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It seems organics were finally getting some solid momentum when wham! we are hit with a recession. But just how is the economy affecting organic buying habits?

That’s the big question that I was asked to share my insight on at last month’s All Things Organic show in Chicago. In order to do so, we set out to find some answers in a recent quick poll of natural and organic consumers. Not surprisingly, 9 out of 10 (87%) are still committed to eating healthy. Thank goodness!

More than half of these folks said that despite the economic downturn, they weren’t willing to give up natural (57%), green (55%) and organic (54%) products.

But retailers, take note: To maintain this healthy-green focus, consumers are getting more selective, shopping sales and using coupons. For some consumers, being “more selective” could be a simple focus on price or an emphasis on certain high-priority items (such as avoiding non-organics on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen produce list).

As expected, we are seeing a continued trend toward store brand/private label organics. Private label products typically do well during a recession, and about a quarter of respondents have upped these kinds of purchases.

Pundits have been predicting that the recession will usher in a new era of sustained frugality in the United States, and shoppers in our poll supported that idea. They expect to maintain these new frugal purchasing habits through an economic uptick.

The opportunity for retailers, then, is to expand their lines of store brand, private label organics, giving shoppers greater options in a range of price points. That’s not to say that plenty of folks are still loyal to their brand name products. Again, when asked what they weren’t willing to give up, one in three said they wouldn’t give up their favorite brand name healthy products.

For branded organics, the challenge is to regain market share through brand-building initiatives such as layered promotions, education regarding brand values and coupons so that they are well positioned post-recession.

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