When the National Organic Program is fully implemented on Oct. 21, organic products will receive more publicity than ever before. Insiders say anyone involved in the industry should be ready to take full advantage of the attention and promote the importance of the organics movement.
"I can't say how important this is for the industry," says Theresa Marquez, sales and marketing director for Wisconsin-based Organic Valley Cooperative. "This will legitimize organics to a degree that we've never had before."
The NOP stipulates that any company claiming to sell food products marketed as "100 percent organic," "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" must have those products certified by a U.S. Department of Agriculture accredited certifier. Only after certification can a manufacturer or producer use the official USDA label on "100 percent organic" or "organic" (containing 95 percent or more organic ingredients) products. (See "Countdown To October '02," NFM, May 2001.)
In anticipation of the act taking effect, national media outlets are beginning to plan their coverage, says Sue McGovern, a Boston-based public relations consultant. She's working with the Organic Trade Association to coordinate media coverage and public relations events leading to Oct. 21.
"The story is building; it's out there now," McGovern says. "I've been contacted by major media that said they are working on stories."
With guaranteed media exposure, the industry should be able to leverage positive publicity.
"This will be the first time that consumers will have the standards in front of them. So natural products companies have an excellent opportunity to get on the map," McGovern says.
OTA's public relations push will start in September—long designated Organic Harvest Month by the industry. McGovern has begun contacting governors' offices around the country and will encourage every state to make a special declaration for Organic Harvest Month. That designation will help stir local media interest and generate news stories throughout the country, McGovern says.
McGovern has planned a news conference for Sept. 19 in New York City, and she expects that many major news organizations will attend. The OTA will provide a complete briefing on the act, what it means to consumers and to the industry, and how organics benefit the environment and health.
In early October, OTA plans to put out a video press release to all broadcast media in the United States explaining the act. Many local television stations cover consumer and health issues closely, so McGovern anticipates good coverage for a few days leading to Oct. 21.
For retailers, the OTA is developing a resource guide to provide details of the act and suggest ways to explain the benefits of organics to consumers. OTA will also post detailed information for both the media and the public on its Web site.
Organics companies won't want to miss this opportunity; many are planning promotional programs.
"Every company, hopefully, is getting ready now," says Nancy Hirshberg, vice president for natural resources, environment and organic products at Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, N.H. She's also chairwoman for the OTA's marketing committee.
"For Stonyfield, this is a key moment and a key opportunity," Hirshberg says. Stonyfield, a dairy products manufacturer, plans a media and in-store promotional campaign. The company is providing detailed information about NOP on its Web site, contacting media outlets and offering coupon incentives to customers online and in stores.
As Stonyfield has done successfully in the past, it will place high-value coupons for organic products—its own and from other companies—on the lids of its yogurt. Coupons will be worth between $50 and $100 to customers. To get shoppers' attention, the company believes in making high-value offers, Hirshberg says. "This is a chance for us to bring light users of our products deeper into the category."
Hirshberg knows Oct. 21 will provide Stonyfield a great marketing opportunity, but she's more enthused about how the NOP will bring a big environmental message to consumers. "Finally, we'll be able to show consumers that there is a major connection between the environment and the food we eat."
Organic Valley, a cooperative owned by 50 organic farmers in 15 states, plans to give away thousands of hamburgers made from certified organic beef. Using what is probably the organic industry's largest mobile marketing device, the Farm Friends Magic Bus, Organic Valley will cook burgers in various communities as it drives from La Farge, Wis., to the New Hope Natural Media's Natural Products Expo East in Washington, D.C., in October. Along the way, Organic Valley staffers will visit local grocery stores and meet with media. Once in the nation's capital, Organic Valley plans to offer hamburgers to everyone from the homeless to tourists, from politicians to Expo East participants.
The marketing event will be dubbed, "The Great American Meat In," explains Marquez. It's an open jab at vegetarian activist Jeremy Rifkin, who stages the "Great American Meat Out" aimed at discouraging beef consumption.
"Meat is a part of a sustainable agricultural system," Marquez says. "The [NOP] sets up a rigorous audit trail for meat producers that will provide quality and safety for consumers."
Organic Valley farmers also grow vegetables and produce dairy products and orange juice.
Boulder, Colo.-based Horizon Organic, the largest organic dairy company, is getting a jump on the big day. Last fall, Horizon launched a major advertising campaign designed to bring its organic products message to all consumers. Featuring advertising in national publications and on billboards throughout the country, the program is believed to be the biggest advertising push ever attempted by an organic products company. The campaign has been the subject of stories in the New York Times, USA Today and Brand Week, says Clark Driftmier, senior vice president of marketing.
While the campaign, which is ongoing, was not designed to coincide with the launch of the organic standards, Driftmier says it is helping spread the organics message for the whole industry. "Organic companies haven't done much advertising. This campaign is designed to take organics into the mainstream," Driftmier says.
Market research by Horizon shows clearly that the organic message is capturing more and more people's attention. "The number of knowledgeable consumers is much bigger than it was seven or eight years ago. They understand that organic means that the products taste better and that it's good for the environment," Driftmier says.
Horizon's financial results clearly prove that shoppers are getting the message—sales were up 25 percent in 2001 to $127 million, while profits soared by 200 percent.
Those numbers are good news for everyone in the organics industry. Although Oct. 21 marks a significant historical break for the industry, it's clear that the organic tide is still rising.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 5/p. 18