Kroger Expands Organic Line, Broadens Customer Target

CINCINNATI (AP) - The nation's largest traditional grocer is expanding organic food offerings and its customer targets for the hot-growing segment.

The new push by Kroger Co., being launched Wednesday, features its own brand of organic foods from pasta to peanut butter and displays them throughout the store, beyond the usual home in natural foods sections. Starting with 65 items, Kroger expects to double its Private Selection brand organics by the end of the year.

Linda Severin, vice president for corporate brands, said marketing under the slogan "Organics for Everyone" will appeal to consumers who don't focus their shopping on organic foods but are interested in trying them. The private brand line generally will be priced lower than other organics Kroger sells.

"This responds to customers who just want to make a smarter food choice and start opening their lives to organic," Severin said. "It's a way for people to sort of put their toe in the water."

Kroger's line will carry the U.S. Department of Agriculture seal for organic foods, which are free of pesticides and hormones.

Kroger, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other major grocery sellers have been increasing selections of organic and natural foods in response to rising demand and the growth of specialty chains such as Whole Foods Market Inc. and Wild Oats Markets Inc.

The Organic Trade Association says that while organic foods comprised less than 3 percent of total food sales in 2006, annual percentage sales growth in the past decade has been in the high teens into the twenties, up to $16.7 billion.