terparts, with 51 percent saying a natural product is environmentally and socially sustainable, and 36 percent identifying
it as not synthetic (Figure 2).
The lack of a universal definition of “natural,” together
with the widespread, unregulated use of this term in marketing and labeling, is likely the root of much consumer confusion. Marketers of organic, as well as natural, find this
confusion problematic when trying to compete with conventional food and supplement products. This is likely why 74
percent of natural and 76 percent of organic products marketers want regulation of the term “100 percent natural.”
Figure 2: Which of the following statements best reflects how you
would define a natural product?
Challenges for Organic Marketers, Specifically
The issue of confusion goes beyond simply understanding “what is natural?” As the second-highest ranked external
challenge overall, “confusion between organic and natural”
is a key area of frustration.
While organic is defined by federal regulation and or-
ganic companies must meet strict standards and pay certifi-
cation costs, “natural” has no guidelines governing its use.
One of the things our research team has discovered over the
years is the antipathy among some organic producers about
the word “natural.” Their concern is that it co-opts much of
the meaning of organic. The Benchmark Report confirmed
this suspicion, with 20 percent of all respondents identifying
“natural products” as “any product containing certified or-
But organic manufacturers should not be pointing fin-
gers at anyone, since 29 percent of them also said the defini-
tion of a natural product is “any product containing
certified organic ingredients.” This may be because they feel
that products that contain certified organic ingredients are
more “natural.” It may also be that many organic marketers
believe that any product claiming to be natural should in-
clude organic ingredients. While this may be true in an
ideal world, it is not the reality of today’s marketplace, and
thus is something marketing needs to address.
As mainstream consumers begin to explore alternatives
to conventional foods, “natural” is likely to be an easier term
for these crossover consumers to comprehend. Meanwhile,
the term “organic” is more complex and appeals most to
those who understand the layers of regulations and checks
and balances behind the claim. There are still many who
don’t really understand what organic means, though— 22
percent of those surveyed said the top challenge was “
misunderstanding surrounding the definition of organic.” The
key to this, and all consumer confusion, comes down to education and awareness.
Education and awareness are key roles of marketing, but
most budgets don’t allot much to combat the existing confusion. According to the survey, the biggest internal challenge marketers of organic and natural products face is
budget limitations ( 53 percent). This should not be a big
revelation since every marketer would like a bigger budget.
However, many natural and organic companies have no real
budget for marketing at all— 29 percent of those surveyed
said their company did not historically invest in marketing.
Consequently, there has been a lack of sophistication in
marketing and very few data-driven marketing strategies.
One possible reason for this is what is called “founder’s
syndrome.” Over 40 percent of the marketing decision makers in the survey pool were CEOs/founders, and this was not
just for small companies. It is often the case at natural product companies that even as the company grows, the founder
remains heavily involved in the details and postpones relinquishing control of the outward expression of the company.
For many, the brand is an expression of the founder. For organizations founded on principles, the founder closely iden-tifies with the cause, and stays close to all the expressions of
the organizations in a very personal way. Data-driven marketing does not hold much sway against the personal beliefs of
An example of how long-held beliefs can run counter to
the data came to light when companies were asked what
they were doing to overcome their marketing challenges.
Forty-five percent said they were attempting to expand distribution, even though they didn’t name distribution as one
of their top challenges. Distribution also doesn’t address
confusion, awareness or value proposition—the challenges
that did actually top the list. Perhaps this is a case of choosing a tactic with the least resistance, but it is wrongheaded.
In the Benchmark Report, SPINS data shows that the real
growth comes from supporting your existing distribution
rather than pursuing expanded distribution. This calls for
marketing focused on differentiation and clarifying your