When it comes to organic food packaging, are you sold on stories of tastiness and health benefits, or do you believe it’s just better for society and for the environment? 

Linguistics research by the Open University shows that when it comes to selling us organic food, marketers could be missing a trick.

Should marketers help to promote a fresh image of organic farming? 

Photo: Andrew Stawarz

The Discourse of Organic Food Promotion’ is fascinating stuff, analysing over 300 food labels, packages and leaflets. We’ve had the report around the office for a while now and thought it was time we shared it here.

Market research highlights self-interest

During his research, Professor Guy Cook found that small organic food producers can quickly end up sounding like supermarkets. Why? Because marketers believe that emotive stories about tasty sausages and snuffling pigs are what customers want. Market research tells them that we buy organic out of self-interest — motivated by promises of better taste and concerns about health. And they worry that the science and politics will turn us off.

Even organisations like the Soil Association follow this trend. Prof Cook highlights the charity’s ‘Ten reasons to buy organic’ (which seems to have been replaced by an updated list of five reasons to choose organic). The original list relegated the environmental benefits to number ten and didn’t even mention the positive social benefits of promoting small independent farms, local produce and fair rates for producers. This could be a mistake.

People want to know more about organic food

Prof Cook’s research suggests consumers might be only too happy to learn more about the wider benefits of organic food. He found that people are more principled than marketers think. Cynical about supermarkets, the main factor affecting consumers’ opinions is whether they can trust the retailer. And they want more information to help them to form an opinion. Poetic packaging featuring farmers and their flocks doesn’t always — it seems — tell them everything they need to know.

So, isn't it time we saw more writing about organic food that talks about its environmental and social benefits, as well as how tasty and healthy it is?

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