Health-conscious Tauranga residents are turning to organic food to try to eliminate toxins from their diet - but is it really worth it?
More supermarkets and health shops are offering organic products to cope with increasing demand.
James Redwood, who co-owns Good Earth Organics in Tauranga, says turnover had increased 20 per cent in the 18 months since he bought the shop.
"The movement is definitely growing, that's why we are seeing more competition pop up," he says.
So who's buying organic? It's not just hippies, Mr Redwood says. The typical customer is a "middle-class housewife" shopping for her family.
"The core is people who are interested in their health.
"They are very middle-of-the-road, average people. Ninety per cent are women."
Although the shop is based in Merivale, customers travel from all over Tauranga and further afield. Some come from as far as Te Puke, Matamata and Waihi on a weekly basis to shop.
They're not just buying fruit and vegetables - the shop is a mini supermarket, selling everything from pasta and chutney to cleaning and personal hygiene products. About 15-20 per cent do most of their grocery shopping there, spending $200-$300 a week.
Mr Redwood says customers are buying organic because they are concerned about their health.
"They are concerned about the negative effect of eating toxic chemicals even in tiny amounts, which everyone tells us is not enough to harm us, but there's not enough studies on what they do in combination with each other or cumulatively over the years."
While it's often debated whether organic food is more nutritious and tastes better, Mr Redwood says those are side issues.
After eating organic food for years, he can't say if it tastes better. And it's yet to be conclusively proven if organic food has more nutrients.
The key issue, he says, is toxic chemicals. It was a "no brainer" to eat an organic apple for 10 cents more instead of one grown with chemicals.
Although organic food is more expensive, the prices on fresh produce are comparable.
And Mr Redwood believes the price gap will close further as petrol prices rise, because organic is not reliant on fossil fuel for production.
At City Markets in Tauranga, organic food accounts for 25 per cent of sales.
Owner Gary Warner says organics were introduced to the store in 2004 but had "really taken off" in the last couple of years.
"It's grown and grown, and it's getting more popular."
People from "all walks of life" buy organic "from five years-old to 90 years-old".
The store also has an aisle of "spray-free" produce.
While all products sold in the store as organic are certified, spray-free products have not been put through that rigorous process.
Mr Warner describes spray-free as "in between" organic and non-organic, and the products are periodically tested.
There are four recognised organic certification schemes in New Zealand - Organic Farm New Zealand, BioGro, Demeter and AsureQuality.
And the best way for a consumer to ensure the authenticity of a product which purports to be organic is to check its certification.
Annie Wilson, a fully certified Organic Farm NZ grower, advises asking the retailer if you can't find a certification label.
"[They] should be able to provide proof of certification of labelled produce at any time.
"Anyone licensed under one of New Zealand's four certification schemes will be only too pleased to display or show you the proof of their certification.
"If a seller doesn't have it, you have no guarantee that the food is produced according to organic standards, or comes anywhere near it."
In October, Farmers Market New Zealand recommended individual markets request certified organic producers to clearly display copies of current certificates on their stall.
Many producers at Farmers Markets make an array of non-certifiable claims such as "spray free", "made with organic ingredients", "natural" and "un-certified organic", but a certificate is the only way to prove this.
According to experts, the best reason to eat organics is to avoid chemicals, as there was little support for notions of better taste and nutrition.
The maximum residue of pesticides and chemicals allowed on food is set by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.
Levels differ according to the type of chemical and food. On fruit such as blueberries and grapes, the maximum amount of sulphur dioxide and sodium and potassium sulphides allowed is 10mg/kg.
On avocados, a maximum residue of 0.5mg/kg of uniconazole-P is allowed.
Tauranga nutritionist Fiona Boyle does not go out of her way to eat organic food, nor does she suggest it to her clients.
"My overall impression is that studies that have been done have not shown any nutritional benefits from organics," she says.
Ms Boyle prefers to focus on fruit and vegetable intake rather than organic food or supplements.
"A lot of people they do find fruit and vegetables are expensive. If the recommendation of going organic decreases their intake [that is not good]. It's very important they achieve their fruit and vegetable intake."
Registered dietician Rachel Scrivin of FoodFX says the biggest barrier to organic food is the cost.
"I think if people could afford it, they would buy a lot more. It's a shame that we have to look at it like that.
"I think you'll probably find people who buy it have a little bit more disposable income to spend on it."
Mrs Scrivin said there was not enough research to prove organic food was better for you.
But she believes it looks and tastes better, and would buy organic if there was an extra cost of up to $1.
Eating good quality fruit and vegetables should be a priority, Mrs Scrivin says.
"As long as people are ... washing them thoroughly, trying to get rid of all the potential pesticides and herbicides that have been used, they are minimising their risk."
She also recommends buying fruit in-season, which reduces the chances it has been artificially ripened or stored in a coolhouse, and buying fresh produce twice a week.
A positive spin-off of the interest in organic food had been the number of people growing their own vegetables.
"That's how we are doing it as a family.
"We have had quite good success with cherry tomatoes this year, and silverbeet, strawberries, celery, cabbage.
"They actually grow really easily, and we haven't got a huge garden."
And if you're forking out for organic food, Mrs Scrivin advises looking out for goods which are certified.
"A lot of people are saying it's organic, and it's not being proven. How do you know unless it's certified?"
A Consumer report last year found organic food is GM-free and less likely to contain synthetic pesticides.
But there was little evidence to support the claim that organic foods are nutritionally better for you, the report found.
It also found no evidence that organic food tastes better.
The Healthy Food Guide says the jury's out on whether organic food is more nutritious than inorganically grown produce.