The New Dominion of Natural and Organic Food and Beverage Brands
Walk in to any grocery store and you’ll see it: natural and organic food brands have grown up.
From co-ops to big box retail, distributors and consumers alike are thoroughly embracing conscious food and beverage options. Recent data collected by the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Organic Trade Association proves it:
- Sales for all organic food brands and beverage products totaling more than $39 billion in 2014—an increase of 11%
- 51% of families are buying more organic products than they did in 2013
- The number of companies offering organic products has more than tripled since 2002
This is all due to fundamental changes in the buying population. A new generation of consumers now runs the world. Compared to their forebears, millennials are more aware, educated, and motivated to make responsible purchasing decisions—and they’re changing how older consumers act, too. Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in the natural and organic food and beverage space.
What Consumers Are Looking For
Young consumers are savvy, meaning they can and will see through deceptive marketing practices. To win over young consumers, brands must be willing to act out their big, noble goals at all times—even when it seems like no one is watching. The payoff? Waves of loyal millennial brand advocates.
It’s not just about any values. Brands have to embody the ones consumers care about: sustainability, community involvement, integrity, accountability, fun. Natural and organic consumers see buying choices as reflections of their belief systems. The shorter the path the between purchase and tangible impact, the more compelling the choice becomes.
Purpose and Transparency
Organic and natural brands have to be able to open up about their impact. They need to share information about their products’ and practices’ effects on the community. And they must be willing to do better, always. It’s not just about where products are sourced, but the bigger social contract the brand has with the world: What are you trying to accomplish? What have you done right, and what needs improvement?
The hotbed for this consumer profile and mindset is where we’re from: Portland, Oregon. Here, we’re naturally ultra-conscious of everything: from what we buy and how we consume it, to what we drive (or don’t). No detail is unimportant.
Which is not to say that all consumer choices are planned in advance—the truth is far from it. The majority of green consumers are are not list-makers; they’re in-the-moment purchasers. Over 80% of millennial shoppers have admitted to impulse buying.
All of that adds up to an enormous opportunity for brands—if they’re able to seize it…
Concerns and Opportunities for Natural and Organic Brands
Concern: Greater Share of the Basket
Most consumers buy natural and organic foods selectively, sprinkling a few conscious choices into their baskets. How can brands encourage more ongoing sales and greater share of shoppers’ hauls? Beyond selling individual products, what does it take to sell the brand—how do you attain lifelong customers and establish overall trust in the market?
Opportunity: Trial and Samples
The food and beverage industry is unique in that often a taste is all it takes to win over a consumer for life. Building lasting trust starts with getting the product in skeptical mouths.
Concern: Shelf Space
How can brands maximize shelf attention? How can you influence store buyers to show them you’re deserving of prominent display?
Packaging makes your story come alive. Through design, copy, storytelling and packaging materials, brands can differentiate on product features or brand philosophy. Consider all the labels you can use to attract specific consumer niches: GMO-free, vegan, gluten-free, paleo-friendly. Then consider your packaging itself: what can you do to use less, leave a smaller footprint, and still make a striking impact?
Natural and organic brands face tough challenges in competing for consumer awareness. Without the budgets of their large, corporate competitors, sustainable companies frequently delay the launch of new products or their expansions into new markets.
Opportunity: Education + Inspiration
However, unlike their big-name counterparts, smaller and regional food and beverage brands have the opportunity to educate consumers, inspire new ideas, and establish new paradigms. These brands are the ones pushing for more comprehensive food labeling practices. They’re the ones convincing you to try out a new diet, to skip the meat and processed foods when cooking dinner tonight.
Now that natural and organic is mainstream, brands have to continue pushing the concept forward, always careful to avoid getting left behind. The challenge is maintaining legitimacy: what makes you more than just another green label in a sea of environmental claims?
Opportunity: Experiential Marketing
Interaction and experience are just as important as advertising and consumer-facing messaging. This encompasses everything I’ve mentioned previously: authenticity, values alignment, education, awareness, legitimacy, and samples. As an organic or natural brand, your job is to proactively engage consumers. Show up and participate.