sandwich Cremes though anytime soon. Chia packs a nutrient punch, but so too do real, simple foods. Michael Pollan says it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” There isn’t a single magic bean for health (as the grains and seeds that have had their 15 minutes of fame know all too well).

Moderation is our mantra, even when it comes to super foods.  Where do you weigh in on the Chia craze?


It’s Right to Know!

Written by admin on October 25th, 2012

There’s a not-too-quiet battle being waged in California over our right to know what’s in the food we buy. The fight is a classic David v. Goliath tilt, which may ultimately impact food labeling for the entire nation.

California’s Prop 37, the Right to Know GMO Labeling proposition, requires food manufacturers to label products that include genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). The ballot initiative doesn’t seek regulations or limits in any way. It just mandates that GMO food be labeled — the way it is in at least 50 countries worldwide, including all of the European Union, China, Japan and Russia.

As a country, we tend to not think much about our food…until it’s too late. We clamor for more information about calories, sugar or trans fat only after obesity, diabetes and heart disease have become national epidemics. Likewise, our concern about genetic engineering comes when GMOs are already ubiquitous in industrial agriculture, especially corn, soy, and sugar beets. By some estimates, over 80 percent of all processed foods contain GMOs.

It’s this ubiquity that has spawned “absence of negative” credentials, where consumers avoid GMOs by purchasing products with seals of approval from USDA Organic or the Non-GMO Project (both of which certify all Country Choice Organic products as GMO free). But given that 90 percent of American consumers want to know if products contain GMOs, do we have it backwards? Shouldn’t we be labeling foods that have been altered or messed with, those that contain pesticides, trans fats, GMOs, etc.? We think so. Good, real food should be expected, not the exception.

That’s why Country Choice Organic is proud to support California’s Prop 37. Knowledge is the key to creating a healthier nation. When people know what they are eating, they can make better decisions. We all deserve to know what’s in our food. It’s only right!


Food Should Be Food

Written by John on April 12th, 2011

I recently attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim and came away feeling the industry had lost interest in food.  The convention center was full of booths offering the latest energy bars or hydration systems. But real food?  Not so much.

I realize it’s called the Natural Products Expo for a reason – a compromise to sell space to the spandex-clad women who hawk supplements and colon cleansing.  But the true purpose must be to get everyone excited about natural and organic food…real, honest-to-goodness, food that matters.  Unfortunately, this year’s show was dominated by bars/water/chips being sold as nutrient carrying devices and touting the benefits of the super fruit du jour.  The only thing in short supply was real fruit.

To be fair, Earthbound Farms was displaying fresh salad mixes and Alexia was sampling yummy sweet potatoes fries.  Industry stalwarts Organic Valley and Applegate Farms were there, too.  But for the most part, the aisles were filled with people and companies competing to sell empty calories.

Obviously, some of our cookies could be considered “empty calories”.  But in everything we do, we make real food with simple ingredients and offer better-for-you alternatives to our counterparts.  That’s the beauty of organic – every ingredient is real.  You’ll know we’ve “jumped the shark” when we start selling “energy bites with ginko”.

It should surprise no one that the Natural industry is in the same boat as mainstream producers.  Since we collectively produce far more calories than we could (or should) possibly consume, selling food in the U.S. is a zero-sum game.  Growth comes from stealing “share of stomach” from the next guy by figuring out how to sell more calories, whether we need them or not.  This explains why we can buy food virtually all day and anywhere.  As an expandable consumable, food has become the growth vehicle that is driving ever expanding waistbands and obesity rates.

So while I’m disillusioned, I expect I’ll attend future shows with an eye out for the interesting developments in real food (and eating my way around the world of dark chocolate).  As for hydration systems, I’m happy to fill my reusable bottle from the tap.


Food Inflation…a Sure Sign of Spring

Written by John on February 23rd, 2011

As certain as swallows returning to Capistrano (or Orioles, Cardinals and Blue Jays reporting to spring training), the cost of nearly everything we eat is going up.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  This certainty stems from months of news cycles dominated by bad weather and unrest in the Middle East – two things that can seem distant when not in your own back yard.  But every day, shoppers are seeing the fallout on grocery store shelves.  Disastrous weather decimated crops in many growing regions around the world.  Meanwhile, civil unrest has driven up oil prices.  The net result is less available food and higher costs to transport it to where it needs to go.

Rising food prices impact everyone on some level, but there are things you can do to minimize the impact.  It only takes a little forethought to create big savings.  So before your next shopping trip consider…

How you eat.  Meals prepared at home tend to be less expensive than eating out.  Even prepared food from the grocery store is more expensive than do-it-yourself alternatives.  So dig out those old cookbooks and plan a weekly menu.  You’ll save on your overall food bill and spend some quality time with your family.

Where you shop. While food is available nearly everywhere today (Toys R Us …really?!), concentrate your purchases in places that specialize in groceries.  Conventional grocers have the scale to reduce costs and offer regular promotions to lower prices.  Likewise, natural food co-ops work hard to minimize overhead and pass the savings on to their members.  Recently, savvy internet retailers like have gotten into the grocery business, offering significant value and free shipping.

What you buy. With over 50,000 choices in the average grocery store, it’s too easy to spend money when shopping.  It helps to start with a list (see “How you eat” above) and stick to it.  Calorie-for-calorie, the best deals are on the perimeter of the store, where the less-processed, calorie-dense whole foods reside.  However, don’t forget to check out the bulk aisles for everything from cereals to snacks.  Finally, look for products with multiple uses in the kitchen.  For example, canister oats are not only an economical breakfast for the whole family, but can also be used in myriad recipes.

So while rising food prices may be inevitable, with a little effort you’ll save big.  Planning ahead allows you to prepare economical, tasty meals for your family and at the same time benefit from eating less processed, healthier meals.  After all, spending any more than necessary is for the birds!


If You Give a Friend Some Oatmeal…

Written by John on November 17th, 2010

Thanksgiving is almost here.  You can tell by all the Christmas ads you see.  Fortunately, you can also tell by the many people who take this time to reflect on the things that matter most in their lives.

Access to better-for-you food matters to us.  That’s why last year, with the help of our Facebook friends, we  delivered more than 5,000 bowls of oatmeal to food shelves.  This year, we’d like to double that number and give the gift of breakfast to thousands of people in need.

As part of our commitment to make organic foods accessible to everyone, we’re asking people to “like” us on Facebook and help us send organic oatmeal to food shelves which desperately need the help.  For each new fan between today and January 5, Country Choice Organic will donate five bowls of organic instant oatmeal to Hope for the City.

Become a Country Choice Organic fan on Facebook today and help others start the new year hunger-free.

Happy holidays,

Your Friends at Country Choice Organic


You Are Entering the Gluten-Free Zone

Written by John on October 20th, 2010

I recently returned from the Natural Products Expo East in Boston and, based on my unscientific calculation, approximately half the population is wheat sensitive.  How else can you explain the plethora of new gluten-free (GF) products that are coming soon to a grocery store near you?

Most experts agree that less than 3% of the population may have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which consumption of gluten (proteins in wheat, barley, and rye) causes the body’s immune system to attack and damage the small intestine.  Celiac sprue is a nasty disease to be sure, but it sure feels like many manufacturers, like moths to a light, are blindly throwing products into the market with little concern for efficacy or even taste (not unlike the low-carb bubble from a few years ago). 

At Country Choice Organic, we’ve watched this irrational exuberance from the sideline, wondering if we should get in the game or even if the world needs another GF ginger snap.  (For the record, we are all in agreement that the world could use a great tasting GF ginger snap, as current offerings are not very tasty.)  

To date, we remain committed to offering better-for-you organic hot cereals, cookies and bars.  And while we create many wheat-free products, we are aware that oats are sometimes cross-contaminated with wheat and have therefore steered clear of the GF label (although many wheat sensitive customers tell us they have no problems with our organic oats and Soft Baked cookies). 

As for the future, we look forward to the FDA’s long awaited announcement for a GF standard of identity.  Until then, we’ll most likely “ride the pine” and wait for the inevitable market correction.


Oatmeal Fuels Your Day…and More!

Written by John on January 29th, 2010

At Country Choice Organic, we work hard to minimize our operational “footprint”, constantly reviewing our packaging materials, transportation, and warehousing to make sure we only use what is necessary to deliver the freshest, best tasting organic products. 

Our parent company, Grain Millers, the largest miller of organic grain in North America, shares this concern and has developed a novel way to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and help the local community.  In partnership with the local school district and private enterprise, Grain Millers donates oat hulls to heat a middle school in St. Ansgar, IA., home of one of Grain Millers largest oat mills. 

This is the first school in Iowa to be heated with biomass energy, which replaces the natural gas previously used to fuel the school’s boilers.  “We use biomass in our facilities to replace fossil fuel consumption with renewable energy sources,” says Steve Eilertson, Grain Miller president.  “Extending the opportunity to our local community partners lets us broaden our impact.”

So next time you sit down to a hot bowl of Country Choice Organic oatmeal, your breakfast might be fueling more than you. It might be sustainably heating a classroom in Iowa, which is a warm thought to start the day. 

Read more about heating St. Ansgar Middle School here.


Healthy School Breakfast? How Notable!

Written by John on November 13th, 2009

One of our more rewarding endeavors is a partnership with a company trying to transform school breakfast.  Obviously this is no easy task, but with reams of data pointing to the importance of breakfast and reports exposing the empty calories masquerading as breakfast in many schools it’s a fight worth fighting. (Read about breakfast in Chicago Public Schools,0,209332.story?obref=obnetwork).

Notables® by Mission Nutrition, creates a grab ‘n go breakfast that kids eat at their desk.  There are NO TABLES involved (get it?).  Each Notables breakfast, when paired with milk, exceeds the minimum federal School Breakfast Program nutrition requirements by pairing shelf-stable whole grain foods and fruit products in a fun bag. 

They are committed to offering only the highest quality foods in a convenient, kid-friendly manner…which is where we come in.  Notables is currently using specially formulated Oatmeal on the Run bars in two of their bags, meaning kids get all the nutrition of a bowl of instant oatmeal right at their desks.

Our teams are busy looking for other healthy ways for kids to eat and will update you with our progress.  In the meantime, make sure your kids start their day with a notable breakfast…no matter where they eat.

You’ll find more information at


What’s Food Got To Do With It?

Written by John on September 30th, 2009

I attended the Natural Products Expo in Boston last Friday and came away thinking, “Who eats like this?”  Sure, all the usual suspects were there with samples of organic ice cream and yogurt, but clearly nutrients were the star of the show.  Competing booths worked hard to assert their Acai street cred or tout their Goji berry-ness.  In fact, it seemed much of our natural “food” had devolved into carriers for the latest super fruit or micronutrient.  Combined with the abundant display space devoted to colon cleansing, wrinkle removal and pet acne, it made me wonder, “What’s food got to do with this?” 

I was reminded the next day, spending time with a third generation Maine lobsterman. Mackerel Cove We joined Herman and Monique aboard the Jocelyne K under a warm afternoon sun (much appreciated considering their day started at 5:00 a.m.) and spent a few hours motoring around Mackerel Cove.  We listened to lobster stories, learned about a lifestyle passed down to generations and heard the pride these “farmers of the sea” take in providing real food to people.  We stopped along the way, dining on lobster stew, mussels, steamed lobster and fried clams.  Nothing fortified, not a goji berry to be found…and yet I never felt healthier.

Learn more about Maine lobstermen at