Strategies for merchandising organics may vary from one company to the next. To marketers of the product, perhaps, that doesn't matter.


What they say matters is that retailers know the product and display it properly.


"We ask questions about how to merchandise organics in a consumer survey, and in terms of shopper preferences, consumers who have been buying organics for a long time, there's a preference for a segregated display of organic products," said Laura Batcha, marketing and public relations director for the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association.


However, new consumers in the category — about two years or less — prefer integration, Batcha said.


"We're seeing a demographic shift," she said. "The fastest-growing demographics are the newer shoppers and younger shoppers. That's really encouraging for the growth of organics. New users are less channel-specific and have a stronger preference for integration."


How to merchandise organics most effectively is an age-old discussion, said Peter Oill, sales and marketing manager for Oxnard, Calif.-based Purepak Inc.


"That's been the ongoing chicken-and-egg question," he said. "Some will tell you to separate it, and others say integrate it."


Oill said he prefers displaying organic and conventional products side-by-side.


"People who are getting lettuce or kale, they see both (conventional and organic)," he said. "Depending on the market that carries both, some put the organics at the end of the rack. Others have an island to themselves. Either way can work. Everybody has a different theory."


Bulk displays of organic fruit are effective, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.


"The best way to merchandise pears, apples, peaches and nectarines is bulk," he said.


He said conventional fruit displays are bulk, but the ratio is higher in organics.


"Organic shoppers want to pick their own items out," he said. "The thing you have to be careful about is you've got to have good signage and big impactful displays where the product is seen and is impulsive. Too often, we forget those major rules of merchandising that really apply to organic."


Side-by-side or separated displays?

Different strategies may have their own strengths, but side-by-side displays of organic and conventional can be especially effective, said Fritz Koontz, marketing director for Beach Street Farms, Watsonville, Calif.


"I kind of like it when organic is next to the conventional, so people can choose," he said. "If the first thing you see when you come into the store is strawberries that are on sale and they're conventional, you might not even make it to the organic section."


Others voice support of a separate and distinct organic section.


"My opinion is that you must have a category destination for organics," said Matt Stocks, organic vegetable buyer for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets organics under the Melissa's brand.


"Let's say if you're selling both conventional and organic, maybe there would be a certain-sized section, maybe five tiers," Stocks said. "Everything in that set is completely organic. You have a category destination that is specific. In my experience, it works — and I did spend 17 years in retail."


Whether integration or segregation is the plan, organics can't get short shrift, said John Long, sales manager for L&M Cos., Selah.


"I don't know that they have to be side by side, but they have to have enough space and volume that it does appeal to the customer," Long said. "So often, you go into a retailer and you've got an 8-foot space for organics. Whereas you go to the conventional side you have six different apples with 3 feet each. I think the best thing to do is to make sure they're visible and can be easily compared, price-wise. People will buy them if they see them and they're correctly priced. I think that's probably the biggest challenge."


Merchandising correctly requires a lot of hard work, but that work can pay handsome dividends, said Scott Mabs, marketing director at Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms.


"A beautiful, fresh-looking bulk display will attract attention," he said. "People who are looking for organic product care about the food they're eating. They like those fresh displays."


Some retailers don't yet grasp the concept, Mabs said.


"The freshness, the bulk displays, there are so many basic things that are still not being done right in stores, putting organic peaches in the wet rack, putting product off in a corner — you still see that on a regular basis," he said. "Of course, it depends on the store you're in. But a lot of is where you're featuring it. I don't care what it is. You put it in a corner on a shelf and it's not going to sell."


Retailers have to keep stocking fresh, attractive product, said John Harley, sales manager of Anthony Vineyards Inc., Bakersfield, Calif.


"From my perspective, it's to have a consistent supply of good quality product on the shelf, to get it exposed to the consumer, let them know its' going to be there every time they walk in," he said. "No. 2 is to promote it as you would a conventionally grown product and give that organics customer the same type of attention you'd give a conventional customer and give them the same types of opportunities, as far as promotions and ads and that type of thing."