It's not news that the organic food market is a hot and growing commodity. But quantifying these things is important, so the research firm, Mintel, based in Chicago, set out to do that. It found that in the past five years, organic meat sales have grown by more then tenfold. What's more, salesestimates for 2007 are pegged at $364 million versus $33 million in 2002,

"The desire for organic meat products is based on a general sense that the food supply has the potential to be unsafe," according to Mintel's recent research report. "But demand has more than outpaced production, and the U.S. market for organic meats has become highly import-dependent."

That last sentence presents an interesting and ironic twist, as most consumers who buy organic products tend to also embrace the idea of locally grown foods.

Mintel's research cited high production costs involved in producing and processing organic meat products, the lack of certified slaughterhouses and processing plants, and inadequate distribution infrastructure as challenges facing the U.S. organic meat industry.

If you look at organic food in general, sales have grown 132 percent since 2002. Add in beverages and the market now tallies nearly $6 billion a year.

This is no longer a "niche market full of environmental health nuts and affluent yuppies," according to a Mintel senior research analyst. "Organic is now part of the picture for everyone from the Hispanic immigrant mother to the hip suburban teenager."

Future growth is not likely to unfold at its previous pace, the report states. Through 2012, organic food sales are expected to increase by 59 percent.

The high prices that organic foods demand will continue to be a stumbling block to market expansion. The study reports that two-thirds of Americans say they would buy more organics if the products cost less.