Those wishing to bite into an untreated apple today no longer need to have their own garden, nor do they have to buy fruit directly from growers and special health food stores. The “organic” label is now commonplace on the shelves of supermarkets and discount stores, with organic options being widely available for both fresh produce and processed food. Alongside value yoghurt for 29 cents, the chilled section now also contains yoghurt made from the milk of cows that have been kept and fed according to the principles of organic farming. In chemist stores, consumers also have a choice between conventional make up ranges and their natural organic cosmetic counterparts. Most organic labels are not manufacturer brands, but the own brands of retailers. To what extent do consumers actually believe that an organic label equals organic content? What exactly do they associate with “green” labels?
These questions have been answered in a study conducted by the GfK Verein, which surveyed almost 6,000 heads of household in Germany last autumn. They rated brands in 22 product groups of fast moving consumer goods, evaluating these on the basis of specific properties such as quality, image, trust and environmental friendliness (see below for further information on the study and methodology). In addition to 87 traditional widespread manufacturer brands, respondents were also shown own labels of major German food retailers and chemist stores. In this area, in particular, the situation has changed quite dramatically in recent years: in addition to familiar cheaper own brands, German discount-level private labels, such as “Tip”, “Ja” and “gut und günstig”, new labels bearing the retailers’ logo but positioned differently in the market have been appearing for many years now. Many of these new brands feature refreshing green tones and relevant text to highlight their organic quality. Consumers have to spend considerably less on retailers’ organic products than they do on organic products in a health food store. Consequently, organic is no longer a luxury for high-earners alone, but has become an affordable option for all consumers.
Perhaps this is precisely the problem? Do consumers not doubt that the goods they are purchasing at a lower price are not actually of the same high organic quality? Are consumers aware that products bearing the trademarked “organic” or “eco-certified” labels merely have to comply with the bare minimum of EU eco regulation requirements?
The certification labels are seemingly effective as 83% of respondents trust retailers when they claim their organic products are made from natural raw materials. This level of trust is more than twice that respondents place in cheaper discount-level private labels offered by retailers. However, even without the organic label, renowned manufacturer brands also achieve a 58% positive response for this statement. Evidently confidence is greater that natural raw materials are used in manufacturer brands than is the case for cheaper retailers’ own labels.
The results for organic private labels are also good on the matter of environmental friendliness, with around 62% of Germans considering them to be so. This is almost twice as many respondents as say the same for discount-level private labels (27%). Manufacturer brands are also some way behind organic private labels, with 32%.
The fact that natural materials are also linked to personal wellbeing is an added bonus for organic private labels. German consumers placing “alverde” (dm), “Alterra” (Rossmann), “Bioness” (Lidl), “K-Bio” (Kaufland), and Rewe and Edeka’s “bio” products as well as other own organic brands in their shopping baskets therefore feel they are also buying something that will be beneficial to their health. Overall, 62% trust retailers’ claims that their organic brands are good for a healthy lifestyle. For discount-level private labels which consumers can buy in the shops, only 27% state the same and only 40% of respondents think that manufacturer brands offer added health benefits.
Organic products of retailer chains are a step ahead when it comes to nature and health. In the past, retailers primarily appealed through brand concepts focusing solely on price, but they have now developed their image in a key area. Even without this, do organic ranges on the shelves generally have a better image than “Tip”, “Ja” & Co.?
This is clearly apparent from a direct comparison between organic and discount-level private labels:
Organic private labels are clearly making a greater contribution towards perceived quality of life than their cheaper counterparts. Almost half of respondents associate organic private labels with a higher standard of living. Only a quarter stated the same for discount-level private labels. However, even non-organic manufacturer brands can keep pace with retailer organic quality on this point (53%).
Although less dramatic than the difference in natural qualities, environmental friendliness and health, there are also differences between ecological and traditional retailer labels in terms of trust, social acceptance and quality. Overall, 43% of respondents think that organic labels of retailers can be trusted more than other brands. In addition, 54% believe that it is acceptable to be seen purchasing these brands. And 60% are even of the opinion that they can have confidence in the exceptional quality of these products. The values for comparable discount-level private labels on these aspects were around 11 percentage points lower. The assessment of the feel good factor is even 18 percentage points lower. In contrast, renowned manufacturer brands have maintained their lead over private labels for quality, image and trust.
With the “green expansion” of their ranges, retailers are giving their customers options which were previously only available to a small segment of the population, namely those who had one of the few organic suppliers in the vicinity. Today, this is no longer a problem as virtually anywhere in the country shops offering organic ranges are just a few minutes away. This does not signify the end of the classic health foods store. Consumers who are very particular and only buy according to the strictest organic principles will most likely continue to place their trust in eco labels such as demeter and Bioland, as well as exclusive organic ranges. These labels not only have much higher standards for their organic products than those required under EU regulations, but are also more expensive. Organic private labels are, however, available to those who need to keep a tighter hold of their purse strings, but still want to do their bit towards ecological living.
Data source: GfK Verein, Online survey Brand Evaluations (September/October 2012)
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