Marketing organics isn’t just about touting a lack of pesticide residue, growers, shippers and marketing agents say.


Not anymore, anyway.


“Organic producers tend to have a deeper connection with their consumers because their consumers innately care more about how and where and by whom their food was produced than other consumers,” said Samantha Cabuluna, communication director for San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm.


“Like everyone else, organic producers have to find new ways to connect with consumers and share information because the channels for delivering information are changing and proliferating.”


The changing dynamics of the business have required new marketing plans, said Steve Taft, owner of Temecula, Calif.-based Eco-Farms.


“I think they’re patterning the commercial side of the business — long-term commitments, ad pricing — a lot of stuff that years ago was nonexistent on the organic side,” Taft said. “They’re seeing a lot of that. At retail you have long-term commitments that a few years ago were unheard of.”


Marketing strategies have had to evolve just to keep up with a consumer base that knows more about the product than before, said Matt Stocks, organic vegetable buyer for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets organics under the Melissa’s label.


“They’re getting extremely sophisticated,” Stocks said.


Organics companies welcome the challenge, he added.


“The more knowledge, the better,” he said. “The consumer is getting more educated, and we continue to educate them.”


He said people who buy organics feel they have a good understanding of the category.


“So the more information we can give them so they’re happy about their purchase, the better chance we are going to have in building a repeat customer,” Stocks said.


Organics customers also are looking for more choices now than ever before,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.


“More and more, the organic consumer is looking for the newer varieties of product,” Pepperl said.


“They tend to be produce lovers in general, so they like the new-car-on-the-lot-type items. Where it used to be reds and golds and grannies, now it’s Piñata, Pink Ladies, braeburns. And the pear categories are organic.”


Organics consumers know just what they want, so the message behind the products has to reach that level of sophistication, Pepperl noted.


“You’re looking for a consumer that’s buying on flavor,” he said. “Prices have narrowed, too, although there’s still a premium.”


Bill Schene, salesman for Reedley, Calif.-based Valliwide Marketing Inc., said he doesn’t see much difference between organic and conventional produce marketing plans, with one exception.


“The organic marketing strategy at store level is probably different,” Schene said. “It’s more telling a story about a particular farmer or grower.”


Taking the marketing message directly to the consumer is a good strategy, said Jim Provost, president of West Grove, Pa.-based I Love Produce.


“One of the most effective means of doing that is having information about your growing and the farmers you work with at the store level and have that information accessible to the consumer, how you produce them, how you grow them,” Provost said. “We import garlic from China, from Argentina and, with this buy-local movement, we try to convey to the consumer what our farmers are doing, that even though it may be half a world away, things are done the right way.”


Organics have come a long way in the last few years, but there’s still plenty of room for more information about the category, said Scott Mabs, marketing director for Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms.


“I think that the opportunity for growth is still with the consumer that maybe doesn’t understand organics that well,” Mabs said.


“We do have a base of customers that do understand, but obviously, the opportunity for growth is the consumer that does not have the understanding of what organic farming is. I think there’s still a lot of basic education that needs to take place, and I think that we’re all, to a certain extent, getting better at that.”


Quality and purity are also key ingredients in the message, said Laura Batcha, marketing and public relations director for the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association.


“One of the most important strategies now is to reinforce that organics is the gold standard,” Batcha said.


“Other claims, such as natural or sustainable, don’t have inherent meaning. Consumers know exactly what they’re getting (with organic). That’s really the unique organic contract that producers have with consumers. That’s what distinguishes organics from all those competing labels.”