Organic Articles: A New Age?

The Organic Consultancy

A New Age?

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the December 2001 edition of Organic Business.

Whilst I was Chairing the recent Soil Association Processors Conference the presentation that blew my socks off was made by David Whiting, Marketing Director of the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative (OMSCo). Currently there is considerable oversupply of organic milk in the UK, and as one of the biggest producer groups OMSCo are funding research into how to increase sales. The previous presentation from Simon Skeldon of TNS had shown that we have a small but highly committed group of organic consumers in the UK, with 6.9% of consumers buying 61% of all organic food. David’s presentation considered how best to increase the organic purchases made by the “occasional” buyers who currently account for the remaining 39% of the market.

Compared to the committed buyers the occasional buyers are typically younger, less upmarket, have small children and have no real understanding about organics but think it might be “the right thing to do”. They are not interested in the benefits that organic agriculture can bring to the rural community or to the environment: they are only slightly interested in animal welfare benefits. Organics only appeals if it can provide a real benefit to the health of their families.

The conclusion that I drew from the results that David presented is that the difference between the committed and occasional organic consumers is greater than I had thought previously – the gap is so great I find it difficult to see how the occasionals can be converted into committed organic consumers. Yet in order to persuade occasional consumers to buy more organic milk David implied the message almost needs to be “This organic milk is safer than the non-organic milk you usually buy because it comes from organic cows that did not eat Genetically Modified food, were not treated with anti-biotics or growth promoters and have not suffered from BSE.”

Even if we can overcome the legal implications of this claim is there a supermarket in the country that will allow such an uncompromising statement to appear on its organic milk cartons? What would this message say about the non-organic milk on the next shelf? How else can we get the organic message through to occasional purchasers? Add another challenge to the list faced by the UK organic sector.