Does Organic Food Need a Marketing Campaign?


Image: Tim Psych via flickr

I was doing some research recently on the organic industry for a trade publication, and an issue that was raised repeatedly was the impact that "natural" products have had on sales of organic brands.

Nonorganic products that are marketed as natural are often just as processed and/or laden with chemicals as any of the most mainstream products, yet that's the label that a lot of consumers are apparently looking for, and skipping over organic—even though "natural" doesn't mean anything, except that a company knows what people want to hear.I heard repeatedly that organic companies are losing product sales, sometimes even shelf space, to so-called "natural" products. Some market research has shown people even believe that natural is regulated, and that organic is a meaningless free-for-all claim.

That couldn't be farther from reality (with the exception of meat, for which there are regulations of the term "natural"), and it's in the interest of both the organic industry and public health for people to know better.

So does organic food need a marketing campaign? Advertising veteran Alex Bogusky makes the case that it does. He says:

To get to a place of relative safety the industry needs to move from five percent to 15 percent of the market, and it is time for them to get unified as an industry around this push. And that means spending the money to explain organic to consumers before the opposition does.

NewHope360 writes: "Bogusky calculated that our complete spend of zero dollars on 'Got Organic' has been one of the key factors holding back the explosion of organic."

That would-be explosion of organic would benefit the earth, its inhabitants, and workers in the food industry—but would also likely drive prices down, meaning people's wallets also benefit, and (hopefully) increase demand even further.

Bogusky is not the only one to make this suggestion—a lot of my interviews called on the organic industry to educate consumers and market itself better.

Environmental-health scientist Urvashi Rangan told Newsweek:

Since 1936, Consumer Reports' mission has been to educate consumers about marketing hype, and we've come across a lot of examples: "natural," "hypoallergenic," "free range." All of those are marketing hype. They have no standards, no verification. But organic food meets those criteria. It has a comprehensive set of standards, and it is verified.

But education efforts alone are clearly not doing it—consumers (sadly) need to be marketed to. Got organic, anyone?

More on the organic industry:
Organic Can Feed Us All - New Data Confirms It's Just As Productive, More Drought Resistant, Better For Soil
Can't We All Just Get Along? The Myth of GMO and Organic Coexistence
7 Foods You Must Eat Organic
Did the "Organic Elite" Sell Out to Monsanto?
Yikes! National Organic Program Removes Organic From Its Title

Tags: Agriculture | Food Safety | Organic Agriculture

Best of TreeHugger