Organic loses its authenticity halo as it goes more mainstream
For decades, consumers trusted organic foods to provide authentic, healthy alternatives to problems they perceived in the world of conventional food.
As organics have gone mainstream, with 73% of people now buying them, their authenticity halo is fading. Consumers do not trust organics the way they used to. They want to support companies that share their values and are committed to organic, natural and real food – but they doubt whether some companies that trumpet those values sincerely embrace them, and they increasingly mistrust the government’s organic certification.
Consumers in all segments are turning toward local to help them resolve their confusion and uncertainty surrounding organic certifications and the claims of the organic marketplace.
“Local is more important to me than organic,” one Nashville resident told The Hartman Group for its Organic & Natural 2014 report. “It’s about building a relationship. Asking local farmers about their practices is better than what the government can tell me.”
Local carries many connotations that are important to consumers: community, economy and environmental stewardship. It also offers compelling narratives that include small-scale production and reciprocal relationships with food producers.
People believe in the integrity of small farmers and local food producers, seeing them as deeply invested in the quality of their products. Their trust is bolstered by the close proximity of local food sources, which translates into shorter distances traveled – and thus a perception of greater freshness.
They also like keeping their money in the community and the idea that they are eating food that’s in season.
In many ways, farmer’s markets are ground zero for local food, and therefore the authenticity people are seeking.
Almost a quarter of organic consumers say they shop at farmers markets at least monthly, up from 15% in 2006, making farmer’s markets among the outlets gaining customers as traditional grocery stores lose them.
They are seen as community resources, almost like parks and libraries. They connect neighbors and other people who might not otherwise see each other, and the food experience is overtly authentic: the farmers are often standing right there.
A major drawback for farmer’s markets, and a reason that fresh markets are gaining traction at their expense, is their limited hours. Most are open just one day a week, making them a destination for committed customers but an oversight for many others.
That weakness could become aggravated as consumers demand ever more convenience from their food providers. Another weakness is some markets’ adherence to vendors offering only whole foods, rather than a mix of whole and prepared food vendors.
These drawbacks for farmers markets could lead to opportunities for restaurants and retailers to partner with them, to bask in the reflection of their authenticity and to find ways to demonstrate their own commitment to real food and community.
CEO Laurie Demeritt and The Hartman Group’s ethnographers explore 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 email@example.com or 425-452-0818.
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