FEATURE: Promotions: Keeps on GOing

If the organic market continues to grow at the brisk pace it has set of late, then it might not be long until the Go Organic! for Earth Day promotional campaign joins the ranks of perennials -- such as National Frozen Food Month and Dairy Month -- that have become second nature for grocers.

At least that's the plan for the organizers of this successful program, now in its third year, with more than 3,500 grocery stores and 40 leading organic manufacturers participating.

Go Organic! was formed as a national campaign coinciding with Earth Day (April 22) to encourage people to try organic products, and to raise awareness about how organics are produced. Participating retailers hold special in-store events and promotions, offer organic product sampling, and create special displays, among other initiatives -- all at virtually no cost, as the campaign is sponsored by major vendors.

In its short life, Go Organic! has met with great success: This year the retailer roster includes major players such as Kroger, Supervalu, Food Lion, and Giant Food Stores of Landover, Md. Many regional chains and small independents have joined the campaign, too, in hopes of boosting their shoppers' awareness of organics.

"To continue growth in the natural/organic category, we need to add customers who are new to the category," observes Paul Howland, Natural Choice buyer for Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas', Inc. "The Go Organic! program has elements to help educate customers and build awareness."

To keep the program fresh, its organizers -- the Washington-based Organic Trade Association, Earth Day Network, and Minneapolis-based marketing agency Music Matters -- have added some new elements for 2007. In addition to the coupon books and point-of-sale materials provided, participating retailers now receive informational e-newsletters each month, while consumers can sign up for a customized e-newsletter. Shoppers can enter contests, including the chance to win a trip for two to a wellness spa. Also new this year, the campaign is joining forces with Portland, Ore.-based Healthnotes, Inc. to provide special content in the latter's 2,000-plus in-store kiosks throughout April.

Retailers on board with organics

While Bashas' and many other grocers are using the campaign to educate their shoppers -- as well as their associates -- some retailers are using it to gain a competitive advantage. Larchmont, N.Y.-based D'Agostino Supermarkets, for instance, sees the campaign as a way to remind its urban New York shoppers, many of whom understand organics well, that its stores are a convenient place to pick up these items.

"We know that many of our customers view organics as important," notes Anderson Chung, D'Agostino's director of marketing. "We want to remind them that their local D'Agostino has all the organic foods they need. Since we also carry nonorganics, this just gives us an opportunity to push organics and remind them that they need not go elsewhere to get them."

Regional grocer Brookshire Grocery Co., in Tyler, Texas, is using the campaign to call attention to all of its new organic offerings. "We're continuing to add products in all departments, both perishable and shelf-stable," says Jerry Nick, v.p. director center store sales for Brookshire.

And in honor of Earth Day, Brookshire stores are selling cloth carryout bags at $1 each to encourage its customers to help the environment.

"We have many of the nation's leading grocers participating," notes Go Organic! retail manager Scott Silverman. "They aren't just passively using the point-of-sale materials and coupon books we provide -- they're using the campaign to jump-start an organic program and train their staff to make certain they understand the category."

Indeed, that training opportunity still exists, as there are still many associates who don't completely grasp the meaning of organic and natural, confirms Howland.

Likewise, Susan Sexton, a specialist in education and marketing for the "Living Well" program at Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets, says the campaign helps educate team members on the importance of eating and growing food organically.

New this year

Several new features added to this year's campaign should create even more excitement among retailers. For starters, Go Organic!'s organizers have revamped the campaign Web site, www.OrganicEarthDay.org. Now consumers can use a store finder to locate participating retailers. The site also includes organic facts and figures, kitchen-tested organic recipes, a "Test Your Organic Smarts" quiz, a kids' section and an educational curriculum program, e-postcards, and special promotions.

To increase the national reach of the campaign, Go Organic! is working with Healthnotes, the provider of health-and-wellness information with more than 2,000 interactive in-store kiosks and retailer Web properties. Healthnotes will feature organic-focused content at Healthnotes Connect kiosks during the month of April.

Participating retailers have become more educated, too, via a monthly e-newsletter specially designed for them. Content includes campaign updates, new product news, shopper insights, and important data about organics.

All told, the campaign boasts an impressive amount of features, considering its humble beginnings. Silverman says he hopes the campaign continues to grow more each year.

Retailers seem to agree. "April is a strong month for our Natural Choice program, and Go Organic! adds to that strength," says Bashas' Howland.

Although data from the Natural Marketing Institute shows that awareness of organic products was raised 3 percent nationally during last year's campaign, retailers aren't looking to the campaign merely for a one-month sales blitz. Rather, they see it as a special promotion tied to a category with long-term growth potential.

"We've seen a slight increase in our sales during the campaign," admits D'Agostino's Chung. "But we really take a long-term approach when it comes to organics."

Winning edgeThe Go Organic! program was a huge hit last year for Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets. According to Susan Sexton, a specialist in education and marketing for the retailer’s "Living Well" program. One of its biggest successes was winning the national Go Organic! display contest. Its Market Street store in Amarillo won first place, while its Market Street in Wichita Falls was one of the top five winners.

But United went way beyond store displays to get its message across. "For the month of April we had our monthly Living Well flyers focus on the organic items we carry throughout the store," says Sexton. "We also had a special one-day event in the stores that educated shoppers on the different ways to incorporate more organic products in their lifestyles."

They’ve all gone organic

Retail participation in the Go Organic! campaign for Earth Day is growing, and the grocers on the bandwagon run the gamut from big national players with conventional stores to community-based specialty operators. Here is a list of the multiunit participants for 2007:

Ahold (Giant Food/Tops Markets)
Bozutto's (IGA Indy’s, Adam's Markets, Key Food)
Cub Foods
Farm Fresh Markets (Supervalu)

Food Lion/Bloom
Hannaford Bros. Co.
Hornbacher's (Supervalu)
Kowalski's Markets
Kroger Southwest
Marsh Supermarkets
Metropolitan Market
Roundy's (Pick 'n Save/Copps/Rainbow)
Scott's (Supervalu)
Shop 'n Save (Supervalu)
Shopper's Food & Pharmacy (Supervalu)
Supervalu Wholesale
Thriftway/Red Apple
United Supermarkets and Market Street
Wakefern (ShopRite)

Support system

Go Organic! for Earth Day is supported by leading organic manufacturers such as Clif Bar & Co., Del Monte Foods, Horizon Organic, R.W. Knudsen Family, Santa Cruz Organic, Silk Soymilk, Stonyfield Farm, Earthbound Farm, Country Choice Organic, MaraNatha, Nature's Path Foods, and Organic Valley Family of Farms, just to name a few.

Those vendors get something for what they pay for, of course. Data from SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry, found that platinum sponsors who participated in the 2006 Go Organic! campaign experienced a 43 percent higher rate of growth at participating conventional retailers vs. nonparticipating conventional retailers.

John DePaolis, chief cookie officer at Minneapolis-based Country Choice Organic, confirms his company's success from being a part of Go Organic! "Being a smaller company in the organic industry, this gives us an opportunity to execute on a much grander scale. Having in-store activity in 3,500 stores for three weeks wouldn’t be feasible otherwise," he says.

The campaign also alerts manufacturers as to which retailers are committed to organics, notes DePaolis. "It helps us identify the retailers we can work with, which helps us with our promotional planning for April as well as throughout the year."

Quick bytes

According to the Organic Trade Association, 2005 retail sales of organic food hit $13.8 billion, and it's likely that sales in 2006 exceeded $15.5 billion.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows organic farmland in the United States is increasing. In 2005, for the first time, all 50 states had some certified organic acreage with more than 4 million acres of farmland under organic cultivation. This includes 2.3 million acres of cropland and 1.7 million acres of rangeland and pasture.
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