Organics may have enjoyed growth rates of 20% or more in the last decade or more, but there is still a need for more education about the product’s benefits, industry sources said.


However, a promotional strategy that works for one company might not be effective for another, they add.


“Education is a two-edged sword,” said John Harley, sales manager of Anthony Vineyards Inc., Bakersfield, Calif. “If you go out and try to promote, it’s a two-edged sword for an organization like ourselves that grows conventional and organic. Is one better than the other? Not in our estimation.”


Anthony’s strategy involves promoting the best of both produce worlds, Harley said.


“It’s what the consumer wants and what they perceive is better for them,” he said. “If you promote organically grown products, it’s how you promote it that matters. If you promote it as being better than a conventional grape, you’re basically destroying yourself.”


Let the consumer make that decision, Harley said.


The organics industry should always look for opportunities to educate consumers about its product, and the product will draw them naturally, said Laura Batcha, marketing and public relations director for the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association.


“I think there’s still a high need for more education,” she said. “What we’ve found is the higher the level of education of what organic production practices mean, the higher percentage of purchases of organic products.


“With our fastest-growing demographics in the market, there’s going to be a continuing need for organic education.”


That is a major philosophy driving marketing efforts at San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm, said Samantha Cabaluna, communication director.


“We definitely need more education about exactly what organic is, not just what it’s not,” Cabaluna said. “Most people know that organic farming avoids the use of conventional pesticides, fertilizers, irradiation, and GMOs.


“But it’s equally important for people to understand that organic farming is a regenerative practice that builds soil health and protects the environment in many other ways, too.”


Teaching consumers about organics is an ongoing process, as well, at Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., said Matt Stocks, organic vegetable buyer.


“I don’t think you could ever get enough,” said Stocks, whose company markets organics under the Melissa’s label. “In organics, there’s something new every day.


“A grower is trying something different with a commodity that wasn’t offered organically before. The challenge is how to incorporate that in your set and your cooking. We welcome that.”


Years of informing the public about organics is just a beginning, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.


“A lot more does need to be done,” he said. “People are confused about what organic is.”


Retailers have been good partners in helping get the word out to consumers, said John Long, sales manager in the Selah, Wash., office of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos.


“They’re moving product out there, and it has grown,” Long said. “They’ve been educated pretty well the last 10 years and know their business pretty well. The key will be if the consumer picks the product up in the long term.”


The evolution of the organic business requires more information to be conveyed, said Bill Schene, salesman for Valliwide Marketing Inc., Reedley, Calif.


“You continue to let people be informed about new farming practices, new technologies available to organic farmers,” he said.