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What’s next for Brand Organic? 

In line with everything else, the food industry has undergone something of a revolution in recent years. Once upon a time, sugary drinks and snacks were the most popular (and profitable) items, whereas now, words like kombucha, açaí, sauerkraut, and matcha have found a place within our shopping vocabulary. Walk into any local corner shop and you’ll pass countless brands labeled as healthy, organic, gluten-free, and paleo – and possibly a new juice bar charging premium prices for a range of once unappealing spinach and cucumber “detox” juices.

The demand is certainly there. In the UK, £200m a month is now being spent on organic food and drink. For some, organic means more nutritious or healthier. For others, it can mean more responsible, or eco-friendly. As our focus has shifted to both the planet and our health, niche brands have been quick to respond. Purpose-driven brands, such as Pip and Nut (a young, environmentally-conscious nut butter brand) or Abel & Cole (a seasonal fruit and veg subscription box) are reaping the benefits.

But, why do so many of us now choose to buy organic? And what exactly do consumers value and want from their favourite brands?

1.We identify with brands that align with our values 

You can’t ignore the climate crisis these days, and most of us are looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact. The term ‘organic’ suggests a product is free from pesticides, saving our oceans from being leached with chemicals. It also means the animals are free from hormone injections and feed outside in natural surroundings (indicating a slightly higher quality of life). As we try to make more informed food choices, there’s an increasing value being placed on transparency and traceability within the food industry. It’s often far too daunting to commit to being a full-time vegan, therefore choosing food with an ‘organic’ label or the right brand story that sells these credentials, can be seen as an easy option – a small step in the right direction.

2. We actively seek changing behaviors 

We hear there’s been a significant shift in demand towards unprocessed, whole foods. This is partly because the eco-conscious individuals who originally switched to a vegan diet, have since realised that too many vegan products are overly processed, include unsustainable ingredients, and may lack any nutritional value. Yes, it’s still true the “greenest” sources of meat still produce more greenhouse gases than plant-based proteins, however highly processed plant-based foods still can cause a substantial environmental footprint. In the brand world, veggie companies like Quorn and Tofurky have also been questioned – and for good reason. The energy required to process the fake meat products is also hefty, with Quorn’s vegan chicken said to release approximately 3.1kg of CO2 per kg. 

Instead, many are choosing to support smaller-scale producers and prioritise in-season whole foods to make up the majority of our diets. Hence, the rise in more natural, organic food brands, like Rude Health, as well as niche healthy cafes, like Daylesford Farmshop. 

3. We want to show our virtue

In stark contrast to times gone by, it seems that the detail of food packaging really matters, with 56% of consumers (especially Gen X and Millennials) now reading ingredient lists. They want to know exactly what’s in their food and where it’s come from, and so they opt for organic, as it signals transparency, integrity, and quality. They know that buying inorganic can impact the effectiveness of personal antibiotics taken later down the line, so we’re seeing people buy more fresh fruit, specifically ones which boast high levels of Vitamin C to boost immunity. Because of this, there’s never been a better time to market ‘health and quality’ – which is why it wasn’t surprising to see the Amazon Fresh brand proposition, featuring a range of products from smaller retailers; selling fresh-caught fish, seafood, farm-fresh dairy and artisan baked goods –  just to name a few. 

4. Our lifestyles are changing fast 

With restaurants closed by government orders and many consumers now anxious to travel to mega grocery stores, many have changed their habits and have started to shop locally. This has been great for small businesses, with independent retailers enjoying a 6.5% rise in sales and 70% of those who shopped locally saying they will continue to do so. Matched with an increasing interest in healthy foods, shopping locally has allowed consumers to discover smaller, niche brands, and purchase local produce, often being limited to what’s available locally and what’s in-season. Many have become better acquainted with their local butcher for reasons of both provenance and trust, which in turn, has been increasing the likelihood of buying organic, high-quality meat instead of the supermarket budget burger. All these small decisions have slowly opened our eyes to what’s actually out there, with many willing to pay a small premium for higher quality, whilst also feeling good about supporting smaller local businesses. 

With more time on our hands, another rising trend this past year has been a rise in home cooking. Paired with the growing demand for convenience, food subscription models have stepped in, with sales increasing by 36.2 percent. Abel & Cole is an example of a thriving organic food brand supplying this trend – delivering 55,000 food boxes a week on average, which is a whopping 25% increase in orders. It’s important to note, the pandemic wasn’t the only driver behind their success, as they’ve spent the past 30 years growing a loyal customer base. Their website showcases their many producers, giving you a real picture of where the produce is coming from while reinforcing their values by showing how much their team gives back via community work. They think full-circle; avoiding air-freight and packaging with unnecessary plastic. Oddbox, Riverford, and FarmDrop are more examples of ethical and purpose-driven brands that are capitalising on this shift, as consumers prioritise small-scale production, transparency, and sustainable missions, alongside the all-important need for customer convenience

So, what does the future hold?

At present just 2.7% of agricultural land in Europe is farmed organically. This is because there are many administrative costs that come with it – making organic products on average 47% more expensive. This higher price point has made organic food a synonym for personal luxury – meaning extra effort on positioning, packaging, and promotion is needed to market these products effectively, and this will require careful thought and action. 

The brands that are honestly transparent and capable of showcasing exactly why their product is superior, will undoubtedly be the winners in the war for customers.

So we are certainly seeing significant changes and shifts in consumer behaviours but while the term ‘organic’ was certainly helpful as an initial signpost to a healthier, more sustainable option, we are now seeing the issue is far more complicated. Just because something is branded as healthy and eco-friendly, it doesn’t make it so, and across food, groceries, clothes, and more, consumers are now also seeking brands that support social issues that resonate with their beliefs. To this end, a good brand story helps – but that story requires a 360 degree understanding of the people that buy their food and what their motivations may or may not be. In short, brands need to think full circle, and while a well-designed “organic” label may have previously ‘ticked the box’, it is no longer enough to win long term.