Earlier, I reported on the anxiety and frustration observed at Natural Products Expo West last week. The key pain point: although the organic movement has spent decades creating, promoting and defending organics, consumers still don’t understand the meaning and value conveyed by the USDA Organic seal.
Alex Bogusky, retired co-founder of ad firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, challenged the organic community to collaborate on funding a “brand organic” campaign, similar to the multi-million dollar promotional campaigns for commodities such as milk and beef.
It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it’s a great idea. But it’s not a new idea – I heard it discussed as recently as at The Organic Summit last fall. And representatives of the Organic Trade Association said last week they are working on the framework for funding such a campaign – a more complex proposition in a diverse business like organics than in commodities where producers can be assessed per head or per hundredweight.
So help is on the way – maybe. But what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
That leads to my manifesto, addressed to anyone – from owner/entrepreneurs to brand mangers — entrusted with building the value of organic brands.
- Don’t wait for the organic community to get its act together. Collaboration is good and should be supported, but waiting for this to happen is like waiting for the UN Security Council to approve a no-fly zone over Libya. By the time it happens, the rebels will be dead and the status quo will have won. So take action yourself, now.
- The greatest societal good can be obtained by empowering people to make smarter choices – by providing them with education, information and options. Empowering smarter choices must be the first principle that guides our thinking and actions.
- To that end, use your marketing resources, be they small or large, to educate people on the benefits of organic in your category, as a pillar of your brand-building approach. All organic categories are so tiny relative to their conventional counterparts that if we grow the categories, the brands in them will benefit from the lift.
- Inform people at the point of purchase about the choices they are making, by providing clear, correct, easy-to-understand on-pack information, both on the nutrition and ingredients labels and at the shelf, in cooperation with retailers. Be honest about what’s on the label, encourage people to read it, and help them understand what it means.
- Offer options for people who want to make better choices, and support brands and companies that do so ethically and responsibly. Not everyone chooses to purchase organic every time in every category. The community needs to wake up to this reality, while encouraging people to reach for organic more often. But my purchase of a non-GMO “natural” product is better for my family and the planet than a conventional alternative. That’s why I disagree with Bogusky’s suggestion that the organic brand campaign begin with an attack on natural products. This would breed cynicism and deny or discourage choices that are better than conventional. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
- Advocate for better options so that people can make the empowered choice. For example, my problem with the USDA GMO alfalfa decision is that there’s no U.S. labeling requirement for products containing GMOs, as there is in Europe. This makes it impossible for people to make informed choices. Also, the spread of GMOs through cross-pollination or diminishing non-GMO seed stocks impacts the ability of both consumers and farmers to choose non-GMO. That’s why overturning or modifying this decision should be a priority.
- Listen and engage as people discuss and debate these issues – on blogs and social media channels – and help people connect with one another and with worthwhile information sources so that they can learn more, in the service of making better choices.
I’m a strong supporter of organic. My belief that organics and natural products can co-exist will be (and has been) unpopular with purists. But empowering people to make educated choices from among a range of better options – including organics and responsibly produced and marketed natural products — strikes me as a sensible and compelling guiding principle for what this community can do now.