Study shows increasing PR need for organic producers

SCHAUMBURG, IL: According to a new study from AC Nielsen, producers of organic foods need to do a better job of touting the benefits of their products to US consumers.

SCHAUMBURG, IL: According to a new study from AC Nielsen, producers of organic foods need to do a better job of touting the benefits of their products to US consumers.

With new federal regulations on organic food labeling going into effect this October, Nielsen surveyed 61,500 households about organics in June and July. It found that one-third had bought organic products in the past six months and, of those, 85% planned to continue buying organic products.

But the bad news for the organic industry is that of the two-thirds of the population not buying organic foods, only 3% plan to buy organic items in the next six months.

The survey found that the organic industry has not convinced most shoppers that its products are of higher quality than non-organics. Only 14% of respondents said that quality was a key benefit of organics.

Price remains a deterrent to organic buying. The survey found 63% of respondents saying that organic products are expensive.

"What the survey means for the organic industry in both advertising and PR is that they really have to get their act together, said Phil Lempert, a food-industry analyst and writer working as a consultant to Nielsen on the survey. "With the barriers of price and a lack of education, consumers do not know what to do."

Some companies - such as Newman's Own and Heinz - actively promote their organic offerings, Lempert noted. But other, smaller organic producers "need to get smart, they need to do PR, they need to promote."

The organic industry is trying to do that, said Lisa Bell, principal at Crescendo Communications, a Boulder, CO-based agency that works with clients that produce organics. Bell is involved in an organic-industry-wide effort to create a foundation that would funnel marketing dollars into organic promotion. Bell said it was too early to predict when the foundation may begin its operation.

The coming government organic labeling rules, which go into effect October 21, will "generate more interest among consumers, Bell said. "The standards are designed to create less confusion."

But Lempert said the industry should not depend on the standards to create a groundswell of demand. "Everyone was thinking that come October 21, organics are going to grow, he said. But "people are going to stay away unless organic producers start putting out key message points that connect with consumers, he added.

The Nielsen study, for example, found interest in organic products high among Asian Americans. However, organic producers haven't targeted their PR efforts at that market, Lempert chided.

Michael Straus, president of Straus Communications, a California agency that works in the organic arena, agreed that the industry has to broaden its messaging.

"No more preaching to the choir, he said. "We've got to really look at what people respond to."

To that end, Straus has created a clearing house to provide information about organic food and sustainable agriculture to the media.

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