Natural Foods Merchandiser

Putting Organics at Center Stage

September is Organic Harvest Month, a perfect opportunity to showcase all the good things made from organic products, even those you don?t typically sell.

Bountiful, fresh organic food is a lovely thing to have, but to focus exclusively on broccoli and butter misses the point: Products made from organic ingredients can be found in every aisle of the store, including personal care, pet products and cleaning supplies.

Not only that, but products made from organic ingredients are showing up far beyond the supermarket?from the X Games to the beauty salon and even in the Spiegel catalog.

Organic cotton bedding and bath lines from Under the Canopy, a Boca Raton, Fla., textile manufacturer, are featured in the Fall 2004 Spiegel book as a ?Buzz Brand,? says spokeswoman Cheryl Roth. ?It was a first for both Spiegel and Under the Canopy,? whose clothing line will appear in the spring issue of the 99-year-old catalog.

?At the end of the day, it?s all great for the industry. It?s these kinds of companies that are helping us move along and helping bridge the gap to reach mainstream consumers,? says Roth, co-founder of Organic Works, a marketing firm in New York.

?It doesn?t scream organic at you, and yet, it?s there.?

Roth recently previewed an organic food line for a collection of mainstream magazine editors, from the upscale gourmet books to middle-American service magazines. All were blown away by the products? taste and presentation before they had the vaguest clue that they were also organic.

?It?s really being recognized: This is just good food,? Roth says.

Last year, sales of organic products boomed across the board.

In a study commissioned by the Organic Trade Association, Nutrition Business Journal sized the organic food market at $10.38 billion in 2003, up 20.4 percent from 2002. Nonfood organics grew 19.8 percent to $440 million, including personal care products, supplements, textiles, cleaning products, flowers and pet products.

The study pointed out that since 1997, total U.S. food sales only grew 2 percent to 4 percent a year, while organics have posted 17 percent to 21 percent annual growth. Busting the organic stereotype of lentils and tofu, meat and poultry were the fastest-growing subcategory, snack foods were second and beer and wine placed third. Just about any guilty pleasure now has an organic counterpart.

Dennis Weaver, a self-proclaimed ?Good Food Guide? and founder of Change Your Food Change Your Life in Edmonds, Wash., has launched a good-natured campaign to deliver a ?gotcha? to retailers, manufacturers and media who refer to mainstream nonorganic offerings as ?conventional food.? To Weaver, organics are conventional food, and he?s started red-penciling news stories and fliers and sending them back marked ?Don?t Buy the Lie.?

?Our own kind buys the lie,? Weaver says. ?We have too easily given away the high ground. There?s no future in organic good food being positioned as an alternative to conventional food.?

PCC Natural Markets, based in Seattle, got busted by Weaver and changed its sale flier to highlight organic?s benefits over ?supermarket? beef, he says.

The industry has been lured into complacency by double-digit growth, Weaver says. ?The fact is on a good day, everything going right, we may have a 3 percent market share. We?ve gotta do more, and we?ve gotta do it faster.?

According to The Hartman Group in Bellevue, Wash., frequent triggers for organic trial include having children, being diagnosed with a health condition and social networking by family and friends who?ve tried organics and liked them. In Hartman?s December 2003 Organic Trends Study, mid-level, less committed organic shoppers tend to buy ?as a trial? or ?for no particular reason,? while taste, safety and environmental concerns appeal to fewer than 20 percent of them.

More than half of consumers say that ?overall health and wellness? are their main driver to purchase organic, says Maryellen Molyneaux, president of The Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pa. ?That?s how they talk about it: ?I want to feel better,?? she says.

NMI?s forthcoming report, 2004 Organic Consumer Trends, shows 52 percent of respondents are motivated by overall wellness, 29 percent by ?better for me and my family,? 28 percent by the promise of better nutrition, 25 percent by taste and 18 percent by environmental concerns.

Organic ethnic food could be the next big thing, says Don Montuori, acquisitions editor at Packaged Facts in Washington, D.C. As black and Hispanic consumers show more interest in organics. Hispanic shoppers, mostly women, are more likely than the average American to cook from scratch and value high-quality fresh produce. ?Shopping is much more a family activity,? he says. ?That may be the tip to go on.? The number of dual-certified organic kosher foods is growing, too.

Roth, as an example of another constituency that few have thought of, cites an action sports consortium that supplied the X Games with skateboard ramps made of lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. ?Kids are influenced by all these crazy things,? she says.

NMI?s new report found that 40 percent of the general population buys organics, broken out further into 8 percent ?devoteds,? 25 percent ?temperates? and 7 percent ?dabblers.? What keeps dabblers and nonusers, or ?reluctants,? from making organic purchases are issues of availability, understanding and price, Molyneaux says.

With manufacturers and major retailers promoting value pricing of organics, ?Price sensitivity is going to lessen a little bit,? says Montuori. ?The gap is closing.?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 9/p. 24, 28

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