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Organics Attraction Still Lies in Whats Not ThereOrganics Attraction Still Lies in Whats Not There

Laurie Demeritt

May 24, 2013

6 Min Read
Organics Attraction Still Lies in Whats Not There

You may recall the fanfare surrounding the Stanford University study that concluded organic foods were no more nutritious than their conventionally produced equivalents. What was most striking is that interest in organic foods and beverages had little to do with nutrition. And still doesnt.

The allure of organic and natural products lies not so much in the presence of positive attributes, but in the absence of negative elements. It is for these reasons that adoption and continued usage of organic and natural foods and beverages extend beyond nutritional values. Organic gained prominence for the many other qualities and health notions it represents, such as authenticity, purity and, most importantly, the halo of being free from negative ingredients.

Beneath this halo of healthfulness, the absence of negatives outshines many other factors associated with the purchase of organics. As Figure 1 illustrates, consumers associate organic with the absence of negatives, primarily those linked with the growing process.

 organica 2

Todays consumers, across all segments, are more knowledgeable about organics, and this increased knowledge is leading them to ask more questions than ever before: Is this product really organic?" Is it truly better for me?" How do I know for sure?"

In this uncertain climate, consumers are wary to purchase a product based on organic" and natural" labeling alone. They want to know what the claims really mean and the story behind the product. However, this is not to say the demand for organic and natural products is on the decline. Just the opposite; in fact, with increased availability of organic and natural products across categories, consumers continue to aspire to the ideal that organic and natural products promise, but at a price they can afford. In this journey, consumers continue to demand transparency from manufacturers and look toward retailers as docents in the product selection process.

The Organic Consumer Today

Who buys organic foods and beverages? The organic and natural consumer has evolved and moved out of the core that was once representational of a countercultural hippy and into the mainstream household. Today, about three-fourths of U.S. consumers purchase organic foods and beverages.

 Organic 1

The frequency of organic usage has increased slightly, from 33 percent who use organic foods at least monthly in 2010 to 36 percent in 2012. We find that one-third of consumers now use organic foods and beverages at least monthly.

Related to concerns for quality and health (especially for children, personal and family welfare), consumers prioritize organic spending on foods they consider the building blocks of a healthy body: produce, milk, whole grains and meats. These are also the foods that consumers are likely to eat every day, making organic all the more important as consumers try to limit their exposure to toxins.

The Hartman Group's most recent research report, "Organic and Natural 2012", indicated consumers are still more likely to put their organic dollars toward whole foods first. This is because they perceive organic as most valuable in these categories. The rise in packaged organics, however, at more reasonable price points increases the likelihood that these same consumers will buy more packaged foods earlier in their adoption of organics. Still, organic packaged foods are not valued as highly as their whole food counterparts and are more likely to be bought sporadically and based on price.

The Evolving Meaning of Organic and Natural

As organic has penetrated the mainstream and become more widely accessible, the meaning of organic has become somewhat diluted. This is driven in part by the expansion of larger companies into the organic marketplace. This may lead to lower prices for organics, but also consumer skepticism and cynicism about whether or not large companies can do organic correctly." Consumers distinguish organic fresh foods from those that are processed and packaged and place a higher premium on the former. An organic label does not lead consumers to automatically assume the product is nutritionally healthier. The presence of organic ingredients does not transform junk food" into health food."

With the thinning in the meaning of organic, natural is now increasing in significance. An important point of clarity here: natural, as a marketing term, is still viewed by many consumers with suspicion. The use of the term natural" in a marketing context leads to consumer skepticismin part due to a lack of standards. Consumers tell us that companies must demonstrate that their products walk the talk."

How do they do this? Natural connotes the lack of bad stuff" in the food itself and resonates with consumers in terms of simple, fresh, real and less-processed foods and beverages. Even if a product is not organic, consumers are seeking food products with cleaner ingredient lists. Natural products have minimal processing, contain the fewest number of ingredients, have ingredients consumers recognize, and are also as fresh as can be.

Mainstream Opportunities

The significance of a viable source for organic food products continues to shift away from specialty retailers and to mainstream retail channelsalong with local farmers markets. Consumers look to retailers to vet organic and natural products for them, hoping they will stock only those items that are legitimate. Even in todays uncertain economic climate, food manufacturers and retailers find themselves at a promising crossroads: consumers are looking to food companies to provide better-quality products at affordable prices. Tapping the mainstream market provides economies of scale and experience that can deliver higher quality products, value and cleaner ingredients lists.

Contrary to what many market analysts may want to believe, organic will never go away; it will ebb and flow as any other category, but it will continue to have importance among a large (and still growing) group of consumers. What we are viewing today through the lens of organic is actually the evolution of food quality. Organic on many levels is part of a much larger construct: a major shift in our food culture toward higher quality. So, organic will not fade away, it is simply becoming an integral element of the ever-evolving food culture landscape.

As CEO and president, Laurie Demeritt ( [email protected] ) provides strategic and operational leadership for The Hartman Groups research and consulting teams. Laurie and The Hartman Group (hartman-group.com) analysts are recognized for their unique ability to blend primary qualitative, quantitative and trends research to help clients develop successful marketing strategies by understanding the subtle complexities of how consumers live, shop, and use products, and how to apply that understanding in ways that lead to purchase.

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