At the same time, consumer desire for “local” products is increasing and the claim could quickly replace organic as the most desirable qualification by many consumers, according to research analysts.
“Trust in and reliance on the USDA organic seal is widespread, but appears to have flattened,” while interest in “local is surpassing organic at an amazing” rate, said Carl Jorgensen, former president of Global Organic Certification services, a USDA-accredited organic certification agency, and current director of global consumer strategy-wellness at Daymon Worldwide.
He explained that organic “still has a halo,” and “is recognized as the gold standard” by many consumers, 73% of whom buy organics, according to The Hartman Group’s Organic & Natural 2014 report. The report adds that a third of these shoppers buy organic monthly.
Likewise, the organic category has “a steady supply of new entry organic consumers,” who mainly include parents of young children, Jorgensen said.
“Organic baby food is massively growing,” as are prepared foods for slightly older children, such as cereal, better-for-you treats and fruit snacks, he said.
Shoppers also continue to buy organic products “for what they lack: pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, antibiotics, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives and GMOs,” according to a blog post by The Hartman Group promoting its report.
Despite this interest, some consumers wonder how highly processed “junk food” can bear the organic label and if large manufacturers are “diluting the spirit of organics,” according to The Hartman Group.
There also is a “general mistrust of big government and Big Food,” with people wondering how USDA can keep up with certifying and enforcing the standards for so many new products launched annually, Jorgensen said.
“A lack of understanding of organic standards and how they are applied and enforced” is tarnishing the standard, he said. He added: “The organic industry and USDA could benefit from modest investment in consumer education about organic.”
Notably, the higher price of organic food is not a deterrent for consumers buying organic, Jorgensen said. In fact, he noted, as the price of organics goes down, so does consumer confidence in the product.
If the price of an organic food is too low, “people think it is not really organic or the quality is not as good,” he explained.
With this in mind, he said firms should feel free to continue to sell organics at a premium, especially considering they are more expensive to source and demand already outpaces supply.
The rise of “local”
As the sun starts to set on organic as an influential claim, it is rising on “local,” Jorgensen and The Hartman Group note.
“If organic is the gold standard, then local is platinum!” Jorgensen said.
The Hartman Group explains “local” claims are booming because the claim now connotes what organic no longer does as effectively: imagery of community, economic and environmental stewardship and a personal connection with the food producer. This generates a strong sense of trust and loyalty.
The Hartman Group also explains that many consumers are turning to local products because they do not understand organic certification standards – reinforcing Jorgensen’s point that the organic industry needs to better educate consumers.
Ultimately though, shoppers in both categories want to support companies that share their values and are committed to producing healthy, Earth-friendly food, The Hartman Group concludes.