When I try telling certain produce managers about some organic information I've learned, I hear them say "I know" before I'm even finished. Or when I mention their customers' need for organic or nutritional information, they respond, "Oh, our customers are very savvy—they know all about that." And yet, when I start to talk to customers about seasonal nuances, nutritional tips or the difference between organic and conventional, they are always very interested to learn what I have to say, often buying more produce than they had originally planned because of the information I provided.
For instance, I'll ask customers if they know that the oil in an avocado has both beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and that these are an essential part of a heart-healthy diet. I'll inform them that the polyunsaturated fats contain valuable omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and that avocados are high in fiber, protein, vita?min A, folic acid, potassium and iron.
Or I'll fill them in on strawberries—that they're high in antioxidants such as ella?gic acid and anthocyanins. Do your customers know this information? More than a third of respondents to the 2007 Packer Fresh Trends survey on organic produce said nutrient content was the reason they bought organic. Perhaps they would buy more if they had these facts. Or how about this: According to a report by The Organic Center, organic fruits and vegetables tend to score higher in taste because they are sweeter than conventionally grown foods. Why? Because organic produce is smaller in size and higher in nutrient density than its conventional counterpart. Conventional farming methods are designed to produce bigger fruits and vegetables, but increasing cell size generally adds more water, diluting the concentrations of both vitamins and natural flavors.
Would knowing this information make your customers buy more organic produce? I certainly think so.
As the organics industry grows at an impressive rate, your customers may not be aware of all of these nuances and interesting tidbits about the produce they're pondering at your store. But don't get me wrong—with new research published daily and information changing so quickly, it's hard keep up, even if you're an organic advocate like me.
So, you ask, "Where can I get good information so I can better inform my customers?" The Internet is a great start. Here are a few of my go-to resources:
- Environmental Working Group, www.foodnews.org
- FamilyFarmed, www.familyfarmed.org
- The Non-GMO Project, www.non?gmoproject.org
- The Organic Center, www.organic-center.org
Once you find this exciting information, you can decide how to deliver it. Having your staff pass the information along verbally is always effective because it builds a relationship between your employees and customers, and helps to keep your staff members engaged and feeling like they're a part of the bigger picture. Another way to inform your customers is to hang informational cards and signs around your store, which serve as little FYI pieces and have a good shot at piquing shoppers' interest. You can put these cards in the produce department, the prepared foods section, or even at the register. As more and more supermarkets get into the organics game, your customers will be looking for someone to give them reliable information quickly and easily.
You've got a great opportunity to be that knowledgeable source.
Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. Contact him at 707.939.8355 or at markdmulcahy @sbcglobal.net.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 6/p.50