Understand Marketing: Organic Labels and Packaging

Most people immediately think advertising and social media when they think “marketing,” but a huge aspect of product marketing is also the packaging. It’s the place we (and our amazing graphic designers) get to show the main benefits of the product, and why you need it (which you obviously do). But something we can’t control are the labeling laws – and what our consumer expects from our labels.

all natural labelWe all know not to trust “all natural” labels – they’re awesome marketing to make consumers feel good about buying natural products, but there’s actually no strict regulations determining what “all natural” means in the United States. Prevention states, “neither the US Food and Drug Administration nor the Federal Trade Commission have a strict definition for the term; the FDA says it ‘has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.’ But so-called ‘natural’ foods can still contain a wide range of processed sweeteners, lab-produced ‘natural’ flavors and colors, additives and preservatives.” So we don’t trust “all natural” foods, but what about organic foods?

“Certified Organic” products aren’t the end all be all of healthy foods. The hypothesis is that they use all natural pesticides (no, they are not “pesticide free”) rather than chemically produced pesticides. This means that, hypothetically, the impact on the environment is lessened, as is the impact of unhealthy chemicals on our bodies. However, there is a theory that some of the “natural” pesticides allowed are still tied USDA certified organic products not healthyto cancer, but no formal inquiries to my knowledge have been made to determine the health impacts of these pesticides on the body. Furthermore, some question whether one or two applications of a chemical pesticide on a plant is better for the environment than the 6 or 7 many natural pesticides require to work well.

But why does it matter?

I still totally feel better buying organic foods rather than their conventional alternatives, but some are catching on the fact that the “certified organic” label isn’t quite trustworthy anymore. If you’re marketing legitimately healthy / organic / natural / pesticide-free products, that label is not necessarily what your audience trusts anymore. That being said, sometimes not having it and saying those alternative phrases then isn’t impressive to those who still purchase based off that organic label.

For example: Suki skin care

I started using this skincare line recently after picking up the cleanser at City Market. The labels of Suki projects are filled withsuki skincare bottles organic “organic” this and that, and are “100% natural & free of any synthetic ingredients, parabens, lake, fd & c or coal tar colors, preservatives, genetically modified organisms, & nano-particles” according to their website – but they are “certification-free,” meaning they don’t have that organic stamp.

The company states this is because:

“every month it seems, new associations are born that offer their organic certification logo for display on packaging for a fee. each logo differs in the percentage of organic content &, more importantly, the amount of allowable synthetics in their ‘acceptable’ list. as companies that wish to call themselves “natural” hunt for a certification body that will help them market their products, logos appear more frequently, & as a result, more & more emphasis is being placed on certification.”

They continue on about the impacts of seals and certifications:

“the trouble with the multitudes of seals is that they lull consumers into a false sense of safety making them feel as if they don’t have to read labels! consider the fact that skin care companies & big conglomerates created tailor-made certifications knowing that newly conscientious consumers have learned to look for seals… ‘hey it’s got that organic / natural seal – it must be safe!’ but does anyone really know what that seal stands for?

recently an executive at suki® learned an interesting lesson about organic certification while researching her favorite brand of organic baby carrots. she found that although the label did not state it, the carrots she was eating had been sprayed with chlorine. upon confronting the carrot company about the chlorine, they replied, ‘this is the allowable tolerance for chlorine permitted by the USDA in order to be able to make label claims. same as in your drinking water.’

it is our right & responsibility as consumers to read, question, & make informed choices about the products we put on & in our bodies. our direction to you –read labels.”

Well said – and reading this most of us are probably thinking ‘yes, of course I should read the labels!’ Sounds great – except when people looking for organic products see that it’s missing that seal and don’t care enough to read the full ingredient list or Google “why.” And that is exactly what happens in some of Suki’s reviews – people ask why it’s only ‘70% organic’ (or whatever they determine that percentage to be) and opt to purchase another skincare line that does have that “Certified Organic” seal. This split among the natural/organic community is making the decisions of what to place on that label pretty darn difficult.

The challenge

non gmo project labelsOur challenge now is to create and design packaging that obviously adheres to label laws and represents the product as well as possible – but still uses terminology and imagery our consumers recognize. One that’s interestingly cropping up now is “Non GMO” which is certified by the Non GMO Project – rather than the FDA or governmental organizations. With the lack of GMO testing and the largely untested use of Artificial Growth Hormones, most people don’t trust the labels the government approves anymore – so it’s no surprise 3rd parties are cropping up with the consumer’s best interest in mind. But this is exactly what Suki is concerned about – how many people actually went to the Non GMO Project website to learn that they only allow 0.9% of products to be from GMO ingredients?

(Fun fact – any product in the EU with more than 0.9% GMO ingredients must label the package as containing GMOs. Why do we seem to not care as much as our European counterparts? How do you think the largely natural movement impacts natural food marketing there?)

As a marketer, we want to know the types of labels customers have grown to distrust, and those they feel they need to see to purchase a product – especially when we actually are everything we say we are.

What are your thoughts on marketing in the natural food industry? Connect in the comments or our shared social profiles!


ps. credit goes to The Picky Eater for the featured label image!


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