( File photo )

(UPDATED, March 7)  “Skip all the chemicals and just go with organic” will be the key consumer message of a nationwide program to promote organic food and other products.

Organic Voices, led by Stonyfield Co-founder Gary Hirshberg, and the Organic Trade Association have collaborated to fund a two-year nationwide campaign to promote organic, according to a news release.

A handful of organic produce marketers contacted by The Packer were not yet aware of the consumer campaign.

Steve Lutz, vice president of U.S. and Canada West for the Produce Marketing Association, said he wasn’t familiar with the campaign but said the message appears to take a confrontational approach to conventional food and produce.

“When you start talking about conventional produce and positioning (organic) as ‘skip the chemicals,’ I just think it’s the wrong approach,” Lutz said. “I think it’s short-sighted.”

Lutz said suggesting that organic growers don’t use chemicals is disingenuous.

Even large organic growers would be unlikely to support the campaign if it appears to cast conventional growers in a negative light, he said.

He said the campaign could create consumer confusion and the possibility of reduced fruit and vegetable sales overall.

The Organic Trade Association said $1 million has already been raised for the campaign in the first year, with another $1 million expected to be raised in year two of the campaign.

Growing organic

The consumer promotion initiative is one of a number of programs that the Organic Trade Association is supporting in conjunction with its GRO Organic (Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic), a “check-off-like” voluntary program to support the U.S. organic sector, according to the release.

Dan Davis, director of imports and organics for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, said in an e-mail that the company so far hasn’t participated in the GRO campaign.

“Right now we are focused on our internal investments in organic research and promotion,” Davis said.

Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh, Chelan, Wash., said the company gives consumers a choice between organic and conventional, and doesn’t promote one category over another. “We’re just giving people a choice and letting them vote with their dollars,” he said.

After a failed push for a federal U.S. Department of Agriculture promotion order for the organic sector, the Organic Trade Association decided about a year ago to create a voluntary program, and the Organic Trade Association said many organic companies and individuals have put in nearly $1.5 million in programs to help organic growers, educate consumers and support research.

“Organic has lots of challenges right now, and I am thrilled and heartened with how the sector has turned these challenges into new opportunities for strategic thinking and real action,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, said in the release. “When we reimagined GRO Organic last year, we got to work immediately to develop diverse and forward-looking programs to not only benefit organic farmers and organic businesses, but to help consumers make the best choices and to encourage more organic research.” She said in the release that GRO Organic is meeting goals set for it.

In kicking off GRO Organic last year, the association also began a companion effort to develop a voluntary governance approach for long-term sustainability of the GRO effort, according to the release. 

In November, the Organic Trade Association opened a six-month period for interested parties to weigh in and answer key questions on how GRO Organic should be shaped. That call for ideas is open through April 30, according to the release.

The release said the Organic Trade Association has partnered with Organic Voices, The Organic Center, and 69 organic brands (so far) to implement programs as prototype working examples that can be expanded into even more ambitious future initiatives.

According to the release, the programs focus on four plans:

  • Launching a national campaign to reduce consumer confusion about organic;
  • Learning what customers are hearing and how it affects their behavior;
  • Connecting technical specialists with transitioning and existing organic farmers in every state; and 
  • Researching how organic is part of the solution to soil health and climate change.
Submitted by steve on Wed, 03/06/2019 - 13:10

That message seems pretty negative to the rest of the produce industry when we have been pushing eating healthy for the consumer and fighting obesity. Please people you are just enabling the naysayers against the produce industry.

Submitted by Jim on Wed, 03/06/2019 - 14:08

Steve makes a good point. In my opinion, it is misleading to insinuate that produce needs to be organic to be nutritious and healthy. Produce labeled as organic does tell the consumer that certain guidelines (NOP) are followed in the production and handling of the product. However, there is no basis to generalize that organic is better or safer. Also, much of the organic philosophy revolves around land and soil management. Again, being organic indicates that organic approved management procedures are being used. However, if a product is not labeled as organic that does not necessarily mean that sound and sustainable practices were not employed to produce it.

Submitted by Tom Karst on Wed, 03/06/2019 - 15:13

Those are good points.. It does beg the question of what the "sweet spot" for marketing and promoting organic is.   Better for the environment, better for your body?... What should the consumer-facing promotion message be for organic? How does the organic marketer promote organic without deriding conventional?

In reply to by Jim (not verified)