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Horizon to launch organic formula

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Parents who choose to bottle feed their babies will soon be able to go organic.

Longmont-based Horizon Organic Holding Corp. last week announced plans to launch the first and only U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic infant formula — a product free of growth hormones, pesticides and antibiotics used in cows and their feed — this fall.

Organic toddler formula has been on shelves for some time. But until now, the organic formula market niche for babies 12 months old or younger has been vacant.

Horizon, a wholesaler and retailer of certified organic foods, officially has joined pediatricians in supporting breast milk as the No. 1 choice, according to Horizon president and chief executive officer Chuck Marcy.

“A big part of our consumer franchise is young families with children,” Marcy explained. “The introduction of Horizon Infant Formula with Iron gives families choices when breast feeding doesn’t work out for them.”

In addition to winning USDA organic certification, the company’s infant formula — its first dry good — meets Food and Drug Administration nutritional requirements with its 27 vitamins and minerals.

Organic products typically cost between 40 and 60 percent more than conventional counterparts, according to Gwen Sherer, Horizon’s marketing director.

But this formula will fall at the low end of that spread, she said. Suggested retail prices for the 13.2-ounce and 27.6-ounce cans are $15.49 and $29.49 respectively.

Parents who pay the difference might be buying peace of mind more than anything else, according to Denver-based pediatrician Dr. Jerry Rubin.

The new formula uses cow’s milk and compares almost identically to the leading formulas, he said. Only the organic quality of the ingredients differs measurably.

However, for organic fans, that might be enough reason to swap brands, he said.

“There’s no way to live on this planet and not get exposed to toxicity,” Rubin explained. “It’s a matter of how much you’re going to expose yourself to ... and the only time that a human has faster cell turnover than an infant is when it’s a fetus. You want to minimize exposure — especially early on.”

However, not all formula shoppers will buy that, said Dr. Heather Moffat, a pediatrician at the Longmont Clinic.

“Basically, the standard infant formulas do not contain any significant amounts of pesticides or hormones,” she explained.

Horizon will nevertheless premier the formula this fall in California, Oregon and Washington, given the West Coast’s well developed organic market.

In San Francisco, 10 percent of all milk sales are organic, compared to less than 6 percent in the Denver metro market, Sherer said.

Given that chasm, plans to stock shelves in Colorado remain fuzzy.

“We think it’s a really big idea, but we don’t know how big,” she explained. “We’ve got a learning curve ahead.”

Since its 1991 incorporation, Horizon (Nasdaq: HCOW) has toyed with the idea of producing organic infant formula, Sherer said.

Besides meeting an unmet need, the formula captures a significant unused byproduct of organic cheesemaking — whey — which is also a key infant formula ingredient.

Combining organic whey with organic sunflower, soy and coconut oils substitutes well for breast milk’s profile of carbohydrates, protein and fat, company officials explained.

Other ingredients in the formula include all dairy organic lactose and nonfat dried milk, Sherer added.

The organic market has grown 20 to 24 percent annually during the 1990s, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Today, organic foods and beverages hold between 1 percent and 2 percent of the total food market and 5 percent of the total baby-food market, according to Datamonitor research.

Horizon has the potential to capture between 1 percent and 2 percent of the total infant formula market in the first year, spokeswoman Jaeme Laczkowski said.

Total sales for Horizon’s line of milk, butter, yogurts, cottage cheese, cheeses, juices, fruit gels and eggs grew by 23 percent during the first quarter of 2003, compared to the same time last year.

For more information, visit www.horizonorganic.com.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.