Education for consumers and retailers is imperative to maintain organic category growth, according to the U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs 2013 Tracking Study from the Battleboro, Vt.- based Organic Trade Association.

A summary of the study in a recent issue of the association’s Organic Report said that 41% of all families say they first bought organic products within the past two years, meaning that “nearly half of U.S. families are new to organic at any given moment.”

“To succeed with organic in the long term, you must continually provide basic education about the organic proposition in your marketing communications,” according to the summary.

The study cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that the average retail worker has been on the job just over three years, meaning retailers must continually invest in educating their employees about organics.

“From the produce manager to the in-house marketing team, the knowledge of these frontline associates conveys far more about a retailer’s leadership in and commitment to organic than any poster, case stack display or point-of-purchase material can,” according to the report.

Invest in young parents who buy organics, the study suggests, even though their income level may be lower than other buyer groups because “retailers who invest in these young shoppers stand to experience a future payoff.”

For example, families that buy organic foods say they spend more per shopping trip and shop more frequently than those that don’t.

Consumers who buy organic tend to visit three or more stores a week, leading to the conclusion that “there is a lucrative opportunity for retailers who can meet more of their customers’ organic needs in one stop,” according to the report.

While all shoppers typically buy most of their organic food items in conventional food stores, those who are new to the category are more likely to choose mass merchandisers for their organic purchases compared to more experienced organic buyers.

However, longtime organic consumers are more likely to shop in natural and organic food chain stores and/or local farmers markets, the study said.

“Seasoned organic shoppers appear to be the most likely among the three buying groups to frequent a local health/natural food store,” the study said.

“These shoppers have transitioned from simply incorporating organic items in their baskets to selecting a primary shopping destination based on availability of organic products, and, arguably, more informed retail team members.”

The summary concludes with three questions retailers should ask to better understand the typical progression an organic shopper makes — from mass merchandiser to natural foods store and farmers market — and suggests that they adjust their strategies accordingly:

u When is an organic shopper most likely to enter my store? (Is it when they are new to the market or more experienced with organic foods?)

u What do these shoppers need beyond basic education? (Brands they know and recognize or a deeper mix of organic products?)

u How can we capture the organic shopper earlier or retain their business longer?

OTA recommends marketers make an effort to understand organic buying groups and destination progression to deliver more effective consumer communication and retail training.

“Do this and you stand the best chance of maximizing the ever-shrinking marketing budget, speaking most effectively to the right shopper, in the right place, at the right time.”

The full study is available to buy from OTA under the Market Analysis section at