The natural industry has come a long way over the past 30 years as natural products have edged their way onto the shelves and into the consciousness of the mainstream market. The organic certification, once struggling for government approval, is now backed by hefty growth numbers and has paved the way for a bevy of other certifications that now show up on product packages. And yet, despite increasing awareness, education and development within the industry, one could argue the natural products sphere is as murky as ever.
GMO labeling, while popular, continues to face a chaotic sea churning with fact, rumor and emotion-driven arguments about the benefits and risks of genetically engineered foods. Meanwhile, retailers, brands and consumers are mired in confusion about how to define the “natural” label claim, and without FDA guidance the issue has been brought to the courts.
So what’s a natural industry startup to do? How’s one to decide how to navigate through, pick a side, choose a stance in such an ever-changing landscape?
Here's one suggestion: take a page out of Alex Bogusky’s book. Bogusky has worked on branding and advertising for the past 25 years. After leaving advertising powerhouse Crispin Porter + Bogusky where he was a partner, Bogusky and his wife, Ana, have invested their talents in a constellation of projects that revolve around affecting positive environmental, social and economic change. This messaging maven also has firsthand experience in launching his own food product after he became one of the founders of Skoop, a powdered blend of 41 nutrients and superfoods.
Though his passions are diverse, when it comes to picking a stance about some of the most difficult decisions in the natural products industry, Bogusky is unwavering.
Go organic and be transparent
First, Bogusky says, strive to go organic. The “natural” claim has become diluted and confusing as companies attracted to the selling potential of the term slap it onto products that don’t deserve the label. That ambiguity has knocked down label’s clout and trustworthiness among consumers.
And while the GMO debate has become more nuanced, with scientists, city council members and media outlets throwing the hardline non-GMO stance into question, Bogusky remains adamantly against “being part of the experiment.” He maintains that, while brands and retailers should form their own opinions about GMOs, it’s telling that no company has created a convincing consumer-oriented pro-GMO argument that can go on a label. GMO transparency, meanwhile, is a win-win, he says, pointing out that "there’s nothing about brands putting out information and being transparent that suggests they have to take a stance against GMOs.
The consumer awareness brought about by legislative battles over GMO labeling in California and Washington have created a valuable window of opportunity for brands to step up and advertise products free of GMOs, he says.
And a surge in GMO-related labeling and branding will likely be the momentum needed to spur the FDA to step in and “clean it up.”
Make product packaging simple and story-driven
When it comes to translating those product messages onto a packages, startups and entrepreneurs can take a cue from Skoop’s package design. The brightly colored package relays product science and ingredient information in a bold, infographic-heavy style that spans the resealable package. The idea was to put all the product data front and center, making it easy to access and share. It's a style that has been covered in trend reports as being part of a movement toward more transparent, infographic-based packaging, Bogusky says.
As a brand crafts and refines its final message Bogusky recommends taking a step back and figuring out the larger cultural question within its category. For the fast-casual Mexican food restaurant chain Chipotle, the larger question is industrial farming. The company's marketing, including two high-profile videos, has given people tools to have a conversation about this issue, which is why those videos have gone viral. Skoop, on the other hand, must be a part of the bigger conversation about "what is a superfood" and the collective 3 p.m. malaise among working Americans, Bogusky says. His final goal is to give people a head start that will power them throughout the day and into the kitchen where they’ll start cooking dinner again. He's using a protein powder to get people back in the kitchen.
It’s a big goal, encompassing broad aspirations and lots of potential challenges, but Bogusky is sticking to it.