Grocery Consumers Pay More for a Good Story

In a report released this month, the USDA exposed that organic fruits and vegetables have significantly lower levels of pesticides than those grown conventionally. They recommend that consumers who want to avoid pesticides should go organic. However, do consumers even know what organic means or what pesticides are?

Consumers should be aware of what food terms mean and the implications they have on one’s health, such as the difference between certified organic and made with organic ingredients. Food labels represent an industry which is less concerned with health and more interested in profits, particularly with functional foods that promise to improve health. However, these functional foods are not necessarily better for you; it is all about marketing.

Due to the bombardment of branding and marketing messages, making the healthier or more conscious purchase is difficult. Deciphering food labels in a grocery store has become increasingly confusing, especially when marketers will do anything to get you to notice, and ultimately buy, their product; this is the case throughout the food industry, whether organic or conventional.

If you walk through the aisles of any grocery store in America, you will see labels and displays indicating “natural,” “hormone-free,” “free-range,” among many others. What do these terms mean? Trying to distinguish them from each other is annoying and time consuming. Marketers know exactly how to appeal to consumers and strive to hook us in with buzz words that catch our attention: Natural and organic are the new fat-free and sugar-free.

The national food chain Whole Foods, in particular, created food narratives to make the process of choosing products less confusing by providing more information to consumers. Walking through one of their stores can be a literary experience, but they do not always sell the image they portray. As consumers, we imagine lush green fields where free-range cattle graze year round, but the reality is a different picture. Marketers for organic food markets such as Whole Foods appeal to consumers’ sensibilities by providing narratives of animals and farms. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan discusses how in the mainstream food industry, the only information exchanged between producer and consumer is price whereas the organic industry has created food narratives to allow more information to pass between parties.

As proven by the success of the organics, many consumers are willing to pay more for a good story on how their food was raised and treated. The word “organic” has become extremely powerful; marketers are fully aware of this and created an $11 billion industry, the fastest growing area of the food sector. Organic food markets such as Whole Foods sell an experience, and more and more consumers are willing to buy it.

Photo CreditDawn Huczek