Local claims are rising star as sun sets on organic claims

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Local claims are rising star as sun sets on organic claims
New consumers continue to enter the organic category for the first time, but the health halo cast by the US Department of Agriculture’s certification is dimming as it becomes more mainstream and as shoppers’ interpretation of the standard evolves. 

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.

Carl Jorgensen (2)
Carl Jorgensen

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. 

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3 comments

Support American Agriculture and safe food

Posted by Scott A. Murray,

The quote of 73% of American's buy organic could be accurate, but without seeing the actual question is not very valuable. Looking at the follow up statement that says one third of consumers buy organic monthly is the key. So If 33% buy organic monthly what percentage buy organic every time they shop?
I think the good news is that people are reading labels and working to understand the organic standards.
Yes, in organic agriculture we can use approved Herbicides and pesticides. The really good thing is all the research in the 41 years that I have been an organic farmer has improved the tools that all of agriculture has to use. These tools have much lower overall toxicity and residues are also much lower.
The real key is that organic farmers like myself agree to have our farms inspected each year. Conventional agriculture does not have this requirement. The consumers just have to watch the news to see that some farmers and processors are cutting corners in cleanliness and using tools that leave considerable residues in the soil and sometimes on the food.
The roughly 2% of American farms that are currently organic is hardly a threat to conventional agriculture. All of American agriculture was organic without the label before WW 2 and now billions of tons of exotic chemicals are put into the soil, into our aquatic environments and measurably into consumers each year. The most important part of this situation is that the environment is reaching the breaking point in having the chemical applied each year.
The real concern is that American's deserve to know what was used to produce our food and what might still be on our in the food when it reaches the consumers mouth.
Why are players in the food industry concerned about labeling GMO foods. I would think that they would be proud of the science that goes into their products.
We need to shift to a future of AgroEcology that has been shown to produce double the amount of food from our worlds current agricultural lands... And will begin to heal and clean the chemicals in our ecosystem over many years... I do not claim to be an expert, but I have made my living as an organic farmer for 41 years...
The biggest threat is that I am at 61 the average age of American Farmers, for every 25 year old we have farming today, we still have 5 farmers that are 75 years old working... We need to encourage and support at least 4 million new farmers to make sure that Agriculture our fundamental National Security Industry is safe and that the food we eat is largely produced in the United States...

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Organic Myth

Posted by Mike,

I agree with you Karen. Very, very doubtful that 73% of consumers buy organic. Some may have purchased an item or 2 once, but not as a norm. All depends on how the survey question was asked.
Also hate to spoil your party Carl, but organic produce can also contain herbicides or pesticides. I know you don't want people to know that, but tell the whole story if you tell one at all.

It also frustrates me how people demonize 'processed foods'. Sorry to burst another bubble, but based on the definition of processed, if a food is altered in some way, it is processed. If you put together a casserole or cake and bake it, it is processed.

Yours and my mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers used many of the same ingredients you now put skull and crossbones and as Karen states, we managed to make it.

Quit forcing your beliefs and desires on us and the food industry as a whole as all it will do is raise our costs. If all you people wish to pay lots more for organic or non GM foods, go right ahead, but leave the rest of us alone. Organics are not any more nutritious or safe than regular foods. It is all a perception and wishfull dreams perpetuated by self proclaimed food experts.

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Wondering

Posted by Karen G.,

It makes one wonder how we all managed to grow up before the advent of the organic food trend. Also consider that all of the things condemned by this market are exactly what was developed to cope with the burgeoning demands of feeding an ever-growing global population. I for one do care about the price of my groceries and I also do not believe that more than 70% of the public is buying organic.

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