There has been much publicity lately in Johannesburg about “organic” products with the recent holding of the first Natural and Organic exhibition at the Sandton Convention Centre. I went along there because kaolin has traditionally been used as carrier for agricultural products. What I learnt opened my eyes more widely about what kinds of products can be certified “organic”. 

I thought I would share this train of thought with you, which may open up a totally new horizon of possibilities for your industrial products. I was reading an article by the Natural and Organic Exhibition Director, David Wolstenholme, in the Rennaissance magazine which was written to coincide with the show. He states that “the natural and organic product market segment in the US and Europe has passed the IT industry as the fastest growing economic market segment”. As a marketer, my ears immediately pricked up at this. 

We immediately think of organic fresh produce, wines and juices when we think organic, but now the idea is starting to take hold in processed foods, cosmetics, clothing and a whole new line of products one normally would not have even thought of. 

The words from David’s article that jumped out at me and made me start to think about industrial applications were; “So, Unilever: where are the organic washing powders and dishwashing liquids? Then I thought to myself, where is the organic paper for the cardboard box to pack the products into? Where is the organic adhesive to stick the box together? Where is the organic ink to print the box?

Hold on a minute. What does this term “organic” actually mean? It obviously differs from the definition we learnt in our chemistry classes, i.e. that organic means carbon-based compounds. The website: informs us that “The Codex Committee on Food Labelling developed the following definition (Anon 2001):

‘ “Organic” is a labelling term that denotes products that have been produced in accordance with organic production standards and certified by a duly constituted certification body or authority. Organic agriculture is based on minimizing the use of external inputs, avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides’ ”

So, if it could be possible for your industrial product to use an organically-produced agricultural raw material, then possibly you could apply the term “organic” to your product too! Then you may be able to enjoy a marketing edge, or a price premium or some such desirable end result. Take for example the following industrial or manufactured products:

  • Soaps made from palm oil
  • Rubber made from natural rubber
  • Paper made from wood fibre
  • Adhesives made from starch, etc,

Humans are turning away from things artificial and looking for natural alternatives. So maybe there is a marketing opportunity here that some of us have never thought of before and if we don’t start developing products to meet projected future needs, somebody else certainly will. (There was already an exhibitor at the show offering organic dishwashing liquids, cleaning materials, shampoos and washing powder…). I know some paint producers have introduced a range of kid’s paint made from less harmful raw materials, so they have seen the opportunity of this trend already.

You cannot label your product “organic” without it being certified by a certifying body such as ECOCERT, SGS, AFRISCO or many others. They would need to know what goes into it and whether that ingredient is approved in organic production or not. The certifying bodies also have lists of items which may be used as processing aids when producing the product in question. Fortunately for us, kaolin is on the list! It does not even need to be certified. So if kaolin is going to go into your “organic” industrial product, then that is one less ingredient to worry about.

The certifying bodies have strict criteria they apply when approving any ingredient but it seems to me that the main criterion is that the processing aid or ingredient should be harmless to humans, non-synthetic and its production should also not have caused any harm. Kaolin is certainly harmless and is even used in medicines and cosmetics such as diarrhoea remedies and face masks. 

So it does seem possible that an industrial product could be called “organic” after all. I hope this has got you thinking about a few things that are a bit removed from the everyday.

To investigate some of the organic certifying bodies, use these links:

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