Engaging Organic Shoppers in a Climate Conversation

It is a critical time for organic in the marketplace. Having surpassed $55 billion in annual sales and 82% household penetration, organic products have moved firmly into the mainstream. This comes at an important moment for shoppers, farmers, and the environment. It is also a time of unprecedented confusion in the marketplace. Dozens of competing labels are crowding the shelves. Some are meaningless; others may tout one or more benefits – but none of them come close to the defined, rigorous standards and enforcement that shoppers have come to trust in organic.

In 2019, Organic Trade Association, working under the auspices of the GRO Organic industry-invested framework, contracted with NMI to understand consumers’ perceptions of organic, and to use these insights to build a consistent and powerful messaging toolkit that would help organic brands break through the clutter.

One of the most interesting findings from the research was that the shoppers most likely to purchase organic are strongly motivated when they learn about its potential to mitigate climate change.

This is great news! For many years, organic shoppers have reported being driven by personal health concerns; and to be sure, this continues to be a primary motivator. However, amid a torrent of overwhelmingly negative news about the climate, organic shoppers welcome some good news, particularly if it comes with a healthy dose of personal empowerment.

The following is an excerpt from Organic Trade Association’s Organic Consumer Messaging Workbook. The workbook uses message maps to help brands organize and deliver the most effective communications around a particular topic – in this case, organic’s potential to mitigate change. While message maps help organize thinking and prioritize key messages to build campaigns, they are not themselves the final campaigns. Importantly, your team will customize the ideas to arrive at a final messaging strategy that fits your brand. 

More about the Study design:

Researchers first conducted a set of qualitative interviews with organic’s most devoted shoppers. These individuals were asked about specific issues that may be confusing or diluting the benefits of organic. Influential professionals from all spheres of the organic industry were also interviewed as part of this process. The findings from these conversations formed the foundation of a set of consumer insights that allowed the team a deeper understanding of the forces affecting organic purchase.

Quantitative Phase:

Next, we surveyed a group of 3,020 general population respondents. The sample was balanced on age, gender, race/ethnicity, education and income to be demographically representative. To fill out the picture, the researchers augmented with additional respondents to achieve 500 responses from Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic participants.

Navigating a Message Map

A message map is a scientific approach to communication that has been used by public health professionals, civic leaders, and is equally effective for building brand messages. It relies on five key communications strategies:

  • Rule of three – Busy people will remember only three pieces of information.
  • 1/3/2 order of importance – In any list of three points, people are most likely to forget the middle one. Prioritize the order of the three points you want people to remember, and mention the first priority item first, and the second priority item last.
  • Stick to the script – Once your messaging has been developed, stick to the script. Inconsistency increases confusion about your message, and will reduce its effectiveness.
  • 27/9/3 – In a media story, you have 27 words, 9 seconds or three points to get your message across. You can double those numbers if you have a powerful accompanying visual.
  • Keep it simple – Use everyday language, and try to keep messaging at an 8th grade level.

Cool Organic Messages for a Warming Planet

Climate change is one of the most difficult challenges facing us today. It is overwhelming to consider, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of good news on progress. Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change – but not all agriculture. Organic shoppers care about climate change and would welcome the news that organic farming is an important step in reversing climate change. Organic farming has always been regenerative, and helps to replenish carbon in the soil. The impact of consumers just like them choosing organic has a ripple effect for the good of the economy, communities and the planet. 

Make it your own:

Use these insights to create a broad-based appeal for shoppers incorporating your brand’sunique story with the concepts outlined here. Begin by gathering the key communicators in your organization. Identify your brand’s unique connection with climate issues.


  • Distill your operation’s version of the message into a 50-word post for social media.
  • Develop a 100-word version for on-pack advertising.
  • Expand the message to 250–500 words—think blog post or Op-ed piece.

Consistency is key, so once you have translated these ideas into messages that resonate for your brand, be sure to echo them across your communications.

Tip of the Iceberg

Through this project – the largest effort to date to understand the organic shopper – there are many additional resources available to assist organic brands in communicating to consumers. To learn more about the work – and to receive a full copy of the Organic Consumer Messaging Toolkit – including a wealth of findings on organic consumers and the messages most likely to motivate them, trade association members can contact Angela Jagiello (ajagiello@ota.com). //