Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Selling organic food for thought

A new store that sold organic farm produce opened up in our neighbourhood. I just had to visit the place, a sucker that I am for organic stuff. And I did. While there, I picked up asparagus, pok-choi, drum-sticks and two unfamiliar types of lettuce. A sincere salesman urged me to consider more stuff from the other shelves. Like grains, lentils, jaggery, potatoes, onions, etc. “Poor guy, if only he knew”, I thought. It would be so good for him, had he known that I buy stuff that is not routinely sent in by the local grocery store nor ordinarily bought for us by our household help. Like the asparagus and lettuce. It would’ve been even better for him, had he known that I am a big fan of the ‘food as medicine’ subject, and hence easily buy items that score high on medicinal value. Like drum-sticks. It would’ve been just fantastic for him to know that I like cooking stuff that my kids enjoy, and hence have an open mind about buying related items. Like when I bought pok-choi and asparagus, I could easily have bought zucchini and mushrooms if they were available. But how could he know all that?
Why would this new store not meet the same fate, that many other stores in our locality have ? Gasping for breath for want of revenues and profits, why would it not recalibrate, and turn into a dime-a-dozen store selling dime-a-dozen products and services, before eventually dying ? Organic farm produce is closer to my heart than some of these other failed products and services have been, and I sincerely hope for a better future for its owner and its employees.
To buck the powerful trend, the owner of the store would have to first realise that we consumers with disposable incomes are a funny lot. Probably he already does. We wear synthetic stretch shirts, but buy cotton socks. Even if we know all about the benefits of organic food, and instil responsible ideologies in our children, it’s perhaps not yet the time to assume that we would normally make the switch away from conveniently available and lower priced food items grown using deadly pesticides and fertilizers.
However, something different could be done to identify and satisfy the logical clusters of needs and wants that we have. In my example, one cluster was ‘not usually found in my house’, the second cluster was ‘medicinal value’, and the third cluster was ‘items that go into a type of dish that my kids like’. If you notice, it’s not just health consciousness and green philosophy I am guided by. Those just took me to the store. Beyond that, my purchases were guided by my clusters of needs and wants. Notice also that another cluster automatically emerges from the original three, that I could be guided by. It could be for items that are ‘not usually found in my house + are of medicinal value + can go into a type of dish that my kids like’. To find and buy those would be heavenly, and I wouldn’t mind an inconvenient location or the higher price, to satisfy my craving for these.
I think I am on to something here. The owner of the store could stock and display items according to the high-likelihood need-clusters of his current and potential customers. Individual needs are difficult to pin point, and difficult to satisfy, since they vary by individual. On the other hand, catering to very broad trends may leave many customers dissatisfied for being treated as part of a herd. However, need-clusters have the required generality for easier identification and the required specificity for higher satisfaction.

That brings me to another point that is an extension of the previous one. We often buy more than we need. On a particular day, while I’m at that store, and am being primarily guided by the afore mentioned need-clusters, there are other auxillary need-clusters at the back of my mind. That connect with my primary need-clusters or extend from them, and are just waiting to be tapped. One such, could be of items that ‘may not be great for health, but in limited quantities, and along with organic produce, could go into dishes that my children like’. Like egg noodles or oyster sauce. When I look within, there are scores of such auxillary need-clusters I can think of. That would make me gravitate towards food and non-food consumables that I could just as easily purchase, while out buying organic farm produce and being in that particular mind-set. Like ‘minimalist’, ‘unadulterated’, ‘green and energy efficient’, etc, etc, etc.
There’s a neat looking torchlight which we recently got as a gift. Some turns of an attached handle, power a dynamo that converts mechanical energy into the electrical energy required for the bulb to glow. We love it and the kids love it. Imagine if the store that sold organic farm produce also sold such torchlights. Far-fetched ? Ok, then imagine if the store selling the torchlights was next to the one that sold the organic farm produce. And another that stocked goat milk cheese or cleansers with natural ingredients. Wouldn’t each such store increase the footfalls for the others ?
Why not introduce innovative services around need-clusters which open more possibilities for selling the intended products ? We like being novel and hip. What if the owner of the store also offered the additional service of providing gift boxes, with each containing the measured quantities of organically produced ingredients, as well as the recipe of an interesting, easy to make and healthy dish ? What if the box also contained leaflets about the benefits of organic food in general and the medicinal values of each ingredient in particular ? I know I would certainly pick these up as return gifts for the families attending my child’s birthday. Or even to give to folks that invite us over for dinner. Or to give to my team at work.

Why not use responsible education and advertising that is directed towards the need-clusters of the buyers ? Like advising them to go organic with at least fruits and vegetables that won't be peeled before consumption, if affordability prevents them from buying everything organic. Like warning them about non-organic stuff that is researched to be highest on the no-no list. Like engaging them with simple, accurate and easy to remember anecdotes, success stories, innovations, useful information and answers to questions.
I ask you this. Would the owner of the store benefit more by serving specific need-clusters, and by being in the vicinity of those serving auxillary need-clusters, or benefit more by only riding the general wave of health awareness ?
If it's the former you point your finger towards, then maybe all those engaged in selling ‘the-in-things’ (i.e., lifestyle products, outsourcing, management of gen-y employees, online retailing, fight against corruption, right to education) might also benefit from doing that. The fight for transparency and efficiency in governance, for example, is in the same need-cluster as the fight against corruption is. So Team Anna could either stock this (and probably more) as well in their store, or stay in the vicinity of other stores that do. Similarly, the right to food, water, health and security, is in the same need-cluster as the right to education is. So the Government could either stock these (and probably more) as well in their store, or stay in the vicinity of other stores that do.

Want to add your voice to mine ?


  1. Had to persist with it but was duly rewarded.

    1. I know. My posts are a bit long and it takes me about a couple of paragraphs just to open up :-) But seriously, I tried to reconfigure some familiar services based on a) need clusters and b) reducing customer frustration, and was quite encouraged by what I could come up with.