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The Organic Produce Shopper Is Changing

The second of a two-part series examining how shopper behavior is evolving
Photograph: Shutterstock

Whether produce, meat, frozen or candy, every shopper study I’ve conducted in the past 10 years has pointed to a marketplace where, increasingly, one size fits no one.

From generational gaps to income divides, retailers’ best strategy to win seems to be personal relevance. This is causing a shift among retailers from product focus to customer focus, starting with curating relevant items.

It’s no secret that organic isn’t for everyone. Sales have always been clustered in the higher-income, higher-educated segment of consumers—shoppers who were willing and able to pay the price differential. But as prices in key entry categories have come down some and household penetration has increased slowly but surely, the organic shopper is changing.

As noted in part one of this organic produce series, the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC), together with data insights companies IRI and 210 Analytics, looked into the three organic shopper segments to provide the food retailing industry with a much-needed deep dive to understand personal relevance for each of these groups to optimize organic produce sales.

“For organic produce, the three main differentiators are income, age and region,” said David Sherrod, president and CEO of SEPC. “The Southeast, for instance, is still very much a growth market with double-digit increases due to growing household penetration and basket size. Other regions, particularly the West, are more mature markets already. We also see greater interest in urban markets, where the average age is younger and incomes tend to be higher.”

Household income continues to have the greatest impact on organic produce spending. When comparing organic produce spending against the average amount, shoppers earning upward of $125,000 per year significantly over index. “Anyone with an index of 120 or greater should be considered a heavy buyer,” said Sherrod. “Higher incomes continue to dominate that segment, but it is very encouraging to see organic produce engagement across virtually all incomes and ages. Over time, that is likely to bode well for organic produce sales.”

Understanding Core Heavy Buyers

As penetration is growing, the organic shopper is changing. Core shoppers, according to the study, are dedicated and want organic produce any time, any place. Core organic produce shoppers have both a larger basket size and higher trip frequency; they also range in age from 36-45 years old, right in between older millennials and Gen X, and are very much in their child-rearing years. Core organic shoppers are also more likely to have college and/or graduate degrees.

“Core shoppers are insensitive to the price differential and have long moved beyond the five basic categories,” according to Sherrod. “Having a deep assortment beyond entry categories is key. But make sure these shoppers know you have the deeper assortment versus losing the purchase to a specialty channel. Signage to point out the number of organic produce items, or new additions, can be very effective.”

Heavy buyers are highly knowledgeable about organic produce and have a broad value system. “Core shoppers have done their homework and have a deep understanding of the reasons for buying organic,” Sherrod summarized. “This means nutrition matters, but the environment and social responsibility do too. Emphasize things like food and package waste. At the same time, many core shoppers are time-strapped and value time over money. Organic 2.0 should definitely look at organic value-added and other convenience-focused solutions as well as organic kid-focused items, like snack packs.”

Anne-Marie Roerink is principal and founder of 210 Analytics, which specializes in quantitative and qualitative market research. She may be reached at aroerink@210analytics.com

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