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Organic: From niche to mainstream

Organic sales continue to grow at an impressive rate, despite operating against a backdrop of a food and drinks market in slight decline. A 2017 Soil Association report showed the UK Organic market to be worth £2.09bn having experienced a fifth consecutive year of growth*.

Organic suppliers and grocery retailers now face the challenge of maintaining growth as organic continues to move into the mainstream; understanding drivers and barriers to purchase for those late adopters to the category will be key to this. To this end, in mid-2017, i2C were engaged by the Organic Trade Board (OTB) and Sainsbury’s Dairy Category team to identify opportunities for supporting Organic’s continued growth.

Sainsbury’s performance mirrors that of the market overall, with sales increasing in the last 6 months, but when using customer data from Nectar we can see some interesting detail: customer behaviour in Organic shows strongly polarised behaviours. More than half of the customers that have recently** bought organic have only shopped in one of the four major ‘organic categories’ (Meat, Fish and Poultry; Dairy; Produce; and Canned & Packaged). The diagram below groups customers based on how many organic categories they buy into and the average ‘units per customer’ for each group.

Customers in the “least engaged” group (1 category only) are only buying 2 products over a 6 month period. It becomes apparent quite quickly that for these customers, organic is at best a minor concern and at worst an accidental/indifferent purchase, perhaps shopping for a particular brand, trading up or an incidental substitution due to availability.

As the number of organic categories purchased by a customer increases, the amount of organic products customers buy increases dramatically. These additional units overall suggest a strengthening of ‘organic commitment’ linked to the number of categories that a customer is willing to ‘go organic’ in.

It’s not altogether surprising that a person’s commitment to organic is closely tied to specific categories. The role of quality, provenance, ethics and appearance varies between categories and there isn’t one overarching message to drive an all pervading shopping behaviour. Putting organic into the correct context for each category and dealing with each as a separate entity supports the adoption of organic as a ‘way of life’.

In preparation for ‘Organic September’ 2017, Sainsbury’s, the OTB, i2C and a number of organic brands set about leveraging this thinking. Aligning with the OTB’s #Feedyourhappy campaign and harnessing Sainsbury’s understanding of their customers, i2C created a dairy specific campaign to inspire customers to increase the number of organic categories shopped, by purchasing organic dairy. The ‘ideal audience’, based on what we know about customers, were those with some level of organic engagement, but yet to ‘go organic’ in dairy.

The campaign utilised compelling offers on own label and brands, specially designed secondary space and targeted store and customer communications***. The store and customer targeting focused on creating as many touch points as possible with the identified ‘ideal audience’.
Initial results showed that across the total Sainsbury’s estate, the campaign drove:

• 2% increase in dairy organics customers
• 4% increase in organic category spend driven by these new and existing customers
• 78,000 customers engaged with a new organic category

(These results are particularly impressive given that the campaign was only activated in 21% of Sainsbury’s stores and was entirely incremental to the OTB’s above the line campaign and Sainsbury’s promotions on organic products)

Although there was a sizeable increase in organic customer conversion across the four main categories, it is evident that the benefits were most keenly felt within dairy; this is not at all surprising given the specific imagery, messaging and promotions were aligned to dairy. The previously mentioned category specific benefits of organic (quality, provenance, ethics, appearance etc) go a long way to explaining why this type of focused campaign would resonate with customers. The key to maintaining growth in organic would appear to be utilising the strengths of individual organic categories to increase penetration. As customers buy into new categories, the amplified impact on total organic sales will allow organic to increase overall market share and continue its transition to the mainstream.

The next stage of the campaign will focus on understanding the specific organic drivers that are most compelling for each category and combining this with customer level purchase indicators such as life stage, affluence and ethical and quality preferences. This will allow the messaging and targeting to be even more precise and compelling for future campaigns.

*Soil Association Organic Market Report 21/2/17
**Latest 26 weeks
***Targeted email, Sainsbury’s magazine, dual sited recipe barker, TV wall, in-store sampling, trolley posters, digital 6 sheets and a follow up coupon at till


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