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Organic and Natural Products: Understanding Consumer Psychology that Fuels the Purchase

Organic and Natural Products: Understanding Consumer Psychology that Fuels the Purchase

Marketers have been using psychological techniques to entice shoppers since before the first retail stores opened their doors, and these tactics have become more sophisticated over time. Today’s CPG manufacturers and retailers focus more on the emotional aspect of a particular item as opposed to the physical attributes that make the item different from the competition. Words such as “Grandma’s,” “homestyle,” and other emotionally charged vernacular are used to entice grocery store shoppers; reminding them of the warm dinners created by beloved family members. These same tactics are now used to encourage shoppers to go the more expensive route of organic or natural foods based on their affinity for a certain way of life. The values and themes that shoppers attribute to themselves are dovetailed perfectly by the marketing messages conveyed by CPG marketers and retailers.

Organic Products, Defined

Organic products are incredibly popular with today’s shoppers, but what the term really means may seem ambiguous to some. The perception is that products that are “Certified Organic” are cleaner, healthier, and representative of a more natural lifestyle without added preservatives or pesticides. While this can often be true, there are specific guidelines set by the Organic Trade Association before an item can claim that they are truly organic. These guidelines state that the item in question must exclude:

  • GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Use of pesticides or sewage sludge fertilizer
  • Use of growth hormones or antibiotics
  • Artificial ingredients
  • Preservatives

Products that carry the organic label are also expected to be grown or raised in an environment that is focused on sustainability, such as through soil and water conservation, and that emphasizes the use of renewable resources.

The Organic Escalator

Researchers have found that shoppers tend to start with a single organic product purchase — a gateway to start exploration of the industry — that gets them started purchasing organic products. Once that first product is accepted, shoppers often find themselves purchasing products labeled as organic or natural more often as time goes on. Researchers even found a predictable shopping pattern that could be manipulated through creative messaging to specific audience segments.

This so-called “organic escalator” served as a way to encourage shoppers to expand their organic footprint into higher-priced products. Once converted, organic shoppers tend to stay within the organic ecosystem for the long run, perhaps due to the positive identity traits the shoppers associate with purchasing sustainable products. Many shoppers tend to begin their forays into organic eating with dairy products such as milk and eggs, but quickly broaden their horizons. One study found that more than half of shoppers were consuming at least some type of organic food at least once a week. With the considerable growth rate, overall organic purchases are hovering around 10% of all food sales in certain regions.

An Organic Way of Life

Psychologically, there is a lot going on behind the scenes of a regular buyer of organic goods. These individuals consider their organic food consumption a way of life and attribute specific values and themes to themselves based on their purchases. Marketers are quick to jump on board, and are eagerly offering stories about how organic foods contribute to a healthy lifestyle — not just for the shopper and consumer, but for the environment as well. Some of the values that these consumers associate with include:

  • Altruism, in the form of their relationships with others
  • Ecology, or harmony with the universe as a whole
  • Universalism, a way to protect all peoples and the nature that surrounds us
  • Benevolence, or enhancing the welfare of friends and loved ones
  • Spirituality, inner harmony and unity with nature
  • Self-direction, independent thought and action

It’s easy to see why these positive attributes are considered important, and marketers value the emotions associated with each. Organic sales jumped 8.4% in 2016, reaching $43 billion in the U.S. alone. However, there are no compelling studies showing that non-organic products are inherently dangerous.

Supporting Shopper Values = Increased Sales

Marketing efforts for organic products attempt to moralize, showing potential buyers why the product in question is more desirable. There are seven specific reasons why shoppers tend to buy organic, including extended reasons such as appealing to the idea of parents taking better care of their kids. People also find that helping small and local farmers is a compelling reason to purchase organic products, as well as the value assigned to supporting enhanced conditions and pay for agricultural workers.

Marketers play on these themes by showing that particular products are environmentally friendly, healthier than “traditional” products, and that they are a way of going against the system — thereby demonstrating independent thought and action. Once shoppers are of the mindset of purchasing organic products, retailers and brands simply need to work together to deliver the right message to the audience who is most willing to receive it. That can be determined by tracking purchases over time, so you are able to creatively suggest that a specific customer would be interested in trying a new organic product. Shoppers are on an “organic escalator,” start with a single product such as milk, and expand their horizons into the full realm of organic products.

Encouraging shoppers to buy organic is a win-win proposition for local farmers, major brands, and retailers alike due to the higher prices that the marketplace will allow. The best way to determine when shoppers begin down this path towards organic shopping is through the metrics shared throughout the sales cycle.