This article will cover demystifying the USDA organic certification process.
Organic brands are gaining so much relevance, both in price and cultural capital. The organic food market is set to grow at 20-25% in 2018 according to N. Balasubramanian, CEO of 24 Mantra Organic. Many Miami Organic Brands are sprouting up in hopes of joining this ever growing market. For a brand or product to be considered “organic”, it has conserve natural resources and only use approved substances.
However, it is not enough for your brand product to be ‘considered’ organic. Due to the level of competition in the market from well established brands, your products would no doubt do better within the market, bearing the USDA’s organic seal of approval.
A USDA Certification is mostly concerned with facilitating and regulating the sale of organic products to consumers. The process, which began in 2002, is explained by Miles McEvoy, the deputy administrator of the National Organic Program, as one which is put in place to set “the standards for creating a biological-based crop production system.” Miles McEvoy further explained that, for processed organic foods, the National Organic Program is concerned with “product identity, product labeling, and handling all the way from farm to packaged product”.
Packaging organic products
Creating product packaging that matches your brand’s promise does not only increase your chances of getting your product certified but also helps you market your products better. This is because, even with the USDA’s seal of approval, there are certain factors which attract customers, especially first-time buyers to your product and how you package your product is one of those factors. Your product’s packaging is usually the first physical touch point a consumer has with your brand. It is good to make a spectacular impression!
Here are some factors customers expect from organic food packaging:
• Transparency: Customers value clear packaging that allows them to see the foods or items contained in your product. Placing strategic text and graphics, educating the consumer on how the ingredients for your products were sourced and the production process, also portrays your brand as a transparent one.
• Quality: Organic brands should be all about good quality. Customers who turn to organic products do so because be they value products of high quality. Therefore, your packaging should be able to convey a sense of high quality to consumers. This you can achieve through the addition of good packaging materials, structures and finishes to your packaging designs.
• Natural appeal: Consumers expect organic products to be made from natural ingredients, your packaging should emphasize that. From the use of soy-based inks to recycled/recyclable materials; your packaging should adopt organic structures to portray purity. You can also use visuals, text and graphics and quality photography to achieve this natural appeal. Pay attention to how items like; health benefits, ingredients and nutritional values are represented on your product’s packaging; these are items customers look out for.
However, before you select a particular kind of packaging for your product, it is vital you consider the kind of product you are offering. Here are some factors to help guide your decision:
• Go for plastics that are highly recyclable like PET plastics, to reduce landfill waste.
• Consider using packaging materials with very lightweight to reduce the overall weight of your products. Materials like clear stand-up pouches/bags are great for organic packaging products, and they can be used to package fruits, salsa, cheese, coffee even meat.
• You can also consider using glass. It is not only transparent but also recyclable. This makes it a good option for organic packaging.
• Use adequate label materials to illustrate what your product is all about; to give consumers a clear picture.
• Be sure to carefully decide what sizes (in case of bottles and plastics) you would like to use, to prevent changing product packaging very often as this could end up confusing consumers.
What are the benefits of getting a USDA organic certification for your organic product packaging?
Despite knowing the purpose of USDA certification, as an entrepreneur, you may wonder, what you stand to gain from having USDA certified products. The list is endless, especially when it comes to how customers perceive your goods. Some of these benefits include:
• A USDA certification changes customers’ perception of your brand and product. To boost sales and gain a lot more first time buyers; you should get your product certified.
• Getting USDA certified organic seal, portrays you as a brand, which cares about maintaining a healthy planet, this is one factor which attracts consumers to brands.
• A USDA certification also assures customers of the quality of your product, as it clearly shows your product was good enough to pass the stringent rules involved in getting certified.
Requirements for USDA organic certification
For your product to be certified USDA organic a lot of factors are considered by the National Organic Program. These factors border on Processing, Packaging, and Shipping. They include:
• The absence of synthetic chemical inputs
• A detailed written record of financial activities including sales and production; to facilitate speedy audits.
• Clearly distinguishing organic products from non-certified product to avoid confusion.
• Going through periodic on-site inspections.
How to apply for USDA organic certification for your organic brand
Before applying for USDA organic certification, you have to be certain your products are organic. Once this is settled, you can start the certification process. Usually, the process isn’t very tedious, but a few differences exist for different circumstances. Getting your organic brands USDA certified involves three stages:
• The Application Process- Here, you select an agent. The National Organic Program provides a list of easy to search agents. Alternatively, you can find an agent by asking business owners who produce similar products, for referrals. Submit your agent’s application forms and await approval from your agent as regards the next stage
• The inspection- This stage involves some scheduled visits from a reputable certification agent, to ensure every information filled out in your application is true.
• Certification- Lastly, the agent reports their findings to the National Organic Program for review. If there aren’t any issues or outstanding fees you’ll be allowed to label your product USDA organic. You can also visit the National Organic Program’s website for more information and assistance.
How much do you need?
During the early years of USDA organic certification, the fees for a single farm’s certification were about $750. Currently, certification fees largely depend on the organic certification agent you select. The agent is expected to give you a clear estimate even before you officially choose one. The fee ranges between $800-$2,000.
What makes your brand eligible for USDA certification?
If your business makes grossly $5,000 in the United States, it is compulsory for you to have USDA certification. You may also be eligible if you:
• Process and produce organic foods
• Commercially produce organic crops or livestock
• Own a brand which develops organic products
• Own a restaurant which sells organic foods
Good for life
Finally, acquiring a USDA certification for branding your products is a once in a lifetime action. This means that, unless you voluntarily give up your certification, it remains valid so long as no rules are violated. This is probably one reason you should endeavor to get the certification- because for something that demands so little; it sure has a lot of benefits.