Winning the natural and organic shopper

Aug 19, 2014

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners.

The days of finding one-off natural food co-ops and off-the-grid country markets for grass-fed beef or almond milk hand cream are over. Today it’s as close as the nearest convenience store.

While healthy eaters and environmentally conscious shoppers appreciate options that reflect their values, the sheer abundance and ongoing ambiguity around "natural" labeling still can confuse and overwhelm.

Here are four ideas to help retailers and manufacturers thrive in this important, still-emerging marketplace.

1. Take the lead: With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration refusing to set strict parameters on the term "natural", retailers may need to step in. Meijer has established its own set of rules for items that carry the natural label in its stores, such as no GMOs, no high fructose corn syrup, and no artificial food coloring, flavoring and preservatives. Consumers place a lot of trust in retailers, and programs such as Target’s Made to Matter that unites 17 organic, natural, and sustainable brands in an exclusive collection put that credibility to good use by identifying truly healthy and sustainable products and curating their product offerings — and explaining the story behind their choices.

2. Seize the moment: A major life change — an illness, the birth of child, turning 40 — often leads consumers to shift from traditional products to organic. Retailers should keep these "moments of receptivity" in mind when arranging inventory, perhaps putting a set of green items in the baby section to appeal to new parents who are suddenly willing to try plant-based baby wipes to protect their little one’s delicate skin.

3. Find inspiration in the leaders: Whole Foods’ unique amenities and dizzying variety of products have played an important part in its success. As other retailers move into the natural, organic and sustainable category, similarly enriching experiences may help them attract customers who are growing accustomed to curated collections of unique and alternative products.

4. Cater to quick-trip shoppers: More shoppers are buying just a few items each grocery trip. This decline of price-driven stock-up trips provides an opportunity for retailers eager to persuade shoppers to switch to higher-margin organic and natural products. Quick errands are often tailored to individuals. A mother, for instance, might be more willing to buy a loaf of organic bread if she’s purchasing just a few supplies to make her 8-year-old’s school lunch the next day than if she were loading up for the entire family.

What’s unique about engaging natural and organic shoppers versus traditional ones? What suggestions would you add to those mentioned in the article?

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6 Comments on "Winning the natural and organic shopper"

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Ralph Jacobson

For many urban regions of the U.S., a steady improvement of the economic strength in local communities has helped drive movement deeper into more specialty food products versus traditional items. A key aspect of engaging these newer consumers is to create awareness of product assortment and benefits. Education is not simple, however there are great best practices examples from which to learn. Some of which are mentioned in the article.
Holding cooking classes on the sales floor, sampling and having nutritionists on staff are ways to create demand for these categories and also assist the existing natural/organic shoppers.

George-Marie Glover
George-Marie Glover
3 years 1 month ago

Firstly, natural and organic are not synonymous with healthy. The fat content in organic cheese and butter is as high as non-organic. The abundance of pastries, cakes and pies at Whole Foods are just as full of sugar and fat as those at other grocers. Some of the most highly allergenic and high sensitivity foods like soy and corn are found as ingredients in many natural and organic foods.

It’s important to first sort out what motivates someone to buy natural or organic items. Some are driven by health issues, some by ecological concerns, and some do it because it’s what’s trending.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
3 years 1 month ago

No one (that I know of) has yet presented a believable argument or proof that organic or natural food is better for us than the historical alternatives. Yes, I can buy into the environmental argument because that’s been proven in so many ways. B-b-but, natural and organic food manufacturers are basically riding on the myth or perception of improved health for consumers. If and when this information eventually becomes available, it should be the central pitch for these vendors.

Additionally, “organic” and “all natural” ingredients and processes are creeping into additional categories such as cleaning products and personal hygiene items to name a couple. Do they do a better job? Again, no studies or proof. Just perception. In non-food categories, the environmental argument has to be at or near the top of the list of benefits.

Tony Orlando

Organic has its niche, but are the consumers willing to pay? In our town, not so much, as it is more expensive, plus everyone now carries organics, which has led to some battles for that business, and the big box stores usually win.

The consumers in our area cannot even afford regular prices on meats, and organic is simply not an option, as I have tried to offer it online, without any takers.

Getting a handle on what moves and does not move is difficult, but we still sell milk, gluten-free breads, and select staple goods, but it is not our strength due to prices (oh, I already mentioned that), so I probably am not the person who can give you a larger perspective on better market areas. I still believe this category has many strengths, and the price gap is narrowing, so organic is here to stay.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Naomi K. Shapiro
3 years 1 month ago

I think the best answer is number one, take the lead. The article states that Meijer has established its own set of rules for items that carry the natural label in its stores, such as no GMOs, no high fructose corn syrup, and no artificial food coloring, flavoring and preservatives. That pretty much does it for me, i.e., I would buy products of such description—for reasons of health and well-being.

Bill Hanifin

Bundled product sets that meet the needs of a day part might be attractive to shoppers on the go. The last example of the mom buying the organic loaf of bread could be expanded to an entire meal, breakfast or lunch.

There is some magic in shoppers reducing the scope of each buying trip. The total cost per trip seems to decline and maybe shoppers will cease to worry as much about the higher price of some organic and natural items. Fools gold, maybe, but it may work in a practical sense.


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