My wife and I began as certified organic. We didn't make a transition. When we took up farming we jumped right into certified organic and didn't know any better, so we never went through a conversion piece.
What we ended up doing was adding natural afterwards, which is not the logical thing, but we found that with certified organic, because it's at the highest price point, there was a dedicated and loyal following but the growth would be much slower. So that was one challenge, the price point and not being able to grow it.
The second thing was that with certified organic there is a three-year transition for a farm to fall under that. So for three years the land and the animals and the livestock, everything, has to go through that period.
The challenge for us in growing our supply for organic was how do you convince a farmer to convert to organic and follow the organic methodology of farming without any kind of premium? The opportunity lay there to offer something as a premium for what would be considered the natural, which would fall right underneath the organic. We did that with one larger account that we had, thinking that the natural would bridge the gap as we grew our organic supply chain.
What happened instead was that we found there was a large group of consumers who wanted to take one step healthier in terms of their food choices but weren't prepared to go all the way to organic. That's where the natural has met that void.
One of the biggest challenges we've had, then, is that because there isn't a strict third-party control of natural—at least at a government level—we, as a brand and as a company, have said, we'll take ownership of that. We'll put in all the steps that we believe need to be in place, we'll advertise that to the customer, and we'll perform our own self-audits where needed to make sure that natural follows that strict protocol.
That's how we've been able to bridge that gap.
The danger of course is that natural becomes a grey area and can be abused and can create some lack of confidence in the marketplace. That's really where the challenge is with natural, which doesn't exist with organic.
So if you're looking at comparing it to an automobile, you'd have your Ferrari, you'd have your Toyota, and then you'd have your Lada. I don't know if that's politically correct, but that would be the way to distinguish between organic, natural, and what's considered commodity.