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Organic Meets Reality

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Organic products have loyal followers, but a big chunk of sales have come from casual buyers — the ones strolling through the aisles who thought, “Gee, I wonder what a $4 chocolate bar tastes like.” Well, no more. These consumers are hunkering down now, looking for the best value available and skipping the test buys.

organic-food.jpgOvercoming what seemed to be a period of shock (after years of double-digit growth, who wouldn’t take rejection hard?), the organic industry has decided to hit back with heavy doses of marketing. The latest campaign, sponsored by the Organic Institute and the Organic Trade Association, is called “Organic. It’s Worth It.” It aims to educate consumers — particularly new mothers and families with young children — about organic, and then show them how products can fit into everyday lifestyles.

The title is a tad too defensive, but the idea is a welcome one, and certainly overdue. For years the average shopper has wondered what all the fuss is with organic — primarily, why it’s priced at a premium. But because sales were strong enough, the industry didn’t feel like it had to justify itself. The “cool” factor was enough.

I really hope none of that moral superiority leaks into this latest campaign. I buy organic products because I know about, and believe in, the process, but I’ve always been frustrated by the way the industry presents itself to the public. Rather than acknowledge economic realities (try: yes, we know it’s more expensive) and explain what organic agriculture involves, companies put the products out there and hint that they are somehow better for you. The message that comes out is a conflicting one: Organic isn’t for everyone, but everyone should buy it.

Here’s hoping a dose of reality does the organic industry good. Because really, it’s not the elitist institution it’s come to be known as. It’s growing food without inputs and additives — the same way we have for centuries.

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