When you walk through most conventional grocery stores you’ll notice that a large amount of the packaging has little circles or squares with keywords, like “Organic,” all over them. In fact, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of organic foods are expected to hit $35 billion this year, more than three times what it was a decade ago. That is great, but there is a strategic value that must be considered when placing icons on valuable packaging space. There is a science behind them that can create product differentiation, support the price differentials, and drive purchase in-store. That is why attribute certifications can be so important.

Let’s use the USDA Organic seal as an example and do some exploration.

While most consumers think there is only one seal, there are actually three variations of how the USDA Organic seal can be presented.

  1. 100% Organic – Must contain 100% USDA certified organic products and only use 100% organic processing aids in production. 
  2. Organic – Must contain 95% USDA certified organic products. The remaining 5% can be allowed non-organic items
  3. Made with Organic Ingredients – Must contain 70% USDA certified organic products. The remaining 30% must be allowed non-organic ingredients or non-organic agriculture ingredients. 

Customers often assume #2 is the same as #1, while in other situations products accidentally use #2 in place of #3. So while there is an important difference, for the purpose of this post, we will focus on #2 as the “standard.” Now let’s pick it apart.

Associations with the seal text
The USDA Organic seal does three important things with only two words. First, by including “USDA” it implies it comes straight from the highest possible authority. Second, it uses a word that is widely accepted as good for both the consumer and the earth – “Organic.” These two separate terms are easily recognizable and valuable. However, when combined, they add a third value – the idea that the product has been certified by an agency (which it has) and is not a gimmick to fool the consumer. At the very least, this implies credibility and seems worth the small amount of space the seal takes up.

Seal compared to other seals
Almost every seal included on product packaging is the choice of the food marketer. They may choose to use the USDA Organic seal to increase their appeal to health-conscious consumers. However, a seal that simply states “organic” could bring doubt into the consumer’s mind and may even dilute the power of the term. And savvy consumers are often skeptical consumers, so marketers need to understand how their audience will choose between a product with the USDA Organic seal or another seal such as Fair Trade, if they are standing side by side on the shelf. At that point, how the seal could impact product price or make a product appeal to a wider audience will be considered. It will depend highly on each product’s consumer and their values.

Consumer values
Even after all of the above, there are still consumer values and their perception of your brand to consider. Can everyone understand the seal? Do your consumers feel good about it? Is it something your audience would feel the need to challenge? The list of considerations may be long and complex, but it is still a mandatory marketing consideration. In some cases, such as MOM Brands, it becomes extremely valuable to create a branded seal and integrate your own supporting sustainability program – Bag the Box – to appeal to customers. Other brands may want to consider that anti-government consumers might not love the USDA Organic seal because it is tied to something they are against. It becomes a matter of matching your product’s values to your audience’s interests and then inserting the right seals to support the value to the brand.

So are seals valuable?
Seals clearly hold a value, but with all of the other clutter competing for value, promises from the brands must be able to back up their claims. It is a matter of strategy and planning to choose which seals, if any, are right for your product and packaging. USDA Organic has a proven track record – it makes farms more money, it lets the producer charge more, and it makes the consumer feel healthier. This seal, in the majority of situations, appears to be valuable.  

Which seals matter (or don’t matter) to you when you’re out shopping?