R&FF Retailer: ‘The Oogidie-Boogidie People’

Discussion
Feb 27, 2007

Commentary by Warren Thayer, Editorial Director, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods Retailer

Why don’t more of you guys integrate your organic and natural foods into your mainstream shelf sets? I just don’t see why this is still even debated.

“Well, let’s see. Natural dairy products were up 3.3 percent last year, and natural organics were up 17.9 percent, while the department as a whole was down. Over in frozen, total sales were up 2.5 percent, but natural sales were up 23.6 percent and organics were up 42.5 percent. Hmm, I guess we better put this organic and natural stuff off in a corner somewhere by itself.”

Hello? As tennis ace John McEnroe used to say when perturbed by a linesman’s call, “You simply cannot be serious!”

I’ve actually felt this way for a long time, but held back from saying anything because older and wiser people with “gravitas” (something I’ve never had) were forever saying things like “Well, you should just do what works best in your stores. It can go either way.”

Yeah, and if the house is on fire, you can either run outside, or take a nap on the sofa until the fire department comes. “It can go either way.” This battle should be over. Things have changed, but too many retailers are still acting on old information.

Back in the last century, when my wife was the editor of Vegetarian Times, a dinosaur at her company used to refer to vegetarians as “The Oogidie-Boogidie People.” No, he didn’t “get it,” but I bet you laughed when you read that.

You laughed because about 20 or so years ago, it seemed quite appropriate to think of vegetarians and organic/natural food eaters as argumentative folk wearing turbans, Birkenstocks, and perpetually pained expressions. Once, when my wife wrote in a column that she was married to a meat eater, she got hate mail.

Now, if I’d had a store back then, I would have given the Oogidie-Boogidie people their own section off in a corner, too. Maybe I’d have put a secret little trap door in the floor. But it’s 2007 now, and organic and natural foods are mainstream. Shouldn’t shoppers find them with the “mainstream” foods? And for shoppers on the edge, wouldn’t it be wise to expose them to these products instead of ceding the ground to Whole Foods?

Yet a lot of retailers who do everything else right still segregate their natural and organics. The magnificent Price Chopper I adore, off in the woods of Lebanon, N.H., still makes me commute back and forth between the mainstream and the organic ghetto.

I know some folk fear they’ll lose “mainstream” business if they give up “mainstream” SKUs and add more organic and natural items into their regular shelf set. Hey, I’ve rarely seen a store without need for SKU rationalization, and besides, you actually stand to lose “mainstream” business by not giving natural and organic foods their due space. Unless, of course, you still believe in the Oogidie-Boogidie man.

Discussion Questions: Is it time to integrate organics into mainstream sets throughout grocery stores? Has keeping them separate in stores become an inconvenience (source of annoyance) for the many mainstream consumers who buy both organic and conventional foods and other products?

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24 Comments on "R&FF Retailer: ‘The Oogidie-Boogidie People’"


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Charles P. Walsh
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Charles P. Walsh
15 years 3 months ago

Thanks to Warren for a good chuckle this morning. It seems painfully obvious to many that segregation of organics/natural food products is simply the perpetuation of a bad idea.

As Seth Godin has written, bad ideas stick around for a long, long time.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Several disingenuous possibilities occur to me on this one. First, by segregating organics, retailers may possibly be hoping that customers won’t price compare them to non-organics and will be more likely to pay premium prices. Alternatively, segregating them may be due to perceived pressure from manufacturers of non-organics who think that their products would suffer even more by comparison when customers take time to stand and read all about it. Oh yes, one more thing–segregating products may make it easier to target customers and see who is buying what. After all, while retailers believe(d) that organically oriented customers were the minority, they may have felt justified in protecting their more mainstream customers from these cranks.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

This is a segmentation approach to marketing that is just plain bad. It is long overdue to integrate organic, natural foods with all of the rest of the products on the grocery shelves. This is already being done in some sections (like cereal and milk) and could easily be done throughout the entire store. Stores that have recognized that the same consumer often “shops” for both (or at least considers them as part of their purchasing decision) have made great advances in their store merchandising and will see the rewards at the cash register since these items tend to have a larger margin!

Laura Davis-Taylor
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Laura Davis-Taylor
15 years 3 months ago

Wow, this was a much needed column topic. I agree that it can go both ways but some brands are indeed trying to meet in the middle. I’m going to be a pain and bring up Publix again because they have a clearly identifiable “Greenwise” brand that marks all organic & natural foods/products with the beacon branding. Although there are some specific Greenwise sections, the Greenwise products are also interspersed throughout the store–all instantly identifiable by the signage and product packaging. As a natural foods advocate, I can can scan every aisle quickly and easily to find what I’m looking for and get out of the store in record time.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Can’t resist just noting here that there is in fact some evidence that integrating mainstream and organic/natural works. It’s called Whole Foods. Their stores are justifiably known as upscale, but they also work in quite a variety of demographic neighborhoods. They just figured “people” want to eat healthier and set about being the consumer advocate, filling a void–selling what the shoppers wanted instead of selling what the manufacturers wanted to push. Maybe they should have a section just for “unhealthy food” to attract that segment that doesn’t want to eat healthy. (Um, I’m being sarcastic, but I think you know where I am coming from.) This is a whole mindset (paradigm?) shift. Whole Foods set everybody scrambling, but it wasn’t all that complicated to begin with. Some of the leading retailers “get it” now in the wake of Whole Foods’ success, but too many are still out there wringing their hands. IMHO.

Raymond D. Jones
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Raymond D. Jones
15 years 3 months ago

Many of us went through this same exercise with “lite” foods and “sugar-free” as well as other product innovations.

The key question becomes, “Is it a lifestyle or is it a mainstream segment?” Phrased differently, are organic foods now considered options within their respective categories or are they a broader definition of a type of shopper?

Based on that question, does a retailer serve the customer better by having a defined section of organics or integrating them within their respective categories? Also, once you start to integrate them, the lines and definitions will inevitably become blurred, which may lead to dissatisfaction of both camps.

It would seem to depend greatly on the retailer’s shopper base and how they can best serve them.

shanika davis
Guest
shanika davis
15 years 3 months ago
Well, first off I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the author for advocating for us hippie vegetarians. Haha. We appreciate it. I was thinking about it, and while it would be nice to have more incorporation of natural organics in the mainstream grocery aisles, sometimes it’s nice to have our own section or store; even for those who buy both. I usually will buy both too, but with so many food items that the stores already have, it may be difficult to add the huge variety of natural organics. For example, when I go to Safeway I can usually find a good variety of vegan/organic/natural foods along with the regular food they have. If I’m looking for a more extensive variety or something very specific I know that I can always go to my local natural food store and find what I’m looking for, and then some. It is true, however, that some stores may not be as organically aware as Safeway, so perhaps they could make more of an effort… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 3 months ago

Grocers in many parts of the country can’t completely integrate Organics into the standard shelf because, like other SLOW moving items, these products are serviced by specialty distributors and it is necessary to have all their products in one section for efficiency of merchandising efforts. Of course, if the grocer wants to add another 400 SKUs to the warehouse and have his “help” merchandise and rotate the stock, then have at it. While organic food has grown dramatically, let’s remember that a 100% increase in 1 is still only 2. What matters here is satisfying the consumer and in many regions, the consumer is conditioned to shop for organics in a “specialty” section.

Lisa Everitt
Guest
Lisa Everitt
15 years 3 months ago

As an oogidie-boogidie person (I do eat meat, but only oogidie-boogidie meat), I thank you!

There is nothing worse than walking around the grocery store for 20 minutes trying to read the minds of whoever planogrammed the place, to find a satiety smoothie made by a client. Was it in the milk cooler, the dairy case, the “natural” dairy case, the specialty beverages aisle, the natural specialty beverages aisle, the shelf-stable milk set, the natural shelf-stable milk set, or in the “Abandon All Hope O Ye Who Enter Here” diet food section with the Slim-Fast and Ensure?

Answer: natural dairy case, two single-serve facings wide. If I’m spending my hard-earned oogidie-boogidie bucks for bogus overpriced food, why are you making me work so hard?

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
15 years 3 months ago

I am in the “don’t integrate” corner, (even if it is quiet in this corner). Being able to go directly to the organic products and get what I am looking for makes my shopping easier. I don’t want to spend time sorting through the labels. I don’t want to police my produce. And when I am in the “Organic Section” often I easily find additional products that tempt me that would not have presented themselves otherwise.

I shop both organic and non-organic and I try to shop quickly. (Although if you spoke with my husband he’d tell a different story.) Shopping is difficult enough; don’t make shopping a hunting routine. And do feature organics! Non-oogidie-boogidie people may enjoy what us organic shoppers have come to enjoy.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 3 months ago

The answer partly depends on the definition of integration. Putting organic and natural products, both name brand and private label, in the same aisle as their non-organic counterparts makes the most sense for the consumer. Convenience is paramount these days. Consumers just don’t want to take the time to go to two or more sections of the store looking for an item, if they can more easily go to one section and make comparative choices there. Those who want organic, want organic and will pay for it. Those who aren’t sure will see a greater variety of choices than they thought existed. By putting organics on sale regularly, retailers may increase sales to the category and increase customer satisfaction as well. Consumers who primarily shop stores like Whole Foods may be surprised at the greater choices now available at today’s supermarkets.

Make it easy for consumers to shop your store, and you will be rewarded.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 3 months ago
(Warren, you forgot Earth Shoes. Shame on you.) Safeway has integrated (i.e. “jammed”) their “O” brand onto shelves along with their other private labels. Their checkout clerks are required to ask, “Did you find everything you wanted?,” and then everyone has a good laugh. Decades ago we contemplated our navels (not oranges) while wondering if we should integrate Generics into the main shelf-set. The issue was shoppers embarrassed being seen in the Generics section. Wow, is that old-school or what? Now, shoppers in Organic or Natural Foods sections are seen as totally cool and upscale while contemplating their navels (oranges this time). Until, of course, they cart their purchases out to their SUVs…. So here’s my rant: Organics and Natural Foods are bogus, bogus, bogus! The requirements for these labels are so loosey-goosey that any industrial farmer/protein processor can qualify. Hasn’t anyone out there read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma?” Now I’m calm again, contemplating my navel (not oranges). What were the most recent attempts at segregating/integrating “stuff” in a grocery store? Low-Carbs, No Trans-Fats,… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
15 years 3 months ago

Pricing and presentation dilemmas will soon be solved as SuperValu’s Sunflower Market and other U.S. players make affordability moot. Then, on to multiple international players that have (Famima et al) and will (Tesco et al) hit our shores any month now, bringing highly shopable formats, edited organic assortments and grab-and-go convenience. Hand-wringing will cease as everyone looks over their shoulder and “Whole Paycheck” will make the full price-justifying shift from natural to natural and er…gourmet.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
15 years 3 months ago
This is a great, fun article turned into a good discussion…and a case where it seems one may have a rather different conclusion on product placement if the commenter is coming from a grocer/profit/marketing perspective versus a customer/convenience/buying perspective. How unfortunate that this is so. The placement dilemma re: “different” versions of a single product goes at least as far back as the introduction of “generic” grocery goods in the 1970s. Some of you may be old enough to recall the plain wrapped cans of generic fruit cocktail and green beans and the plain boxes of macaroni that sat sadly, colorlessly, and unappetizingly enmasse in a “generic no man’s land” aisle far from the well known brands and signature store labels. As with some of today’s organics some generic offerings were not so tasty, but others were delicious and were simply repackaged versions of the same traditional brands that sat a few aisles away at twice the price. Generics worked fine for many purposes, and it was aggravating to have to wander around trying to… Read more »
Sue Nicholls
Guest
Sue Nicholls
15 years 3 months ago
A “natural section,” which is typically off to the side or back of the store somewhere, is only there for the “vegetarians and organic/natural food eaters who are argumentative folk wearing turbans, Birkenstocks, and perpetually pained expressions” (by the way Warren, I love that description). This layout doesn’t work for either the “non-organic” or “organic” consumers. For those “non-organic” consumers who believe that you have to wear Birkenstocks to shop the section, how does it entice them to even enter that area? It doesn’t–in fact, it probably scares them to death! And for the “organic” consumer, they have to decide what to buy in the natural foods section, and then they have to shop the rest of the store to fill in what they couldn’t buy in the “Birkenstocks only” section. Retailers owe it to their consumers to offer them choices. By putting some of the category offerings in a different part of the store, they are not encouraging consumers to make different purchase decisions (which typically are a higher dollar ring). They should even… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

A very big supermarket shopper complaint: stop moving the displays around. In spite of that issue, wouldn’t it pay for a chain store to take a few locations and test organic and natural foods display integration versus segregation? One possible exception: it may pay to keep the segregation in the produce area, since it’s easier for the organic to get confused with the conventional produce.

And being customer-driven, why not test integration in the areas that are traditionally brand-shelved? Just because it’s easier for the DSD route people to do their replenishment by keeping each brand separate doesn’t mean it’s preferred by the customers. And how many stores keep their private label brands segregated? Is that customer-driven?

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
15 years 3 months ago

Yes, the house is on fire.

Isn’t the shelf all about trading up? Natural and organic products are a “natural” trade-up even if there aren’t enough organaphanatics to support them in their own corner.

Given the choice (key phrase) people do choose better all the time. Why would it be any different on the shelf?

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

It seems to me to be a research issue, whether in-store or using virtual reality shopping (sorry for the commercial). I don’t think we can intuit the answer–too many arguments for either side.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
15 years 3 months ago
This is a lot like the plus-size segregation that happens in apparel, and I’m not too fond of that, either. I will tell you that it never would have occurred to me to try Wolfgang Puck’s organic soups if they hadn’t been in an extremely prominent end-of-aisle display at my local Dierbergs. At that point, my experience walking the NNFA show some years back kicked in–that natural foods tended either to taste way better than the mainstream alternative or else like particulate-infused motor oil mixed with driveway gravel. I figured Wolfgang would probably not end up on the motor-oil side of things, so here I am, the proud owner of four cans of organic Puck soups, when the special was for three at a time. Based on that highly scientific survey of one distracted shopper, I think the answer is definitely to mainstream the organic SKUs. (I also am afraid to shop that aisle–not for fear of looking like a nutcase–but for fear of coming home with a bunch of food that tastes of sand… Read more »
Paul Wroten
Guest
Paul Wroten
15 years 3 months ago
I was amused by the comments made on this subject. I have no hard evidence, nor have I been shown any…that substantiates that we should integrate. There has been much speculation and rhetoric–but nothing else–to jump into it seems less then prudent. When looked at this issue from a manufacturing return on investment, once we take these items “mainstream,” the pressure will begin to get the retail prices down to an acceptable (for the masses) price point. Retail price down means list price reduced…which logically means reduced return for the manufacturer. These items also have additional costs of manufacturing. The Natural/Organic Channel consumer is happy to pay more for something healthy that they feel fits their needs. Retail pricess stay up, list price remains steady…return remains steady. I will continue to argue against the Wal-Mart syndrome…”sell more for less.” It can work with mainstream items, but those “Wal-Mart consumers” faced with retail rings that exceed $5.00 on the same things they can get from “mainstream” for $2.99 end up not buying and the answer for… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Organic foods should of course be integrated into the overall merchandise mix but I suspect that the reason grocery retailers continue to segregate and feature organic foods are the impressive sales growth percentages quoted by Warren Thayer! Grocery retailers are grocery merchants first and retailers second and as such believe that these featured sections help their customers.

But wait! Let’s not forget about the customer! By integrating organic products, which are sold at a premium over their nonorganic equals, the undiscerning customer may unknowingly pay $1.99 per pound for organic bananas instead of $.49. What will that do for customer experience and loyalty?

Barry Wise
Guest
Barry Wise
15 years 3 months ago

Thanks Warren for saying what many of us have been thinking. There was a time when the organics were best merchandised in one location in the store. However, the time has come to integrate and merchandise them with the other products in their categories. This will reduce the confusion and ultimately lead to an increase in sales, thus making it a win-win for both the consumer and end user.

David Biernbaum
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Hi Warren, good points as usual. What SKU rationalization means to some retail chains is to simply carry the top “X” ranked UPCs right off the category scan report almost regardless of what niche choices are omitted from the assortment. I guess that’s why I can’t find my favorite no-fat ice cream anymore at my regional grocery chain. But at least I have an excuse for being overweight. Umm, the “Highly Advertised Brand of Chocolate Chip Brownie Extra Creamy Brownie Delight with Critical Mass” is delicious! Good thing it was already ranked one tenth of a point ahead of the healthy brand. Otherwise, my regional chain might have carried at least one SKU of the healthy stuff and I might have purchased it instead of choosing one of the 17 choices they offered on the fattening stuff.

Dave Lueken
Guest
Dave Lueken
15 years 3 months ago

One size does not fit all. Segregating is better for the consumer who only shops organic/natural. Integrating is better for the customer that shops both conventional and organic/natural. You can’t please everyone. Get used to it. The bottom line is you do your market research, you make a decision, and you run with it. Peace.

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