Health, nutrition, diet, and sustainability all spell organic produce and the demand for it is growing stronger each year. Consumers are the driving force and primarily the biggest reason for its explosive growth.
The stupendous consumer interest for organic produce has opened the doors to further opportunities for growers and retailers. Shoppers who began preferring fresh organic fruits and vegetables were met with a limited availability at their local supermarket 30 years ago. But that scene has changed dramatically today as a far better variety of choices and supply of organic items are now available in the stores.
Although organic produce sales continue its annual upward trend, the category has some challenges within the consumer and retail sectors. For instance, a lingering confusion still emerges in labeling, identity at the registers, types of packaging material, merchandising strategy, and higher retails versus conventional produce.
There is also some perplexity in the area of whether local produce is organic. This makes it difficult for shoppers to fully understand what they are really buying.
Jeff Tomassetti, director of produce and floral at Buehler's in Wooster, Ohio said, "One of our biggest challenges is getting the PLU items rung up correctly through the registers unless they are packaged or UPC items. Many cashiers memorize the PLU numbers for organic items like green peppers, bananas, etc. But unless the organic items are boldly marked, they will just ring them up as conventional."
A well organized and attractive presentation plays a big role on the visual impact in the produce department. This always adds a bit of confusion as to the location and merchandising of organic produce. The customer must be considered when merchandising this category. The question of whether it should be integrated or segregated frequently arises.
Tomassetti stated, "We have tried integrating and segregating our organic produce and found that a segregated section works best for the organic shoppers. We do keep our organic bananas with the conventional bananas, organic berries in our berry section, and salad mixes in the regular salad mix case. All other organic items are displayed in one organic section of our produce department." Another critical point is pricing. Customers do not fully understand why there is such a great contrast in retails among similar items. For example, they question organic celery priced at $2.99 versus conventional celery at $1.49.
"We advertise two or three organic items each week and some perform really well. However, at certain times of the year the cost and retails of certain organic items get so extreme that we are actually afraid to take a chance because the loss could be excessive" said Tomassetti.
There is a difference in buying, pricing, displaying, and promoting organic produce. More importantly, is it making a profit or increasing shrink? It's all in the way the items are handled in the stores.
It is imperative to concentrate closely on the care of organic produce. The product must always be kept fresh while on display. It should be culled and rotated throughout the day. In general, the quality and condition standards should always be consistent.
There are customers who are loyal to organic produce mainly because of their healthy lifestyle. They want organics and are willing to pay the premium prices. It's the non-organic shoppers who must be groomed and educated about the positive qualities of organic produce. The less they are confused, the more they will step over the line.
One of the best ways to draw new customers over to organics is to promote it aggressively. Create an attractive organic section in the weekly ad flyer and include a variety of items along with verbiage to educate shoppers.
The consumers have spoken. Retailers continue to realize the organic produce demand is a fast-thriving part of the business. The proven steady growth is opening up more opportunities for the entire produce industry.