About Organic labels…

As I drive into work, I pass several billboards, each extolling the virtues of whatever mediocre product that happens to be plastered to the board. Normally I think of these ads as visual white noise, rarely getting my attention. And if they do, I rarely think of them past the time it takes for my Mini to drive on by.

But this morning changed there was a change in my routine a bit, as I noticed a sign selling Organic Beer (warning: Flash load).

Upon reading that, my initial thought was that I didn’t realize that there was a market demand for organic beer. My second thought was that I hadn’t realized how pervasive the label “organic” had become. I knew it had become the new marketing tool for food producers, but it still made some sort of sense to see it on boxes of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies or bottles Heinz Ketchup. But beer? Do we need to see it on beer?

I’m not so crass as to believe that the folks a Henry Weinhard’s don’t have their heart in the right place. For all I know, they’re fully committed to creating a sustainable product that doesn’t use pesticides and is earth friendly and all of the other buzz phrases that are typically associated with the “organic” term. But I wonder if putting it on as many products as possible dilutes the core principles of the organic movement. Not in the same way that industrial organic has diluted the term, but in a way that makes the word become visual white noise.

As way of a thought experiment, let me list a handful of products:

  • Organic Dog Food
  • Organic Lipstick
  • Organic tomatoes
  • Organic Vodka
  • Organic Apples
  • Organic Frozen Pizza
  • Organic Shampoo
  • Organic Ice Cream

Some of you may think that there’s nothing wrong with any of these products, and you would probably be right. But I’m guessing there’s a handful of you who read the list and said “What the heck?? Organic Lipstick and Organic Vodka?” My question is to those of you who fit the latter category:

Does seeing the “Organic” label placed on every product diminish its value on items where it means something? Does seeing the “Organic” label on Vodka make the organic label on tomatoes seem less important?

In my opinion, it does. The saturation of the organic label is starting to make me tune the word out when I view it on labels.

I don’t believe this to be the fault of food manufacturers, who mostly have the right idea. I think it’s simply a result of an overexposure to the word, so much so that it loses it’s meaning.


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