June 29, 2011

Organic Lessons Learned

Last month I wrote a post about the labeling requirements when it comes to claiming your food product is organic.  As I pointed out, the organic label is not something you can slap onto anything and use unless you want to run the risk of having the USDA hand you a nice $11,000 fine.   While you may know and understand the requirements, you need to make sure that any third parties you work with also understand the consequences of misusing the organic label.   Why?  Well here’s a short lessons learned story for you:

About a year after I started my small food business I hired a PR firm to represent me.  If you’ve read my book you already know that the relationship did not exactly measure up the way I had hoped.  However, what I forgot to mention was that during the course of our short relationship, the PR firm – unbeknownst to me – started marketing my company as organic in press releases.  I had never claimed that my product or company was organic but they took it upon themselves to freely use the word organic.  When I realized what was going on and called them in a panic they indicated that since my products used organic ingredients then they naturally thought thy could say the treats were organic.  I had to explain to them that there were very strict rules about what can and cannot be considered organic and even if you use organic products you still have to certified by the USDA which, at that point, was not something I was willing to spend money to do.  The PR firm apologized profusuely (though I was still charged for the work that was sent out) and I certainly realize that their actions weren’t malicious.  They simply just didn’t know that they couldn’t say my company was organic.  So my word of advice to anyone out there who works with a third party, be it a PR firm, a graphic artist, a marketing firm, etc, be sure that  you sit down at the beginning of the relationship and explain to them how and why terms like organic or all-natural can and cannot be used.