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Enough Bloom for Organics?

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If a couple recent news stories are to be believed, economic woes are driving shoppers to abandon organic and natural products in droves. One, which appeared in this week’s issue of Newsweek, declares “the bloom is going off organics”, citing data from The Hartman Group and a recent study by WSL Strategic Retail that show a declining interest amongst consumers. Also quoted are three shoppers who agree that, well, the price just isn’t right.

The story cites numerous cost examples to back this up: $7 for a gallon of organic milk, $4.50 for a loaf of organic bread, $50 for a liter of extra-virgin olive oil, and so on. Compare all this, notes the reporter, to $2.99 for a gallon of conventional milk at a Kroger store, and you get an idea of the price spread that’s crimping organic sales.

All of this is very easy to digest for readers. But the issue is more complex. For one, prices have gone up across the board, not just for organic. Conventional milk averages around $3.70 per gallon across the country right now (I don’t know where he got the $2.99 figure, but it’s definitely an anomaly). So consumers are in the habit of paying more in every aisle. Also, studies show that people are eating out less and eating at home more. Sure, most of these individuals are leaving Applebee’s and reaching for the Stove Top stuffing, but there are many who can still afford to pay the premium on certain wellness products, including organic.

One dividing point in all of this is loyalty. Shoppers who truly believe in the healthy, ethical qualities of organic and natural offerings will not abandon them in tighter times. The Newsweek story acknowledges this, highlighting that only a fifth of organic consumers hold this level of commitment. This is true, but according to the Natural Marketing Institute, that percentage is growing.

Will sales of natural and organic products ebb eventually? Sure — and we may be seeing a bit of that right now. The wellness industry is an ever-evolving one, and for one industry to sustain double-digit growth year after year is difficult. But I think it’s a stretch to imply that the category is losing its luster — or, er, going off bloom.

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