Organic is now mainstream. No longer are consumers content to shop a special section with limited organic offerings. They want organic options from which to choose alongside everything else, and that accounts for the deli department as well.

“Organic foods are becoming more and more mainstream,” says Kristy Klug, marketing manager for Saputo Specialty Cheese. “In the past, we would have recommended offering a distinct organic brand merchandised separately from our traditional offerings. We now offer organic cheeses as line extensions to our brands.”

Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Blount Fine Foods, agrees.

“Organics have kind of become a staple,” he says. “It’s a section, if you will. You have to be able to satisfy that shopper as well.”

Blount, a leader in ready-to-eat soups, first dipped its toes into the organic category somewhat out of necessity, Sewall says. “Obviously we produce Panera Bread’s soups, and we do a tremendous amount of private label,” he says. “The only other white space that was available at the time was the organic section.”

After a couple years of development and testing, Blount announced the national launch of its line of organic soups at IDDBA’s 2016 show in Houston.  Sewell notes that Blount had only dabbled in organic products up to that point and came to the realization that it was time to go all-in. Sales have performed well since the launch, he says. 

“It’s been very steady,” he says. “A lot of our customers have added organics to their private label line and Panera has some organic flavors in their line now.”

Saputo recently rolled out Organic Fresh Mozzarella and Organic Parmesan through its Stella brand. 

“Our Stella Organic Fresh Mozzarella has the same bright, refreshing taste consumers have come to love in our traditional fresh mozzarella offerings, but it is now available as a USDA-certified Organic cheese,” Klug says. “With its delicate flavor and creamy texture, our organic fresh mozzarella is sure to enhance any salad, pizza or pasta dish. This taste will take you straight to the Italian countryside for the price of a trip to the grocery store.”

That quality and flavor is vital when it comes to organic products in the deli. Just simply getting something certified organic won’t make it popular with shoppers.

“We believe when consumers come to the deli, they’re looking for a treat,” Klug says. “Like shopping for wine, they tend to peruse the section for an extended period. They’re actively seeking out cheeses that appeal to them through packaging design, fun product names or value-added solutions like serving suggestions. We are very tactical in our go-to-market strategy to best address these needs.’

Blount made sure its organic line of soups was just as bold and flavorful as its regular products.

“The one big thing we did differently was that we really made our organic soups extremely hearty,” Sewall says. “In a lot of them we included organic barley or organic grains so that, along with being great-tasting soups, they’re also filling. We felt like the organic section was kind of weak when it came to flavor and ingredients. It was a little milquetoast, if you will. So we made sure that there was a lot of particulates and that they were great-tasting and flavorful.

“What it really came down to was trying to get that reaction of ‘Oh, man, this soup tastes great, and by the way, it’s organic.’”

If a product is organic, there's a good chance it will also check off a number of other health concerns on consumers' minds.

Spreading the word

Saputo has found success in getting its organic products in front of as many eyes as possible, especially through social media and other online initiatives.

“We promote our Stella Organic Fresh Mozzarella and Stella Organic Parmesan through social media, influencer marketing campaigns and recipe videos,” Klug says. “Through these channels we can provide easy solutions that inspire our consumers to transform their everyday dining into something gourmet.”

Klug says the company merchandises the organic cheeses with a purpose as well. When it comes to recommended wine pairings, the organic parmesan’s distinctive flavor, with a subtle, slightly nutty flavor and hard texture, pairs well with Chianti, Merlot or Pinot Noir.

“We recommend stores merchandise the organic cheeses with their other Stella offerings,” she says. “This allows consumers to quickly head towards the Italian-style cheeses they’re seeking and then easily select between the traditional milk offerings or the organic offerings.”

Organic versatility

Sewall points out that an organic line can also check off a number of boxes on consumers’ current list of demands.

“In today’s world, when you’re developing a soup line, you have to have a certain amount of gluten-free, clean label, clean ingredients, and so on,” he says. “And you better have some vegan, some vegetarian, some non-GMO. What’s nice about the organic flavors is they can kind of check a lot of boxes. They check off non-GMO, they check off vegetarian a lot. Most times they check off low-fat. That’s the beauty of that. You’re able to augment a line and in today’s world of social media, it’s important to keep every section of shoppers covered.”

That versatility helps when it comes to private label. IDDBA predicts that private label will likely show growth in 2018 and beyond, boosted by growing demand for organic products that previously were limited to specialty and premium stores. In response, retailers are offering a growing variety and selection of low-cost organics to attract these consumers, including private-label options. Discounters — whose foods selection is predominately private label — are experiencing relatively strong growth.

And for those who can’t afford a private label, branded products like Blount’s soups and Saputo’s cheeses allow them to carry something organic and different at a much lower price.
But, as Sewall points out, it eventually all comes back to quality.

“I think the most important thing is to make a great, organic product,” he says. “As a result, you have great sales. You have to have some organics in your line to check off all the boxes.”