Selling organics? Find consumers who want more than ‘locally grown’

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COLUMBUS – It may be beneficial for organic farmers and local food distributors to market their products differently to different types of consumers.
Ohio State University researcher Molly Bean Smith examined results of two surveys of central Ohioans. One was conducted in 2004 among a cross-section of the general Ohio population. The other, in 2005, targeted central Ohioans who were members of the Clintonville Community Market or the group Simply Living, a nonprofit organization promoting environmental and social responsibility.
Smith called the latter group “motivated consumers” – consumers who were actively involved in food-system issues.
Not surprisingly, Smith found that the general population and the motivated consumers expressed varying levels of interest in buying both organic foods and foods produced on local farms. But she feels her findings could be significant for Ohio farmers trying to target their foods to different markets.
Who wants what? In the study, motivated consumers appeared more interested in organic foods, with 57 percent indicating that an “organic” food label was “very important” in their decision to purchase a food, compared with 44 percent saying that “locally grown” was very important.
For the general population, interest in both types of products was lower, but there was greater interest in purchasing locally grown products – 25 percent thought “locally grown” was “very important” – compared with 17 percent indicating that “organic” was very important.
Not always ‘local.’ “It used to be that many organic foods you could buy were also grown locally, but that’s not necessarily true anymore,” Smith said. “You can purchase organic foods that have been shipped across the country to get to your store.”
“The general population pays more attention to a food’s price – 65 percent thought price was very important, compared with only 30 percent of the motivated consumers,” Smith said.
Still, a healthy portion of general consumers expressed strong interest in purchasing locally grown products.
Your marketing message. To Smith, that says producers who want to tap into this market may want to emphasize the fact that the food is locally grown, even if it’s also organically produced.
Conversely, producers hoping to gain more sales at community or specialized markets may want to put more emphasis on their organic products.
In addition, community or specialized markets that want to appeal more to the general population may want to focus more marketing efforts on their supply of locally grown foods, Smith said.
“This could be a big opportunity,” she said. “Although motivated consumers do report they are willing to purchase more locally grown food, and are willing to pay more for it, their interest is much stronger in organically grown food,” Smith said. “But in the larger population, interest appears stronger in locally grown foods than in organics.”

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