Researchers suggest organics deliver no better on health

11/02/2012 10:08:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

Marketing efforts vary greatly as fresh produce companies seek to push their organic products.

Despite some setbacks, health and nutrition benefits remain strong marketing tools for organic foods.

In a recently published report by Stanford University scientists, organic fruits and vegetables were found to be no more nutritious, on average, than conventional produce, which is typically much less expensive.

Still, Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for Albert’s Organics, Bridgeport, N.J., says this should have little effect on organic sales because the report assumes people purchase organic product looking for higher nutrition when most surveys say otherwise.

“People don’t necessarily choose organic foods because they want high nutritional content with every bite. They choose organic foods because they wish to avoid pesticides and other harmful chemicals in their food choices,” Weinstein said.

He went on to say that organics often also are chosen because of the environmental benefits they have.

“Organic is chosen because it’s better for our land, better for our water, better for our energy supply, and simply a better way to create a sustainable food system for our planet,” he said.

Other companies also take advantage of this strategy.

“There’s a very big push as organics being a healthy choice for consumers who want to eat healthy and put the best into their bodies,” said Scott Mabs, director of sales and marketing for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.

He said he expects this idea to continue to remain strong in consumers’ minds, despite any surveys or studies.

Mayra Velazquez de Leon, chief executive officer at Organics Unlimited, San Diego, agreed.

“The world is changing. We are thinking healthier, and a lot more people are thinking of going to organics,” she said.

Sourcing information

Consumers are starting to be more interested in knowing exactly where their food comes from, which fits the organic lifestyle well.

It especially fits well with customers interested in buying locally grown organic produce, something Charlie’s Produce, Seattle, Wash., specializes in with its Farmer’s Own brand.

“More and more information continues to be the trend,” said Diane Dempster, manager of the Farmer’s Own program and local organic procurement.

Dempster said Charlie’s is interested in reaching out to consumers in this way.

“We provide information about the grower to the customer, giving them a description of the grower,” she said. “And we invite customers to visit the farm.”

The company also provides photographs and information about their growers to retailers for use in promotions.

Just a choice

Other companies prefer not to compare organic and conventional.

“Our approach has been, and will continue to be, that we are offering consumers a choice,” said Matt Seeley, vice president of marketing for The Nunes Co., Salinas, Calif.

“We don’t say one is better than the other or more nutritious. We just offer a choice,” he said. “And regardless of whether they choose conventional or organic, we believe the increased consumption of all fruits and vegetables is beneficial.”

Tom Deardorff, president of Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., agreed. He wants to see the entire produce industry come together to promote the increase in all consumption, both organic and not.

“If consumers choose organic or conventional, we need mature, robust markets supplying them with that,” he said. “We need to stay above the fray and use positive attributes to promote products.”

Selling the story

Weinstein said one of the most important aspects of selling organic produce is the telling of the story behind the product.

“People don’t just buy a product. They buy the concept of what that product will do for them or help them do for themselves,” Weinstein said.

In the case of organic produce, that concept is usually sustainability and healthfulness.

“People don’t buy organic food because it costs more and they are looking to impress their friends with how much more money they are spending on food. They buy the concept of good health, both for them and the planet,” Weinstein said.

“Our marketing innovation is to help them understand that when they shop for organic foods, they are buying much more than food — they are investing in a sustainable future for themselves, their families, and for future generations.”

Despite all the marketing efforts, growers and shippers say the growth of the category comes down to the product quality.

“As packers and growers continue to get better at what we do by building efficiencies and learning new techniques to grow and handle products, we’ll continue to grow a better and better product,” Mabs said.

“All the marketing techniques are great, but it’s all about consumer eating a product and enjoying it,” Mabs said. “If they enjoy it, they’ll buy it again.”



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