Organic and truly healthy foods have had to work hard to differentiate themselves from standard grocery fare. They’ve been leaders in the move towards transparency and authentic storytelling, and it’s grown this niche closer to mainstream popularity. To maintain their share, these health-focused brands should continue driving this tactic to reduce the lingering uncertainty that impinges on purchase intent.
The Healthy and Organic Landscape
According to the USDA, organic food is showing double-digit growth and now accounts for 4% of food sales in the US. Unfortunately, accurately identifying this specific shopper remains a challenge, in part because they don’t exclusively shop organic brands. They’ll also consider healthy foods that are ethically sourced (e.g., cage-free, no antibiotics, no GMO), all-natural, and diet-friendly foods (e.g., gluten free, vegan). For some, the deciding factor is a moral one (i.e., it’s the right thing to do), or a flavor preference (i.e., these foods tastes better). Others are motivated by their diet (e.g., due to dietary restrictions, to lose weight) or simply a desire for healthy living. The desire for transparency and healthy options has also brought these foods into the mainstream, and shoppers who don’t look specifically for organic foods are buying them more often.
This is driving the market to become more competitive, and brands like Starbucks are taking a leading role next to brands like Amy’s and Organic Valley. Organic and non-organic, healthy foods are not interchangeable, and are also in competition with each other. The market is expected to see a progressive growth rate through 2020, and estimates in 2017 put its value by the end of 2019 at nearly $188 billion in the US alone. In response, distribution channels are expected to improve globally to meet the increasing demand. This doesn’t include brand leaders that are changing their business strategy and processes to reflect the appeal for transparency and better ingredients (e.g., Tyson’s move toward “no antibiotics, ever”).
Traditional vs. Organic and Health Food Marketing
While health-focused and organic food brands have started the move into the mainstream, that doesn’t mean that traditional ways of marketing are going to be effective. Barriers like higher prices (estimated at 20% to 173% more expensive depending on the item) need to be overcome. The USDA expects prices to remain high despite the increased interest in the US, and this is forecasted to be a roadblock for global growth. Meanwhile, standard food brands can easily market themselves on their low cost.
Whether or not shoppers understand, the benefits of these foods is another barrier. Traditional food brands are a standard, and while shoppers are questioning their claims, values, and ingredients, any transparency they provide improves their position. Organic and healthy foods, on the other hand, started from a position of needing to educate the public at large about why key health distinctions matter and have yet to persuade shoppers influentially enough to overwhelmingly increase adoption rates. For instance, people remain confused about whether organic really is healthier and better tasting. Furthermore, adopting traditional marketing language does nothing to help health-focused brands with those who are already critical of advertising and the media.
Shoppers don’t want to be sold to, and language like “specially selected” coupled with bucolic imagery which might work with a standard brand ring hollow for organic shoppers.
In-store marketing and shelf space is also powerful for standard food brands. They present a significant presence within the store, and are more likely to have display stands and signage. Despite the fact that organic food is now available in about 75% of conventional grocery stores, these foods are separated from the rest of the groceries in their categories into a single section. Ostensibly, it’s to make them easier to find for shoppers, and given the variable diversity of options, it’s easy to understand some might miss them amongst standard brands. “Organic” becomes its own category, which helps them stand out. However, research suggests this grouping actually severely limits their visibility, which influences shoppers to believe they’re either less available or unavailable.
The Audience in Play
Insight into who shops organic may be illuminating. Some 14% are periphery shoppers leaning towards this category, but don’t buy it consistently. Core consumers (i.e., purchase and recommend it often) represent 21%. The largest group are those that need to be marketed to the most; 65% of these shoppers are mid-level consumers who are in the process of reevaluating their past behavior in the light of new information and are buying a select number of products consistently.
More than 80% of families with children will buy organic “sometimes” or more frequently, while 10% of pregnant women regularly eat it. Although these foods are more accessible to and purchased by affluent demographics, this shouldn’t be mistaken for disinterest among lower-income demographics; the price barrier is simply too steep for their budgets. Despite data that suggests nearly a third of shoppers would pay more, insiders recognize that accessibility is an issue.
Another 34% of shoppers are interested in avoiding potential toxins in their food while improving nutritional benefits. What’s more, they value healthy and fresh ingredients as a loyalty factor four times more than brand names, while nearly half don’t feel they get enough information from product labeling.
Helpful Tips for Natural and Organic Brands
These brands have made major moves to stake their claim on a share of the market, but there’s plenty of room to improve. Consider integrating the following tips into your marketing strategy.
Don’t Make Your Audience Target Too Narrow.
The desire for natural, healthy, and organic foods is growing nationwide. If you only focus on core consumers, then you’ll be missing out on a lot of opportunities to capture attention and intent. Remember to segment your audiences; the message you deliver to your core shoppers should be different than the way you communicate with shoppers that still aren’t sure whether this category (or your brand) is right for them.
Authentic Storytelling Is Critical.
Unless your target audiences love it, drop the flowery language and focus on honest stories. People care about who produces their food and how, but remember they also want to hear about how you make their world a better place and improve their lives. Don’t tell a story just to tell a story, and don’t assume shoppers will make a decision based on emotion alone.
The Benefits of Your Brand Need to Be in the Story.
A large number of shoppers need to be educated on what it really means to be organic, fresh, natural, GMO free, etc. That doesn’t mean you should relegate it to flat talking points or pure data (though that should be available). Instead, find meaningful ways to show your audience how these terms are relevant to their lives.
Find Ways to Step Up Your In-Store Presence.
For peripheral and mid-level shoppers, one of the ways they’ll discover your brand is in-store. Yet, health and organic brands can seem like they’re unavailable. Whether you want to push a display, signage, or a promotion, help people to realize that your brand is an option.
Review Your Pricing Structure, Consider Discount Options.
Being certified for legally-defined claims like “organic” and the production process take longer and cost more, which could limit your target shopper. Making your product more accessible may be possible without hurting your bottom line. Consider discount promotions that make your price more competitive, or even more affordable to reach more shoppers.
What drives shopper intent is slowly, but surely, evolving. Healthy and organic food brands should ensure that their marketing leverages new interests for a message that shows they’ve been providing the answer all along. Some education is necessary, but transparency and storytelling remain key to their shopper communications. Coupled with increased presence and greater accessibility, this will allow brands to begin to dominate their corner of the market.