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  • Writer's pictureGreg Fleishman

With A Voluntary Check-Off In The Works, What Should The Message Be For National Advertising

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Galit Laibow | Greg Fleishman | Sarah Michelle Gellar | Foodstirs Junk-Free Bakery | Greg Fleishman CPG Investor | Founder | CEO | Board Director
Greg Fleishman CPG Investor | Founder | CEO | Board Director

“Got Milk?”

“Pork. The Other White Meat”

“Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner”

You may not eat meat or drink milk, but you probably are familiar with one or all of these very famous slogans.

These advertising campaigns were all derived from a mandatory promotional program overseen by the USDA, also known as a check-off program, which charged companies in each industry a small yearly amount to fund its budget.

While there was widespread but not unanimous support for a mandatory check-off program in organic, the USDA terminated this idea in May, citing a lack of consensus among farmers.

Even though there may have been disagreement about the exact nature and specifics of a mandatory check-off, including how funds would have been disbursed, one thing cannot be disputed – given that organic is now a $50 billion market in the U.S., it makes absolutely no sense at all that there is no national advertising/branding campaign for our industry.

This especially rings true because of the relentless attacks in the media against organic – i.e., the recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece “The Organic Industry is Lying to You.” Nevertheless, the fact remains that consumers are confused about what organic means.

This was confirmed in the 2018 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report from the Food Marketing Institute and the Hartman Group, where it was found that shoppers are seeking the following product claims:

Natural: 26% Not Bioengineered (Non-GMO): 22% Certified Organic: 14%

Not only are ‘Natural’ and ‘Not-Bioengineered’ inferior claims to ‘Organic’, but this confusion is resulting in lost sales for organic companies.

Seeking to rectify this issue and to strengthen the overall industry, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has launched a voluntary “check-off like” program called GRO Organic (shorthand for Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic) and is soliciting input from all industry stakeholders.

While GRO Organic is intended to foster more organic agriculture in the U.S. and raise funds for research and consumer education, the bulk of the funding will be used for promotional activities, which means a branding/advertising campaign.

The critical question then becomes – what is the tone and message of this campaign? What will deliver maximum impact to consumers, so that they clearly understand the benefits of organic and change their shopping habits?

According to Stephanie Strom, former food business journalist at The New York Times, “The campaign should not be negative. The other side is much better funded, and they’ll come after organic food and farming more. It won’t pay off in a meaningful way. There is a place for a promotional campaign to explain to consumers what organic is and why it is better for the environment, animals and the soil.”

“Also, most consumers think organic is more expensive. If we can demonstrate that this is not necessarily the case or if it is more expensive and why it is worth the extra cost, that would be effective as well.”

Others believe that a different direction is needed.

Greg Fleishman, Co-Founder and CEO of Purely Righteous Brands, said, “Our world is over-connected and surrounded by ample amounts of noise pollution. For this campaign to breakthrough and truly educate people, it will require messaging that can cut through the clutter. Because of this dynamic, I believe that the focus should be on the super-toxic chemicals allowed in conventional food and farming, and the health risks they pose.

Being bold and clear is the best way to get the right message out and internalized. This will have the greatest impact.”

However the campaign unfolds, it will impact every single one of us, and kudos to the OTA for deciding to seek input from all organic stakeholders, not just OTA members or GRO Organic backers.

“If the idea of broad and sustained private sector investment in the future of organic is to succeed, we need the best ideas in the hopper. It was an easy decision and one we are committed to,” said Laura Batcha, CEO/Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association.

To submit any idea you have related to growing, supporting and promoting the organic industry, you can do so HERE. GRO Organic will be accepting submissions until April 30, 2019, and this initiative has already raised $750K of its Year 1 goal of $1.5M.

When there is an update as to the status of GRO Organic and its activities – there could very well be a meeting about this at Natural Products Expo West 2019 in March – we will be sure to keep you informed.

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