GREENFIELD, Mass. -- The need for better consumer understanding of what "organically grown" means is driving the Organic Trade Association here to launch an educational campaign.
The OTA wants to build consumer awareness of the attributes of organic, and the 1,100-member group plans to do more marketing to the target consumer. "We haven't worked out the details, but we certainly see the need," said Barbara Haumann, a spokeswoman for the organization. She added that all consumers would be targeted, but especially women from age 25 to 49.
Positive trends toward growth in the usage of organic products over each of the last two years are tempered by a lack of understanding by the majority of consumers surveyed by a market research company. These findings were revealed at the OTA's "All Things Organic" show and meeting held last month in Austin, Texas.
"Forty-three percent of consumers say they used organic products in the year 2000, as compared to 39.5% in 1999, so we did show a 10% increase in penetration over that year," said Maryellen Molyneaux, president of the The Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa. "Obviously, we have our work cut out to attract and convert the other 57%," she said in a session called "Cultivating the Organic Consumer."
The information is contained in an NMI report, "The Organic Consumer Trends 2001," published last month in conjunction with the OTA, available from either NMI or OTA.
Of those who use organic products, 15% in 2000 and 17% in 1999 said they increased their usage of organic products, and Molyneaux said she expects these numbers to stay up for a few more years.
At the same time, Kroger, one of the the leading food retailers in the United States, reports that natural and organic foods are among the fastest-growing segments in its business, with sales increasing at a double-digit pace.
Kroger's annual report says it caters to health-conscious customers through its 675 nutrition centers and 135 Nature's Markets, which offer a selection of 2,000 natural foods, vitamins, energy bars, sports drinks and herbs in one department. Kroger plans to add 150 Nature's Market departments in fiscal 2001.
New organic users, according to Molyneaux, are about 7% of the general population, and say they have used organic products for the first time within the last year. Core organic users (about 6% of the general population) have been using organic products for more than three years and they use them more than once a week. Thirty percent, or the middle-of-the roaders, have used organic products for one to two years in any frequency. Heavy organic users make up about 5% of the population and use multiple organic products every day.
In a more perplexing finding, the survey showed that general population shoppers want organic standards, but they don't understand them. Statistics show that 63% of the general population agree that it's extremely important or very important to have foods grown without pesticides; 60% are interested in environmental protection; 56% in sustainable agriculture; 47% in partnerships with small farmers; 47% want products without genetically modified ingredients; and 45% want no irradiation in their products. But, "Ask them, 'How important is organically grown food?', and the number drops to 39%," Molyneaux said.
"As we start asking them more questions, it's evident that they want organic attributes but they don't understand 'organically grown.' We had a measurable decline in 'importance' of organically grown of 15%, which is not good," she said.
"What they understand and how important it is to them begins to build an attitude that drives their in-market behavior. They will search out places to shop. Importance and understanding becomes very key here."