With three-quarters of shoppers buying organic food and beverages, often from Wal-Mart and other mainstream outlets, the meaning of organic is changing — and along with it, the meaning and growing importance of natural.
Organic comes with a government label, which many people distrust, particularly as large companies and “junk” foods become associated with it. By contrast, the term “natural” comes mostly with promises, which consumers also tend not to trust and which have become a legal battleground for companies that use it, from Trader Joe’s to PepsiCo to Goya Foods.
However, consumers have built their own set of criteria around natural that’s separate from any claims on a label and that helps address their growing desire for fresh, real foods. As a result, PopChips and others who have agreed in legal settlements to stop using the term “all natural” will likely see no material effect on their businesses.
Consumers decide which brands are natural, whether the packaging says so or not. They want the notion or implication of natural rather than the word on a box. For them, natural means fresh, pure and real:
Shoppers reach for products and brands that “feel” natural, a notion that sometimes stems from a company spending years in the organic-and-natural market rather than being associated with conventional brands that use processed additives.
Other moves companies can make to convey the notion of natural:
- Keep ingredient lists short
- Remove ingredients that are not deemed natural (artificial colors, for example)
- Offer items that are fresh, or as fresh as possible for that product
- Carry brands with a natural “halo” (e.g., Kashi, PopChips, Chobani)
The focus should be on simple and real, letting people know the food is as close to its original state as possible.
Retailers should mix their natural offerings with organic and conventional brands, because that’s how consumers shop. They rarely buy products exclusively in one category. Mixing the offerings exposes shoppers to a range of new products and encourages them to experiment. It also makes shopping more convenient and allows customers to make side-by-side comparisons of prices and ingredient lists among conventional, organic and natural products. Finally, it dispels impressions that organic and natural foods and beverages are so different from “regular” food that they require their own section within the store; many shoppers take that to mean the section does not apply to them and their tastes.
Food companies also should also focus on organic and natural offerings in categories where they are most important to consumers: produce, whole grains, meat and dairy. Although cost can be prohibitive, particularly for meats, people tend to start their organic and natural journeys with produce and gradually move toward purchases of organic and natural meats. Offering a range of those products alongside conventional choices encourages their journey.
Although it might seem counterintuitive to offer pricier natural options alongside conventional products, consumers ultimately decide what’s right for them — and in this case, what’s natural.
The Hartman Group is exploring the latest consumer data on the organic and natural marketplace with a new report, Organic and Natural 2014. To learn more, download a study overview. As CEO, Laurie Demeritt provides strategic and operational leadership for The Hartman Group’s research and consulting teams. She and The Hartman Group’s analysts blend primary qualitative, quantitative and trends research to help clients develop marketing strategies by understanding the subtle complexities of how consumers live, shop and use products, and how to apply that understanding in ways that lead to purchase. For more about The Hartman Group, visit the website www.hartman-group.com or contact Blaine Becker, senior director of marketing at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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