CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jeanette Baker likes her lettuce crisp, fresh and free of as much pesticides as possible.
When the South Charleston resident buys certain produce at the Ashton Place Kroger on Corridor G, she opts for the organics because they are healthier, she said.
Baker isn't the only health-conscious consumer who buys organic fruits and vegetables.
Organic food sales increased 9.4 percent in 2011 from the year before, reaching nearly $30 billion in sales nationwide, according to the Organic Trade Association.
In 1990, organic food and beverage sales topped just $1 billion.
Organic food sales now represent 4.2 percent of all U.S. food sales, up from 4 percent in 2010.
Barbara Haumann, senior writer and editor for the Organic Trade Association, said consumers are becoming more aware of what they purchase and what it means to buy organic. Not only for their families, but also for the environment, she said.
"People say organic is just a fad but it isn't. It is here to stay," Haumann said. "There are many venues to buy organic. You used to only get organic at food co-ops and Whole Foods. That was true but it has changed."
Conventional retailers now sell more organic foods than natural food stores. Supermarkets, like Kroger, sold 54 percent of organic food sales in 2010, more than the 39 percent of total organic food sales at natural retailers, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Kroger, one of the world's largest retailers, is rolling out its latest lines, Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic, next month.
Both brands offer 250 items that are "free from 101" preservatives and artificial ingredients. All products sold with the Simple Truth Organic label are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Though Kroger did offer organic and natural foods before -- under the Private Selection Organic and Naturally Preferred brands -- the company decided to bring its organic and natural foods under a single brand to quit confusing customers, said John Cowan, senior coordinator of natural foods for the Kroger company.
Cowan said the store started to convert eggs and milk over to the Simple Truth brand in October 2011.
Kroger revamped the brand's appearance in September 2012.
The new look features the brand title and a small leaf in a green circle surrounded by a white background and a note clarifying that the product is "free from 101" preservatives and artificial ingredients. The nutritional information is also on the front of the package.
Simple Truth items can be found in just about every aisle at any Kroger.
The products, sold in 30 categories, range from milk, eggs, salad, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts to yogurt, chips, energy bars and meats.
Kroger introduced Simple Truth frozen pizzas in October, Cowan said.
"We have been really ramping up new Simple Truth products over the last couple of months," Cowan said. "We reached out to our consumers and asked them what they wanted. They said they wanted an honest, easy and affordable alternative to make a choice for their family or to perhaps live a little healthier lifestyle."
But a Stanford University study published in September didn't find that organic foods are any healthier than non-organic foods.
"There isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you're an adult and making a decision based solely on your health," said Dena Bravata in an interview with the Stanford School of Medicine, who led the team behind the study.
The study did find that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than non-organic foods.
It's that positive fact, and other constructive findings, that Haumann said the report wasn't completely against organic foods.
"For years we have fought people saying organic isn't healthy," Haumann said. "Organic has the strictest standards for handling manure, it has to be composted it can't be applied at certain times. It's a myth they are perpetuating that organic isn't healthy. We've been fighting that for years.
Consumers like Baker and her husband Gary, who said he is happy his local Kroger sells organic options, want to live healthier. The couple keeps a list of which fruits and vegetables they should always buy organic, based on pesticide residue.
Gary said he doesn't mind buying non-organic avocados but organic carrots, celery, broccoli and potatoes are a must, he said.
Patti Brasseur, of Charleston, said she buys Simple Truth Organic milk for her grandchildren.
"I want them to be healthy and to drink organic milk because it is free of preservatives," Brasseur said last week as she shopped at the Ashton Place Kroger.
Haumann referred to an October 2012 clinical report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which highlights the benefits of organic foods.
The report states that organic food consumption: lowers exposure to pesticides known to cause disease, to drug-resistant bacteria, and has more nutrients, among other findings.
"They buy organic because they want to limit their family's exposure to toxic pesticides and they want to buy milk where the cows have been treated fairly," Haumann said. "Every time a consumer buys an organic product, they are supporting a system of agriculture that protects the land."
They are also supporting more jobs.
The organic food industry generated more than 500,000 U.S. jobs in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association.
The use of organically produced ingredients created 21 percent more jobs than would have been generated if the food industry had relied solely on conventional farms for its ingredients, the Organic Trade Association stated.
Daniel Withrow's position may be one of those jobs created as a result of the organic industry.
Withrow is a nutritional clerk at the Ashton Place Kroger. He is the go-to guy for information about the Simple Truth brands.
Withrow said the Simple Truth line shows customers exactly what ingredients are in or not in the foods that they buy.
He said he is looking forward to seeing the new, large Simple Truth signs that will adorn the Corridor G Kroger store next month.
In West Virginia, 45 Kroger stores will have the Simple Truth brand advertised throughout the supermarket starting in January, Cowan said.
There are 2,200 Kroger stores nationwide that will notice the brand's launch, Cowan said. And he would be surprised if they didn't notice, he said.
"We are on the verge of reintroducing Simple Truth in a very big way in January and we're very excited about the launch," Cowan said. "I would be shocked if consumers didn't know that Simple Truth was in our store because I think that as the customers come into those West Virginia stores, they are going to know it is there. They're going to understand what the brand stands for."
To learn more about the Simple Truth brands, visit http://www.simpletruth.com.
Reach Megan Workman at megan.work...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.