MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Finding messages that will motivate “light” organic consumers to eat more is the goal of new consumer research by the Organic Trade Association.
At a Jan. 10 education session at The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Expo, Angela Jagiello, director of education and insights for the association, discussed the group’s progress on a “toolkit” to give marketers detailed insight on what messages work best in marketing organic produce and other foods.
The research on consumer messaging, Jagiello said, is an outgrowth of OTA’s voluntary industry-invested organic research, promotion and education program, GRO Organic (Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic).
“(The research) is going to ultimately result in a toolkit for industry members to get everybody on the same page about how to talk to consumers in the most effective way about organics,” she said.
Jagiello said the project is nearly complete, with the toolkit expected to be available in February to supporters of GRO Organic and members of the Organic Trade Association. It will be available as part of a larger curriculum offered by association through web seminars and conferences over the next year.
For the project, OTA partnered with the consumer research firm Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa. The effort also included a core committee of about two dozen industry experts and leaders, including retailers, produce suppliers, dairy marketers and international suppliers.
Importance of research
Jagiello said the research began with the conviction that the organic market is in a “really tenuous moment.”
“We are being fractured by lots of competing eco-labels and messages from one-off claims, like non-GMO, regenerative, that sound great,” she said.
However, those competing claims can diminish consumer understanding and trust in the organic label.
“We really understood the consumers can trade down if they don’t understand the difference,” Jagiello said.
The intent is to understand what consumers need to hear from organic marketers in order to maximize limited marketing budgets and get the most people possible to purchase organic.
The project used feedback from a group of heavy buyers of organic produce. After that, the project polled 60 key influencers, including retailers, media, produce executives, brokers and nonprofit groups, to ask their ideas about consumer messaging and branding.
After that, the research committee distilled all the feedback from heavy users and key influencers to come up with set of organic marketing messages to test with about 3,000 consumers. They were asked to respond to 20 communication concepts on organic messaging.
“We really wanted to be able to find the point at which consumers like or didn’t like a message, felt okay about it, or felt strongly about it one direction or another, Jagiello said.
The effect of the messages was measured by the changing in consumer attitudes before and after the message.
Jagiello said 62% of the general population is an organic produce shopper to some extent, with 50% of those considered light users and 12% heavy organic produce users.
Of consumers who purchase organic produce,19% are heavy users and 81% are light users.
The light users are a huge opportunity for organic marketers, Jagiello said.
“They’re open to purchasing organic, they don’t buy that much,” she said. “The idea behind the research is that (we) all speak to them in the same way, so that said we tested and found several messages that resonate with these heavy and light users.
Nearly all of the messages tested appeal to heavy organic produce users include:
- Organic is free from 700 chemicals allowed in conventional crops;
- People and planet;
- Big Chemical;
- The consumer is hero;
- Strong standards for organic;
- Organic is for everyone;
- Organic is regenerative;
- Consumers have the power to effect change;
- Transparency and the open door nature of organic;
- Talking about the transition process;
- Organic is a state of continuous improvement;
- Climate change and positive effects;
- Big and small all have a place in organic;
- Non GMO and more;
- Organic is a simple choice and whatever it is you are concerned about with the food system, organic has an answer; and
- Consumers are the champion.
Jagiello said the simple message may be the most effective.
“Just telling the basic story about organic is the most powerful message we have,” she said.
Telling consumers that certified organic products by law are not allowed to use 700-plus chemicals in growing or processing food is a powerful message.
“Don’t be shy about talking about organic, what is behind the label and remind the shoppers that strong standards build trust,” she said.
Strongly rated messages for light organic users included:
- Organic produce is the simplest choice;
- Organic farms have always been regenerative;
- Organic Farming is important to help reverse climate change; and
- It’s important for me to buy or use as many USDA organic certified products as I can afford.
On the other hand, she said light organic consumers become uncomfortable with the chemical message if it goes into too much detail about chemical names or potentially damaging effects of synthetic chemicals.
There is also growing awareness among consumers of environmental issues.
In addition, talking to shoppers about strong and rigorous enforcement of organic standards and USDA-accredited organic certifiers is powerful.
“Shoppers really like to know that it is hard to become organic, that there is a three-year transition period to be fully transitioned with certified organic,” she said. “They do like to know that we are continuously improving and trying to make the system better all the time.”
Another strong message is the message that organic products have always been non-GMO.
The message that organic is for everyone also resonated with consumers. In addition, consumers like the message that organic prices are coming down and are becoming more accessible to them.
Millennial shoppers also value transparency in organic and connect with companies who show that characteristic.
Heavy users of organic didn’t like the idea of buying products from brands that have both organic and conventional products. In the question-and-answer part of the presentation, one attendee asked if it would be better to “take the high road” and not demonize conventional agriculture by talking about pesticides.
“We can totally disagree about that,” Jagiello said. “But the reality is that the number-one thing about (organic certification) is that it takes a certain number of things out of your toolbox that causes a higher cost for growers, a higher cost for shippers, a higher cost for everybody in the supply chain.”
“I’m not saying we have to be awful about it, but if we don’t mention it, all of a sudden that leaves the consumer at the checkout going well, this says it’s non-GMO, and that’s basically the same,” she said. ”No, it is not basically the same, it is pretty far from the same.”
In order to continue to grow, she said that organic marketers have to find ways to feel comfortable about talking about chemicals.
The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Exposition & Conference (GOPEX) provides a forum to meet the rapidly changing needs of professionals who grow, distribute, pack and market organic produce. This international trade show and conference provides the ideal opportunity for organic produce professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas, source new products and services, and do business with the industry's leading growers, distributors, packers, marketers and retailers.