Maggie Reid Travis, sales associate with Rice Fruit Co, Gardners, Pa., visits with Steve Lutz, regional vice president of the Produce Marketing Association, after a July 11 presentation at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey on consumer insights on the organic shopper. (Photo by Tom Karst)

MONTEREY, Calif. — Retailers can give organic produce the razzle dazzle of attractive prices, good quality and prominent placement to move light buyers of organic to more steady consumers.

At the same time, the marketing message that organic produce is good for people and the planet rings true for many consumers and shouldn’t be overlooked in the attempt to grow sales.

Converting light to moderate buyers of organic produce to committed and heavy buyers was the focus of an Organic Produce Summit educational session on July 11.

Kevin Coupe of moderated the session, which included presentations by Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, and Steve Lutz, regional vice president of the Produce Marketing Association.

Lutz said sales data shows that the organic category has driven nearly all of the growth in the produce department from 2015 through 2018. Sales of organic produce grew 28% in that period and volume rose 29%. That compares with conventional produce growth of 2% in sales and a 1% drop in volume over that same time.

“The interesting thing is that the price point that we are asking consumers to change or to pay hasn’t changed,” he said, noting organic prices were roughly double conventional both in 2015 and in 2018.

Lutz said there appears to be an opportunity to move the light-to-moderate user of organic to a more frequent buyer. With organics representing only about 5% of total volume and 10% of dollars in the produce department, there is still a huge opportunity for growth.

Retailers can help move light users of organic produce to more consistent customers by making organic produce easier to find and by offering good quality and competitive prices. 

While committed users are passionate about the conviction that buying organic is good for them and good for the world, price is a big factor in the decision to buy organic for light users.

“We have to figure out how we present value, we have to provide additional options to them give them selection — we have to mirror those conventional standards,” he said. 

Lutz said marketers can use packaging to make organic produce convenient and attractive.

Light and medium organic users have no problem with plastic packaging, Lutz said. Placing organic produce in a prominent location also is important to help those consumers pick organic, he said.

Batcha said the Organic Trade Association has from the past year that includes input from consumer focus groups and others about effective messaging for organic marketers. OTA then polled 3,000 consumers about their attitudes toward organic, with sampling of millennial consumers and reflecting racial ethnic diversity.

Batcha said the research measured attitude around organic concepts and what messages resonate with consumers.

She said that the research looked at levels of buy-in from consumers from devoted consumers, to “dabblers and reluctant” shoppers. Marketers shouldn’t waste their time in trying to make believers out of non-believers, she said. There is plenty of opportunity in moving light users to more committed users.

Research indicates about half of consumers are light organic produce users, and about 12% are heavy users.

“You don’t have to go beyond the light (organic) produce user to really grow the market,” she said.

The marketing message that organic produce is good for people and the planet resonates with many consumers. In addition, the fact that organic produce is non-GMO also finds traction, she said.

The “people and planet” message connects with the most consumers if it is not done in a heavy-handed way, she said. 

Consumers who were educated about the process to transition from convention to organic growing were impressed.

“(Consumers) want to know that you can’t just walk through the (organic) door; they want to know that door takes time and commitment on the part of the grower to get there,” Batcha said.

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