WASHINGTON, DC: Newly proposed federal regulations for organic foods could prompt food companies to dramatically increase PR efforts for such products.
WASHINGTON, DC: Newly proposed federal regulations for organic
foods could prompt food companies to dramatically increase PR efforts
for such products.
But that will only happen once the rules are finalized, a process that
could take five months. Meantime, the organic PR spotlight will mainly
consist of lobbying and public affairs efforts by food groups and
processors who would like to see changes before the Agriculture
Department completes the rules, according to food industry PR pros.
Once enacted, the department’s guidelines will replace state and
industry regulations. From a PR perspective, they will open the door for
food companies to market organic products via national campaigns, rather
than having to tailor PR that conforms to state rules about what can be
called an organic product.
As proposed on March 7, the rules do not allow bioengineered or
irradiated products to carry the organic designation, a decision which
has already been met with resistance from the National Food Processors
To date, organic foods, a dollars 6 billion industry, have been sold
largely by smaller companies. But over the past year, food giants such
as Heinz, General Mills and Kraft have either bought organic producers
or set up their own operations.
’The new rules are probably going to help the industry grow up a bit in
terms of its marketing efforts,’ said Lisa Donoughe of LAD
Communications, which handles PR for The New Organics Company.
Added Ben Lilliston, communications coordinator for the Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy, ’Some of these (major) food companies that
have been holding back and waiting to see what the playing field was
going to be like for organic may step up efforts to market their organic
products, or add organic products.’
The major food companies aren’t saying anything yet about their PR plans
- perhaps because the rules still must go through a 90-day comment
period and then an additional 60-day Congressional comment period. Those
five months will likely see lobbying efforts designed to encourage
modification of the rules.
The issue has inspired passionate and sometimes caustic comments on both
sides of the debate. The Organic Trade Association (OTA), which has
called for a moratorium on the use of all genetically engineered
organisms in food, has turned to public education efforts to stress the
environmental benefits of organic food production.
’Even though we’re a few months away, it would make sense for PR people
to look ahead,’ said OTA communications director Holly Givens. Ellen
Haas, founder of FoodFit.com and a former undersecretary of Agriculture,
agrees: ’I’m sure you’re going to see an explosion of marketing