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Wooing the natural shopper

More must be done to convey the value of natural and organic foods to consumers

As the world gets increasingly complex, many Canadians are seeking to simplify their lives—and this includes their diets. It’s no wonder, then, that natural and organic foods and beverages continue to rise in popularity.

According to Mintel’s The Natural/ Organic Shopper Canada 2018 report, more than twice as many Canadians say they’re purchasing more natural and organic foods this year, compared to those who claim they’re buying fewer of these products. But despite the apparent growing popularity of natural and organic foods, challenges remain.

The biggest hurdle for products with all-natural and, particularly, organic claims is the consumer perception that they’re more expensive. Mintel research reveals that 52% of Canadians identify organic foods or beverages as being “expensive,” while 31% say they believe products with a natural claim are pricey. By comparison, just 10% of consumers view “traditional or mainstream” products as expensive. Furthermore, the majority (69%) of purchasers of organic/ natural foods and beverages say they would buy more of these products if they were less expensive.

How can producers of organic or natural foods overcome this barrier? One way is to reduce prices. That said, brands have to consider how feasible this is operationally and whether it would truly help drive sales. Another strategy is to ensure growers, producers and retailers focus on the strengths organic and natural products offer from a consumer standpoint.

When provided with a list of statements on the benefits of these products, Canadians surveyed for the report were most likely to agree that foods with organic/natural claims are “better for you.” This was followed by being “safer,” with parents, specifically moms, most likely to agree that they are safer. Mothers are also more likely to say they would purchase more organic/natural foods if “they were proven as safer.”

While safety is a consideration that Canadians relate to, is this positioning practical or even beneficial? After all, the food supply chain is generally not considered to be unsafe. Safety, however, does not always have to be an immediate concern; it can also be a long-term impact that the food or beverages might have on one’s self and one’s family.

Looking at what Canadians associate with organics and, to a lesser extent, foods with natural claims, provides some insight on how producers can credibly build on messaging around safety. The term “free” is an association that comes up a lot when consumers think about these categories; for instance, consumers associate organics with being preservative-free, hormone-free and free of pesticides.

Identifying these associations sheds light on how consumers view foods and drinks with natural—and particularly organic—claims and, therefore, offers guidance when it comes to crafting messaging that will resonate with the typical Canadian. The strength of the associations would likely vary according to the category (for example, fresh versus packaged goods), but on the whole, they illustrate that the value consumers assign to organic and natural foods versus traditional foods is a clear understanding of what’s in and (perhaps more importantly) what’s not in, the items they purchase. The next step is tying these existing associations to long-term benefits to demonstrate the value organic and natural foods and beverages provide.

As Canadians look to simplify their lives, the core benefit organic and natural foods and drinks offer is trust, giving consumers one less thing to worry about in an increasingly complex world.

This column appeared in Canadian Grocer’s June 2018 issue.

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