Organic farmers should find alternative ways to promote their produce rather than assume consumers will buy food because of its organic status, according to a retail expert.
Edward Garner, communications director at market research company Kantar, said varied consumer understanding of what organic production meant the industry should highlight the produce’s provenance and taste if it wanted sales of organic produce to increase.
“If you stop people in the street and talk about fair trade, you might not get a textbook answer, but you get a positive response about what fair trade means,” he told delegates at the Soil Association’s annual conference in Manchester on Thursday (10 February).
“Organic is much more tricky. It either gets a positive response from people who ‘get it’, but you can get people who are hostile towards it.
“The dilemma for organic is that you can have a niche approach and have a strong appeal to a small number of people, or you can be in the mass market, competing on taste, providence and so on.”
Mr Garner said a downturn in sales of organic produce during the recession showed that many people did not see the benefits of organic and were not willing to pay a premium for something they did not really understand.
“Successful organic companies are the ones that haven’t relied on their organic status to sell produce,” he added.
“Duchy Originals doesn’t have the word organic on its logo any more. Yeo Valley and Rachel’s have made less of it.
“Green & Blacks marketing is about quality and showing it as an aspirational product.
“If you have product and it’s organic you will struggle unless people get the organic story. If it’s a fantastic product and it happens to be organic, that’s the route to mass market success.”
Asda’s head of sustainable and ethical sourcing Chris Brown said growing consumer interest in sustainable food meant there was huge opportunity for the organic market to expand, despite the economic downturn.
“As well as the recession, we had some negative news stories that gently eroded organic’s reputation,” he said. “Looking at things like organic milk, it got a lot more expensive in relation to conventional.
“But there is a growing awareness of and demand for sustainable food and the organic sector has to innovate to respond to that demand.
“Retailers like Asda respond to what consumers ask us to do. We provide products that meet their aspirations. How organic gets its share of the market depends on how aspirational it can become.”