The £2m three-year campaign, which kicks off this week featuring the strapline ‘There are lots of reasons to love organic – discover yours’, has been financed by 70 organic producers with matched funding from the EU.
The aim of the campaign - set against a backdrop of sales declines and confusion over the health and environmental benefits of organics - is to broaden their appeal, rather than preach to the converted, said Organic Trade Board chairman Huw Bowles.
“The term organic is widely misunderstood and through this campaign, we want to help consumers to discover exactly what it means and why it’s worth it, with the ultimate aim of driving sales”.
The campaign (which includes press advertising, PR and digital marketing) promises to focus on “individuals who would not normally be associated with buying organic”, and will tap into shoppers’ concerns about health, animal welfare and the local environment rather than the fate of the planet or the global food supply chain.
Will it work?
Focusing on broadening the customer base rather than encouraging already committed shoppers to buy more was critical for the growth of the sector, agreed Ed Garner at Kantar Worldpanel. “If they want to expand organics, they need to get more people buying them, not sell more to committed purchasers. They must increase the penetration of the category.”
At the moment, a tiny percentage of shoppers accounted for almost half of the spend, he pointed out.
However, organic credentials alone were not enough to sell a product, stressed Garner, citing Green & Blacks, Yeo Valley and Rachel’s as examples of successful brands where the organic message provided “supporting evidence” for more focused claims about taste, quality and provenance.
Organics and claims
Moreover, claims about the benefits of organic food were notoriously problematic, as it was by no means indisputable that it always had a lower carbon footprint, or was nutritionally superior, he pointed out. “The Food Standards Agency has driven a bus through that argument.”
Shoppers, meanwhile, were increasingly being bombarded with rival claims such as 'free-range', 'local', 'pesticide-free', 'fair trade' and ‘natural’, many of which seemed to resonate more strongly with punters than the all-encompassing organic message, he added.
“For a lot of people the term organic is pretty meaningless or just smacks of middle class affectation. Consumers, no matter what their level of engagement, are thinking: I’m paying more money for this, or suspect I probably am, and what is the benefit?”
However, Kantar Worldpanel data for the 12 weeks to November 28, 2010 showed that the decline was slowing, with sales down just 1% compared with the same 12-week period in 2009, and a steadily improving trend, he added.
Tesco: get the pricing hierarchy right
Tesco, which saw overall organic sales slump 12% in the year to September 5, 2010, according to Kantar Worldpanel data, had “probably overreacted a bit” by delisting so many organic products when the recession first started to bite, admitted category manager for produce Alain Guilpain.
Speaking at a conference organised by Organic Farmers & Growers in Oxford in October last year, Guilpain also argued that the “huge” variation in the price premium between organic and conventional products across different product categories was sending out mixed messages to shoppers.
“I think that everybody understands that there should be a price premium attached to organic, because the costs of production and distribution can be significantly higher. But I think there also needs to be a clearer price hierarchy.
“Currently there is a huge variation. Organic garlic is cheaper than standard garlic while organic pineapple can be 250% more expensive. In other areas there is price parity.”
Organics must be more affordable
If the aim was to encourage people who only buy organic food occasionally to buy it more frequently, this had to be addressed, he said.
“My personal view is that we’ve got to make organics a bit more affordable for everyday. Bringing organics to the masses will ultimately return more revenue to producers.”
Retailers also needed to take some “bold decisions” where it was not possible to reduce prices, he said. “If products are carrying a premium of well over 150% you need to ask the question is that really what the customer wants? Are people prepared to pay two or three times the price?”