New Year? Old Marketing. Organic Food in 2017

New Year. New You! You can do it darling blog reader. But, before you launch full-force into “This Is My Organic-Fueled Bikini-Bod” Mode, let’s review where marketers initially planted the seed that has grown into your 2017 resolution (how’s it going by the way?).

Pre-resolution, can you recall the last time you were grocery shopping? Did you go to a large chain store or did you go to a local grocer or even a farmer’s market? Even more importantly, did you buy anything with the words Organic, All-Natural or GMO-Free on them? It seems that no matter where you decide to procure your groceries, words, and phrases like these are becoming more commonplace. But what do these phrases mean and do these qualities truly make a product better than their non-organic doppelgänger? People are entitled to their own opinions and there is certainly enough research out there for anyone to judge the legitimacy of these arguments, but this isn’t about personal preference. We are here to discuss how this Organic Food Movement has changed the way that we as consumers purchase our food, and even the way that food is being marketed to us.

What even is Organic Food?

Before we can talk about how Organic food is being marketed, we have to understand exactly what organic food is. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic products as products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. This seems like a pretty good thing when you think about it. This means that forests are not cut down to create grazing land for livestock or cropland for things like corn or wheat. Also, this means that pesticides, toxic petroleum-based poisons that are intended to kill insects that feed off the crops, are not being sprayed on the food that we are ultimately putting into our mouths. Who wouldn’t want to stop/limit deforestation while also not poison ourselves with toxic chemicals?

How did it rise to fame?

So in the 90’s, under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, the USDA set out to make sure that any food that wanted to claim that it was organic had to meet certain criteria to gain organic certification. Organic Certification is a big deal among Organic farmers and if their crops are crossbred, even by accident, by Genetically Modified (GMO) plants they can lose their certification and suffer financially because organic foods tend to be more expensive than “traditionally” farmed foods. This price difference is due to smaller yields caused by not using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to preserve and boost the production of the plants or not injecting hormones into livestock to accelerate growth.

Organic products were not readily available to the public in the early 90s, not the way they are now. To find these organic products you would have to purchase your groceries from natural product retailers, health food stores, or straight from local farmers. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that natural and organic products hit the shelves in conventional grocery stores where the mass majority of people do their grocery shopping. (You would have been super cutting-edge if your 1999 resolution was to go organic in response to Y2K, by the way.)

That seems really legitimate. So where does marketing even come in?

Marketing 101: Formulate your value proposition: The advantages of organic are pretty self-explanatory and, in the 90s and early 2ks, there was space in the market. Early adopters could easily tout that natural/organic products are healthier and safer for us and our children. Messages like “This food is not sprayed with harmful pesticides,” or “these carrots are grown on sustainable acreage.” basically wrote themselves. Typically, the best value propositions are those that are backed by business practices that walk the talk and, initially, most organic products did.

Marketing 102: Stand out from the competition: The popularity of these products began to rise slowly but surely. Natural capitalistic competition produced more options at different price points. Smart companies found additional niches within this new market to reach new target audiences that were already consuming organic. As a result, you can no longer walk down grocery store aisles anymore without seeing a food product that doesn’t have an organic alternative. This is not reserved for only produce or meats either, you can find things such as organic pasta sauce, chips, flour, and the list goes on. As the Organic Food Movement continues to gather steam, grocery stores are battling to be the ones to offer the most at the lowest price, sometimes at the risk of losing touch with the original goals of going organic.

Marketing 103: Build a brand around your product or service: Anyone who regularly purchases organic food has either been to or heard of Whole Foods Market. This is not a happy accident. Because of the strength of their brand, Whole Foods has been the pinnacle of the natural/organic food market for years, trusted almost no matter what. But recently their prestige may be brought down by another grocery chain who has seen an opportunity to build a different type of organic experience, Aldi. Back in January 2016, Aldi made an announcement that they would be expanding their organic food line, Simply Nature. Aldi has always prided itself for offering quality products for the lowest price, but now they are after the organic and whole food market as well; giving companies like Whole Foods Market a run for their money.

Organic food products are not limited to grocery stores either. Many restaurants, mostly small local establishments, have been including mostly of not whole organic ingredients into their dishes. Even massive chains such as Chipotle have dived feet first into the organic/natural ingredient pool. In 2013 Chipotle announced a commitment to use only organic/natural and sustainable ingredients in the food. This commitment was paired with tons of market materials, a cartoon-ish scarecrow mascot, a free downloadable game for mobile devices, and even exclusive songs performed by Fiona Apple and Willie Nelson.

You know the brands, but what do you really know about the quality of their products and how much are you willing to pay for access. That’s the power of great marketing.

What does this have to do with me, again?

What we’re getting at is that the prevalence of organic options is a reflection of standard business reactions to a shifting market. Sure, there is a growing interest in healthier lifestyles in 2017, but this is fueled by the increased availability and constant marketing around the concept.

The fact of the matter is, the Organic Food Movement is quickly reshaping the landscape of the food industry, and whether you realize it or not you are being bombarded with Organic Food Marketing. Companies are not just going to the extra effort to produce a food that safer, but also one that is more marketable. That’s not to say that all companies offering organic products are not sincere in their message, but at the end of the day, they want to sell a product.

You’re a marketing company, why are you making this all sound bad? Also, stop giving me an excuse to quit my diet.

This is the great news about modern marketing, just as consumers have begun to seek organic food, they’re also craving more organic marketing content to help fuel their decisions making. We’re just here to remind you that simply buying a label that says “organic” isn’t enough to ensure that 2017 resolution stays intact; leverage additional marketing best-practices to better inform your purchases. Basically, marketing isn’t all evil. Here are some suggestions:

Influencer Marketing: It’s pretty standard these days for brands to pay social influencers to promote their brands. It may seem shady, but if you have a persona you trust, you can also rely on their recommendations to help guide you to your final destination. Just like an endorsement from a sports player, a fitness Instagrammer you respect likely won’t promote a product that doesn’t support and protect their online reputation. Choose wisely.
Inbound

Content Marketing: Organic brands want to make sure you know they know what they’re talking about. Vet companies through their blogs or email marketing before you go out to the stores. At the end of the day, email blasts can be annoying, but good email marketing strategy will result in valuable unspammy information that you enjoy reading.

Social Media Marketing: The power of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc isn’t just the creation of cute posts, each of those networks are platforms for your peers to express their opinions. Look at reviews, search company names, see what the buzz is all about before you load up your Prius and head to Soulard. Social is the new word of mouth.

Okay. So that’s it. We here at Timmermann Group are all about clean eating, but we’re even more obsessed with good digital marketing. Since we’ve got a corner on how the game works, we thought you’d like a little additional insight into what you’re up against out there. We’re just suggesting, in addition to that your IRL resolution, maybe also promise to engage more intensely with the brands you’re interested in within the digital sphere too. If you’d like to know more, just ask. After all, we’ve got 2 vegetarians and a vegan that produce creative work here.