Expo East Panel Discusses Marketing Organics at Retail
Consumer food trends are relevant to organic, and organic supply lines need to keep up with them, particularly when it comes to the nutrient-dense products shoppers currently crave. That's the message shared by Tracy Miedema, VP innovation and brand development at South Barrington, Ill.-based Presence Marketing, during “Aisle by Aisle: Organic Retail Trends,” a panel sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Organic Trade Association as part of the All Things Organic conference track during Natural Products Expo East, in Baltimore.
During her presentation, Miedema emphasized the need for more organic entries in such areas as collagen-rich bone broth, saturated fats, grain-free products, cold-brew beverages, ketogenic diet-friendly items, innovative better-for-you salty snacks, and plant-based foods. Many of the organic products in these segments are premium-priced, but retailers that carry them are seeing higher growth because they meet customers’ needs, she noted, adding that the opportunity exists to offer more nutrient-dense products that are also certified organic.
'Moving Organic Forward'
Mark Squire, owner of Good Earth Natural Foods, an organic grocer and "place for people to hang out" with locations in Fairfax and Mill Valley, Calif., observed that he realized early on that "education [on organics] was part of what we had to do to survive." More recently, he said that he had encountered many customers with “huge questions” about organic – whether they could trust it at a time when so many small companies had been acquired by CPG powerhouses.
Describing himself as "very much a voice for moving organic forward," but also cautioning his fellow members of the community to "keep in mind that it’s the base from which they operate," Squire exhorted organic retailers and suppliers to "unite as an industry" and welcome big companies into the fold, thereby dispelling consumers’ doubts and bolstering their trust in organic products.
While he characterized the recent collapse of efforts to form a government-backed organic checkoff as "sad," Squire was heartened by industry efforts to create a voluntary program, as well as by regenerative agriculture, which research has indicated could help fight climate change. He wrapped up his presentation by observing that organic was "poised to roll out in a really huge way" at retail.
Join the ‘Organic Produce Revolution’
Brian Dey, senior merchandiser and natural stores coordinator at Ephrata, Pa.-based Four Seasons Produce, noted an "organic revolution" in the department, most notably with regard to packaged salads; value-added items like spirals, kits and cauliflower and/or broccoli crumbles; and berries, the last of which Dey described as "tremendous," as berries represent 11 percent of total organic sales, with strawberries as the No. 1 driver in the category.
Larger packs of berries, which his company provides to retail clients, offer value to the consumer, particularly those with bigger families; add convenience by reducing trips to the store to pick up more packs; and lead to larger dollar rings, observed Dey.
Turning to apples – the top commodity in organic produce, with $400 million in sales last year – he noted that proprietary varieties like Envy, Opal and Lady Alice were gaining in popularity with consumers, who were willing to pay more for something “new and different” – which could explain why the Red Delicious has been ousted from its No. 1 spot by the Gala after 50-plus years at the top.
Dey encouraged retailers to take risks, citing the example of a large berry display at a New York cooperative that was pleasantly surprised when the display “turned over three times in five days”— now the co-op maintains a large produce display in that space, currently featuring apples.
In fact, he went on to note, creative merchandising that creates a draw through eye appeal is the top reason that a consumer will buy from a display, followed by price and sampling.
The crux of the organic produce revolution, however, is getting out and talking to retailers, with education at store level for produce associates a particular priority, stressed Dey, adding that the goal was “getting everyone excited about produce merchandising.”
'Decoding' Organic, and More
During the question-and-answer period, moderated by Nancy Coulter-Parker, principal at Boulder, Colo.-based NCP Content & Consulting, Miedema urged the industry to “decode” organic for consumers, who ultimately buy it to “avoid bad stuff.” She noted that organic retailers and suppliers needed “to rally around some really simple language and big-flag concepts,” including the absence of harmful chemicals. Miedema additionally lauded the natural channel as “a beautiful place to incubate new ideas,” with customers willing to try innovative products.
For his part, Dey reiterated the importance of education on such issues as how commodities are bred, citing the many questions he gets regarding whether Cotton Candy grapes are genetically modified (they’re not). “It all boils down to the labeling,” he said. Other recommendations he offered were “exceptional customer service” and working with local farmers.
Squire advised fellow small retailers that they “shouldn’t cave to the price issue” in selling often-expensive organics, telling them that to attract a loyal customer base, they need to live up to the “expectation … that we’re not selling them pesticide-laden food.”