As a professional within the health food industry, Keri Aivazis is particularly concerned with the ways the public perceives organic and natural foods. She explains that although a greater percentage of Americans have gravitated to following healthier diets and avoiding processed foods, many have become reliant on interpreting “organic” labels to mean a product is more nutritional. However, a recent study found that many consumers may not be looking at the nutritional content of organic foods—via food labels—in the correct manner, indicating that trusting customers may be overvaluing the health factor of the products they eat.
A recent article from The Atlantic Wire assessed the study which was conducted by researchers at Cornell University. According to the article, the study was incited by a desire to examine the steady growth of the health food industry and to determine if the commercial success of these products still incorporated a dedication to promoting nutrition. The article states, “The rapid growth of the organic food industry is a good thing if it means that more people are supporting sustainable practices and avoiding unnecessary pesticides, but any $30 billion-a-year industry should be approached with caution. The wholesome-sounding ‘organic’ label remains squarely on the fence between health and marketing.”
Keri Aivazis notes that the problem addressed in the article is a very real one. As a professional familiar with the health food industry she understands the tricks to promoting products that may prove worth more or healthier to consumers than they really are. Despite understanding the value of marketing strategies, Aivazis has remained a strong advocate of representing health foods in an honest fashion. In fact, her desire to expand the health food market has led her to act as the co-owner of the Urban Radish, a farm-fresh grocery store located in Los Angeles, California.
Although Aivazis explains that natural foods include products that should be represented as they are, the market has become somewhat diluted by misleading claims made by brands and retailers. She notes that the Cornell study helped illustrate that point. According to the article, the study addressed marketing perception as “Cornell researchers recruited 115 passersby to participate in a taste test. The participants sampled what were labeled as the organic and non-organic versions of cookies, potato chips, and yogurt. In reality, the two types of each food were identical (and, incidentally, organic).”
The Atlantic Wire describes the results, “The participants guessed that the ‘organic’ cookies, chips, and yogurt were 20 to 24 percent lower in calories than ‘regular’ versions. They thought the organic foods ‘tasted lower in fat and calories’ and higher in fiber as well, and perceived the cookies and chips, though not the yogurt, as tasting more nutritious. They were willing to pay up around 16 to 23 percent more for all three.”
In terms of actual consumer awareness, the study found that, “Certain factors seemed to make participants less susceptible to being fooled. For example, the organic labels had less of an effect on those who reported reading nutrition labels frequently and those who often bought organic, and were therefore more familiar with the foods and their marketing tactics. People who actively cared about the environment…were marginally less confused by the labels.”
While Keri Aivazis remains encouraged that those who are active in the health food lifestyle proved more aware of what they were eating, that the implications of the study still outlined some potential dangers in the marketing of these types of products. The article explains, “While calling them organic didn’t make foods more appealing across-the-board, the taste tests clearly demonstrated what the researchers call a ‘health halo’ around the term. This explains some of the less straightforward results: The authors think that because yogurt is already thought to be healthy, the effect was diminished for the organic version; similarly, participants may have thought the organic cookies were less tasty precisely because they also thought they were healthier.”
As a professional who hopes to grow consumer acceptance of health food and organic products, Aivazis believes that it is essential that brands and the public both evolve learn how to identify individual products as “great-tasting” and “nutritional,” rather than letting a label make those suggestions. For Aivazis, the solution is not just in marketing, but in how local farmers and retailers develop and grow within this commercial space.
“The responsibility of healthy food retailers extends beyond leveraging the halo-effect of organic marketing. Now that consumers are more educated regarding the benefits of organic foods, retailers need to step up and ensure consumers are getting access to the most nutritious and delicious options in their local markets. This often includes promoting small local farmers who are operating with premium standards and farming processes very near to ‘organic’ but do not have the resources to complete the certification process,” Keri Aivazis concludes.
Keri Aivazis is a veteran of the food services industry, and a strong advocate for the farm-to-fork movement; her passion is for providing the Los Angeles community with fresh and tasty foods from local farmers and agriculturalists. Currently, Aivazis co-owns Urban Radish, a farm-fresh grocery store in the Los Angeles Arts District. Apart from her professional ventures, Aivazis utilizes her deep knowledge of food as a gourmet cook who is particularly inclined to crafting Mediterranean dishes.