The first generic campaign for organic food is focusing on four messages to appeal to mainstream shoppers. Richard Ford and Julia Glotz report

It took 18 months to develop. It has the support of the biggest brands in the sector behind it. On Monday, the first-ever ­generic marketing campaign for ­organic products will take flight.

But after over two years of sales declines, following last year's damning report from the Food Standards Agency which concluded that organic food was no healthier than conventionally ­produced food and with the ­financial climate remaining less than rosy, how will the campaign win back consumers, and what are its chances of success?

The new approach is a conscious move away from "the evangelical approach" that the organic movement might have taken in the past, says Huw Bowles, chairman of the Organic Trade Board (OTB), which is spearheading the campaign.

"It will be informative in that it will be substantiated by decent background, but it won't be pushy or preachy, or anything like that." And while the campaign will not deliberately set out to discredit the FSA's report (published in July last year), it will "amplify" any favourable research papers that are published around the world during the course of the campaign.

The ability to communicate
The campaign materials will focus on four key messages including 'great tasting food'; 'better for ­nature'; 'better for animal welfare' and 'more natural food'.

They may sound woolly, but Bowles claims the campaign deliberately avoided using industry ­jargon in order to appeal to mainstream household shopper rather than the organic diehard a core strategy of the entire campaign. "It's about using language [mainstream shoppers] would buy into."

Yeo Valley's Tim Mead who has spearheaded surely the most daring and memorable ad ever to promote organic food says he thinks the campaign is "brilliant. There's been lots of debate over what ­organic means, but when people understand what it does mean, then it's fine."

Bowles believes the industry's greatest weakness has been its fundamental inability to communicate the many things that organic stands for. But this has been turned into one of the key strengths of the campaign, he says, belying an acceptance that there is no silver bullet when it comes to marketing organic. "You don't have to understand everything about organic, you could just be happy with one of the many ­reasons you're motivated by to purchase it."

The right timing?
As with most success stories, timing is crucial. And despite the state of the economy, those behind the campaign could arguably not have chosen a better time to launch.

Waitrose has had more than six months now to bed in its organic range under the Duchy Originals from Waitrose licence and promoted the range heavily in the ­autumn once critical mass had been reached, giving the organic sector increased credibility and raising its awareness among ­premium shoppers.

Yeo Valley has also enjoyed an overwhelming amount of publicity thereby priming the masses during the 10 weeks it ran its now famous 'rapping farmers' ads. New sales figures out next week are expected to more than justify the £5m investment, and with 1.5 ­million hits on YouTube it's already proved organic can be edgy and appeal to young people.

In a similar way, the Organic Trade Board campaign will make extensive use of social media, with comments posted on a specially designated Facebook page being copied on to the campaign's website. And it will mimic the Make Mine Milk campaign through the use of celebrity endorsement ­(details of which are yet to be ­announced).

Here to stay
There have also been encouraging nods of approval among industry figures following the return of Helen Browning to head up the Soil Association, sparking hopes she will keep the organic movement firmly on the ground, and thereby help to make it more relevant to consumers. In October, she told The Grocer: "We need to share our insights and experience with a wider community, even if they do not end up being certified organic or eating only organic food."

With the start of the campaign and against this backdrop Bowles claims the grocery industry is set to witness a "second birth" of ­organic.

"I think a lot of people wrote organic off a couple of years ago, but retailers are realising now that it is here to stay."