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March 30, 2014

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Boyle Point: The Trouble With Labels

by Ryan Boyle | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Ryan Boyle's column appears monthly in Lacrosse Magazine. This originally appeared in the April 2014 issue. To start your subscription, join US Lacrosse today.

According to a Natural Foods Merchandiser survey, organic foods enjoyed a 12-percent sales increase in 2013. Eight in 10 parents purchased organic products when buying groceries, and 42 percent of parents trusted the USDA Organic seal.

Simply put, organics is crushing it.

Yet despite increased awareness of organic options, just 33 percent of consumers actually recognize and understand the USDA Organic seal. Paradoxically, as interest in organic products has exploded, the general public is more confused about this category of products.

The 2008 film "Food, Inc.," contended that the average American supermarket has 47,000 products with a wide range of labels — including organic, which requires "special claims... that need to be submitted for approval."

However, not all organics are made alike.

There are 100-percent organic, organic, "made with" organic and specific organic ingredients. These terms represent vey different classifications. A 100-percent organic product, for example, contains all certified organic ingredients, all organic processing aids, and the product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.

Certain labels require no such formal submission or approval, a lack of regulation that leads to qualifiers like "all" and "pure."

Lacrosse has problems with labels too. And there's no USDA to regulate them.

In 2013, lacrosse enjoyed another double-digit growth spurt — its fourth in five years. Moreover, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), lacrosse participation skyrocketed 158 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Like organics, lacrosse is trending. And just like organics, the increased awareness has come with increased confusion in the marketplace.

When making decisions about organic products, shoppers must understand the actual value to justify the typically higher price point. Organic users credit reasons such as better personal health, fewer pesticides and fertilizers, and avoidance of antibiotics and growth hormones. In their minds' these perceived benefits provide sufficient value for the purchase and consumption.

In lacrosse, events are classified as tournament, round robin, camp, clinic, showcase, prospect day, tryout or jamboree—with common qualifiers like elite, select, blue chip and All-American. The structure follows either an age or graduation-year format. Numbers — 120, 150, 175, 180, 205, and 225 — can reflect participation or the event's branding.

To make the best decision, lacrosse consumers must navigate these choices correctly for their child's individual development and collegiate exposure opportunities.

1. Know the facts.

In men's lacrosse, there are 67 Division I, 57 Division II, and 215 Division III programs in the NCAA. Roughly 25 to 30 Division I programs are fully funded (12.6 scholarships). Richie from down the street didn't get a full ride to Cornell. Typically, most programs split up three scholarships per class.

And Cornell doesn't give out scholarships. It's an Ivy League school.

2. Shop seasonal.

Tomatoes are not ripe for the full year, nor are recruiting opportunities. Peak time windows include the spring scholastic schedule, the summer tournament and showcase circuit and limited fall weekends. Dead periods are just that, except for on-campus prospect days.

3. More expensive does not mean more value.

A 100-percent organic product is better than one "made with" organic ingredients, and the price should reflect the discrepancy. A food made with "specific organic ingredients" may not provide significantly more benefit than a non-organic option and is not worth the added expense.

While lacrosse labels are not as cut and dry, select events that match your specific need. Then examine the details to decide if the cost is justifiable.

"Instruction" corresponds with camps and clinics. Those with credited directors and curriculum typically provide skills improvement.

For competition and exposure, "clubs" and individual "showcases" maximize this aspect of the process. Explore regional club options and seek those with strong leadership that steer all aspects of the program's structure and services. Individual exposure events have various configurations, including those run on-campus by college coaches and those run by third-party companies.

On-campus "prospect days" have an obvious appeal: The college's coaching staff is onsite evaluating players. Due to NCAA regulations, however, they can't turn away player registrations — unlike a third-party, invitation-only event. That being said, third-party companies often make marketing claims that may not represent the complete truth.

Within each of these categories, you should properly identify the value to justify the purchase. Buyers beware.


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