Panic in Organics: What You Need to Know About the Organic Foods Market

By Dec 11, 2006

As Wal-Mart takes organic foods mainstream and Whole Foods Market sources organic produce from China and New Zealand, is organic food about to gain or lose its credibility?

Amid all the buzz about the growth of the organics market, many manufacturers will launch simple organic variants that are doomed to failure. Others will sit on the sidelines waiting to see if organic foods will grow beyond their meager 3% share of the U.S. grocery spend. And both will miss the bigger opportunity.

The winners will be those who see organic as part of a larger category. They will subtly identify opportunities using the subtarget groups of organic shoppers as defined by their primary motivation for purchase.

Using collective insight from research conducted into naturals, organics, and whole foods during the past five years, we have generated a series of consumer target archetypes, or what we call iconic profiles, of organic shoppers. These archetypes have subtly different needs, wants, desires, and most important, primary motivations that manifest in different lifestyles. By targeting specific archetypes within the natural-food universe, companies seeking to launch or manage organic brands and products can make them more relevant–and hence more successful.

Here are the archetypes and their primary motivations:

Whole Foodies. They are motivated primarily by their pursuit of the tastes and textures of “real” food. They will always select fresh, whole, and unadulterated options first. They believe that ingredients are the key to great flavor and are best experienced in their natural state. Whole Foodies are pendantics when it comes to quality and will always select the best: grade-A maple syrup, grain-fed chicken’s eggs, etc. At the top of their shopping list are wild salmon, Luna bars, and Bear Naked cereal and granola.

Nutrition Nuts. Their primary motivation is health and wellness, because they are either proactive or diagnosed at-risk. They believe that foods grown naturally have higher concentrations of “good stuff.” Treating their body as a temple, they are always aware of what they are ingesting to help nurture their overall wellbeing. They take a holistic, long-term view to health, integrating a balanced diet, physical activity, and relaxation. Brands at the top of their shopping list include Bolthouse Farms, Pom Wonderful, Naked Juice, DanActive yogurts, and Kashi.

Socially/Welfare Conscious. They are in favor of fair trade, cooperatives, and small-holding farms and against big business and factory farms. They favor farming practices that create a sustainable environment and are energy conscious and environmentally aware. They buy products made of recycled materials that use a minimum of packaging; they shop for brands that have strong philosophies or social causes. They drive a Toyota Prius and bring their own shopping bags to the store.

Cachet Seekers. They see organic foods as a luxury indulgence. They are willing to pay a significant premium for the best, in food and other things. Underneath the surface, they are very aware of social status and have a hard time accepting second best. They drive a Lexus hybrid and fill their grocery basket with luxury brands such as Barefoot Contessa, Robert Rothschild Farm, Bella Cucina, and Stonewall Kitchen, but they also shop Hermès.

Sensorists/Kinesthetics. Their primary motivation is the feel, smell, and shape of the product. They are sensory intense and look for a shopping experience where they can fully interact with and experience the food. They make impulse decisions based on what is in season and looks great. They are seduced by packaging and the interaction with purveyors who enhance the shopping experience. They like to shop in multiple specialist locations because they look for a tapestry of experiences. Brands typically get in the way of their experience, but some specialty stores such as Oren’s Daily Roastor Penzeys Spices bring out the best of sensory.

Land Lovers. Their purchase decisions are driven by aspirations of a traditional lifestyle and a social ideal that foods should be farmed and nurtured at a micro or local level. They are nostalgic and probably have personal links to the countryside and nature. They prefer to shop at farmers’ markets and to know exactly where the food is from and how it’s made. They like traditional cooking methods and are heavily invested in the kitchen; they probably keep their own chicken, even if they live in the suburbs, and make their own bread. Ideally they would like to be self-sufficient and grow their own vegetables.

Purists. Safety concerns are their primary motivator. New parents are especially likely to become purists, which is why brands such as Gerber are establishing a strong presence in the organic market. They want chemical-free without preservatives, and they look for foods free of antibiotics, growth hormones, and artificial flavors. They can be concerned about artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. They will move all the way to organic if no alternative exists, but they are just as satisfied with Bell & Evans chicken or hormone-free milk.

Companies that will come out ahead in the organic marketplace will refine product benefits to appeal to different consumer attitudes and priorities. They’ll limit use of the word “organic,” understanding exactly who is willing to pay 30% more and for what. They will carefully control organic product extensions under their brands unless they can support the products with a positioning that appeals directly to a primary motivation of at least one of the above audiences. And using the above motivations, marketers will look to positively reposition the parent brand to enable it to comfortably grow and nurture the goodness of organic variants.

And the winners will not necessarily use organic as the answer to all their aspirations for growth in the natural-foods market. The relevant case in point is Whole Foods’ recent launch of a new label to help shoppers navigate products for good animal-husbandry standards. Different food categories marketed under this new label will appeal to the Purists, the Socially/Welfare Conscious, the Land Lovers, and the Whole Foodies. With this move, Whole Foods shifts away from the one-size-fits-all organic war and plays directly to the whole-foods heartland, where Wal-Mart will find it hard to follow.

Laurence Knight is president of Fletcher Knight, a marketing consultancy based in Greenwich, CT.