Making Believers

“Since when are organics indulgent?” you might be asking. By their very nature, organics should be stripped-down, back-to-basics products. Well, that’s the organic of old. Some of today’s organic products are making their mark as high-end alternatives to conventional products. Their branding and packaging rivals, and often exceeds, conventional products, and popular natural food stores such as Whole Foods are as much gourmet grocery stores as they are organic retail outlets. Add to that the consumer perception of organics as healthful products, and you have a powerful trend.
That’s been great for industry growth, but it made me wonder how that sits with the true believers. Most organic food and beverage manufacturers — even the ones that have become sophisticated brand marketers — got into the business because they are committed to issues such as environmental sustainability. Are they upset that their deeply held beliefs have become the latest yuppie trend? Are they worried that their message will be watered-down? Not in the least, according to the people I spoke with for this story. The bigger the industry gets, the more organic products there will be on the market and the more land that will be converted to organic farming, they say.
The key seems to be the regulations put into place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October 2002, which for the first time, created a national standard for the term “organic”.
“One benefit of having national organic standards is that no matter what size company you are, you have to meet or exceed them,” says Holly Givens of the Organic Trade Association. That means large and small companies alike have to follow the same rules, and it helps prevent false claims that can taint consumer perceptions.
The new regulations, these companies say, have helped build a credibility that can have a far-reaching effect. So for now, at least, organic companies are embracing their upscale and better-for-you images… and if they happen to create more believers along the way, all the better.
On another note, I’m pleased to announce that Beverage Industry Managing Editor Jamie Popp and her husband recently welcomed a new baby boy to their family. I know many of you join me in wishing them congratulations. Jamie plans
to take a few months off to get to know this little guy, and we look forward to her return in the fall.