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    An Organic Checkoff: Strengthening the Brand

    By Sarah Bird, Ecologic Brands Inc.

    Organic is a big seller in today’s supermarkets, and this trend is here to stay. Consumers no longer buy organic only at farmer’s markets or specialty stores. They’re going to their local supermarket, seeking out that organic label, oftentimes buying an organic store brand, and digging a little deeper into their wallets for their organic purchases.

    In 2014, sales of organic food and non-food products in this country are estimated to have hit nearly $40 billion, a new record. More than 80 percent of families in the U.S. now buy organic products. Conventional grocery stores are seeing double-digit growth rates in their organic aisles. Despite this growing appetite for organic products, consumers continue to be confused not just about all the benefits and guarantees represented by the organic seal, but by all the other labels and unregulated claims on food that bombard them throughout the supermarket.

    The organic brand and the organic sector are at a critical juncture. We now have the incredible opportunity, and more importantly the need, to better explain what the organic brand stands for, and, in so doing, take organic sales, and our store’s revenues, to an even higher level. Fortunately, we have a solution in front of us.

    America’s certified organic stakeholders – farmers, ranchers, distributors, food makers and retailers – are now considering whether to adopt a national organic checkoff program. This is the most critical – and potentially transformative – issue facing today’s organic industry.

    Consumer Confusion, Empty Shelves

    An organic research and promotion checkoff program would be a game changer for the entire organic sector, from the farmer to the retailer. It would address the two major challenges facing the organic industry: consumer confusion about what it means to be organic and the need to increase organic supplies so retailers don’t get caught short as their customers clamor for more organic choices.  

    An organic check off program would enable a large and coordinated promotion plan to educate consumers about organic. Attention-getting promotions on television, on social media, in newspaper fliers, on billboards; in-store ads and promotional activities, customer-education days – the options are endless! It would clear up the current consumer misunderstanding, drive trust in organic, fuel further the growth of the organic sector as more consumers will look for the organic label, and would drive store revenue.

    It would also fund research programs to encourage farmers to transition to organic, ultimately increasing organic supplies.

    Organic food companies and retail stores face shortages of organic ingredients and products every year because domestic organic production just can’t keep up with the robust demand for organic. It’s not good when your store’s organic egg shelves are empty, or you have to put a “temporarily out of supplies” sign on the door of the organic milk case. We need more organic farmers in America.

    $40 Million a Year!

    It’s estimated an organic checkoff program could raise up to $40 million a year. The proposed approach for funding the organic checkoff program is “broad and shallow”. It is an opportunity for all organic stakeholders to join together and contribute to a collective fund.  It is proposed that organic certificate holders in the supply chain with gross annual sales above $250,000 be assessed for one-tenth of 1 percent of net organic revenue, with a maximum of $1,000 assessment for every $1 million in net organic revenue.

    I serve on the board of directors for the Organic Trade Association, the principle trade group for the organic sector. OTA has taken the lead in formulating the checkoff proposal, and will very soon be submitting an application for an organic checkoff to the Agriculture Department. This proposal will ultimately be voted on by certified organic stakeholders.

    The Vision is Still Clear

    All of the organic chain – from the farmers and processors to the distributors and retailers – must act collectively to ensure our future. If organic stakeholders want to take the industry to a new level of success and sustainability, now is the time to act.

    The organic sector was founded by visionaries who believed in a better, more healthy and sustainable way to raise our food and to be the stewards of our precious land. The vision is still clear and accurate, and those in the organic sector work every day to accomplish it.

    Putting in place an organic checkoff program is the most powerful way to make this vision a reality; it is the best investment we can make.

    For more information on the proposed checkoff, visit UnitedForMoreOrganic.com.

    By Sarah Bird, Ecologic Brands Inc.
    • About Sarah Bird Sarah Bird is chief commercial officer of Ecologic Brands Inc., a sustainable packaging company, and VP for the Organic Trade Association's U.S. board of directors. A veteran of consumer packaged goods marketing with a long career in the organic industry, Bird most recently was CMO at Annie’s Inc. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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