Wegmans is a most exceptional company. On virtually every subject they wind up being ahead of the game. We arrange tours of American retailers for many foreign friends and associates, Wegmans is always number one on the list of retailers these visitors wish to see. This company is right far more often than it is wrong. Indeed, just the other day we praised the Wegmans family and the company for doing the right thing and offering people with compromised immune systems the chance to buy irradiated ground beef when others are afraid to do so.
Oddly, though, Wegmans has been running a most extraordinary TV commercial. It asserts, without any evidence, that organically grown produce tastes better than conventionally grown produce.
There has been some research that has found that the marketing term “organic” carries psychological weight with consumers and that product labeled organic — whether organic or not — can be perceived as tastier, healthier, etc. But when it comes to taste itself, there is not one neutrally conducted, double-blind, peer-reviewed study of produce purchased at a supermarket that has ever found organic produce tasting better than conventionally grown produce.
There is also an odd turn of phrase. The commercial attacks “artificial pesticides or fertilizers,” but it is unclear what the word ‘artificial” means in this context since certified organic agriculture allows the use of many synthetic substances.
The ad has other issues, seeming to imply that the soil Wegmans produce grows in is richer than soil other retailers get their produce from, and that Wegmans has unique technology that lets it grow produce 10 months a year when others have to settle for two.
Here is the text of the commercial:
When we started Wegmans organic farm, we found out why most organics tasted better. It was the strength of the soil. When you don’t use artificial pesticides or fertilizers, your soil has to be rich and strong. This makes crops taste better. We also found these high tunnels help us grow ten months a year instead of just ten weeks using only the sun for energy. Better tasting crops grown right here in our region. Everyday you get our best.
There is clearly a consumer market and demand for organics, and retailers should offer organics, but the claims for organic need to conform to known science. Wegmans is not far from Cornell University. We bet Cornell would love to do a double-blind study and get it published and peer-reviewed to ascertain if consumers actually find organics taste better than conventional produce. Wegmans is a very charitable company and, perhaps, it should consider creating a grant to get this research completed.
Until they do, they should stop saying things that we have no reason to believe are true.