Consumers seek health in organic foods

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WASHINGTON – In their effort to achieve more balanced health and nutrition, a growing number of American consumers are turning to organic products, according to a new white paper from the Food Marketing Institute

“Organic Shoppers May Not Be Who You Think They Are” is the analysis of the data from the institute’s “Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes & the Supermarket, 2001.”

According to the data, the organic industry has grown from an average of $6 billion in revenue in 1999, to $7.8 billion in 2000.

“Supermarkets have seen a steady rise in consumers seeking to achieve better nutrition and overall health,” said Janice Jones, director of research at the Food Marketing Institute.

“Many consumers indicated they see organic products as being the most natural food available in the stores.”

Twig eaters. Jones said most Americans used to view organic shoppers as a small group who were more nature-conscious and earthy.

“Now we see that today’s organic consumers comprise about a third of all shoppers and represent nearly half of all grocery shoppers in stores that carry organic products,” she said.

According to the report, shoppers who buy organic foods and shoppers who do not have areas in which they share and areas in which they differ in their shopping preferences.

The key differences are that the organic consumers:

* Rank high-quality fruits and vegetables as the number one factor in choosing a primary grocery store (90 percent), whereas non-organic shoppers chose a clean/neat store as their top preference (88 percent);

* Have a higher annual income (35 percent make over $50,000 annually) and spend more money on groceries ($81 on average per week);

* Are usually more educated (61 percent have some college experience and 10 percent have postgraduate degrees).

In addition, organic consumers are more likely to be women who work more than 20 hours a week, and are very likely to be between the ages of 25 and 39.

In the stores. In the survey, 69 percent of all those surveyed reported that their primary store offered natural or organic foods, although they did report a lower percentage in the Midwest than in other areas of the country. The highest percentage of organic offerings were in urban or suburban areas.

Both shoppers who buy organic foods and those who are not interested look in the newspaper for grocery specials. And they use newspaper and magazine circulars to compare prices at different stores.

However, shoppers who do not buy organic food products (80 percent) are more likely to cite low prices as a top factor in selecting a supermarket than are shoppers looking for organic (72 percent).

Interestingly, the consumers of organic foods remain more loyal in their shopping habits, visiting an average of only 2.5 grocery stores a month. Consumers not looking for organic food products visit an average of 3.1 grocery stores in a month.

“Clearly, organic-oriented shoppers are much more likely to cite the availability of, and the broad selection of, organic products to be the most important factor in selecting their primary supermarket,” Jones said. “They also tended to be much more loyal to one store.”

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