Consumers don’t prioritize seals such as USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, so it’s vital that brands and retailers educate them. Learn more.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

February 29, 2024

2 Min Read
Industry Monitor provides the results of consumer research to the natural products industry.

Attendees walking the aisles of Natural Products Expo West will see booth after booth festooned with seals and certifications. Some will be familiar—USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, for instance—while others, like the various regenerative certifications, are still being sorted out. It’s not the people at Expo West who really matter, however. It’s the people in the supermarkets.

And their perceptions are not always encouraging.  

 

In recent New Hope Network consumer research, roughly a third of respondents said they actively seek out products labeled USDA Organic, but 28% said they don’t seek out any third-party certifications.

And after that, the drop off gets steep.

Just 10% said they seek out the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. While 7% look for Certified Gluten Free, that response comes in behind the 8% who said “any third party certification is good.” B-Corp will certainly get nods of approval in the Expo West aisles, but in the grocery aisles, just 3% of consumers look for it.

None of this is to say that seals and certifications don’t matter. Many of the values embodied in them are central to the tenets upon which the natural products industry was founded. The survey isn’t necessarily saying that brands should give up on the expense and extra steps required to earn the certifications, but it might be reminding us how long it takes for seals get traction.

The USDA Organic certification is not only well into its fourth decade; it’s also more intuitive than something like Non-GMO Project Verified. Every seal requires education but a term like “regenerative” is going to be new to a large number of consumers even before we get to the intricacies of the competing regenerative frameworks.

The good news, though, is channels for educating consumers are far more sophisticated and common than they were in 1990. Only academics used the internet in 1990 and smartphones were seen exclusively in science fiction. Now, a QR code on the front of a package will take shoppers on a tour of a certification’s rubric.

Technology isn’t the only answer, either. Natural retailers pride themselves on creating a relationship with their customers. Through that relationship, they can explain the seals and reinforce their importance to build consumer awareness and confidence.

This is vitally important to an industry that watched ideas like “natural” and “sustainable” lose meaning when bigger brands adopted the language without care for the values. Seals and certifications may be expensive and time consuming, and garner the consumer recognition they deserve, but they can still fit well within the broader mission of every brand at Natural Products Expo West.

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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