Nearly 60% of consumers buy organic products at grocery stores, and they increasingly look to those stores to explain what such labels mean, according to research from The Hartman Group.
“Consumers want retailers to help them discern the difference between things like cage-free versus free-range versus pastured,” said Amy June Sousa, an ethnographic analyst.
They also look to retailers to weed out products that may not live up to their claims, Sousa said. “Consumers are more likely to believe the claims of products sold at stores they trust and have confidence these retailers will carry products that will not mislabel and mislead.”
This heightened interest in labeling comes as organic continues to gain popularity among the general population. According to Hartman, 74% of Americans said they bought some organic products in the last three months, while 36% said they use organics on at least a monthly basis.
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At the same time, consumers worry that the organic label has lost some of its meaning, particularly as more processed organic food hits the shelves.
“The rise of processed organic junk foods is weakening the link between healthy and organic,“ said Sousa. Hartman found that consumers are not likely to pay a premium for these perceived “junk foods.”
Consumers also question whether large companies can do organic “right,” and fear that the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic label has been watered down by the influence of big corporations.
“While over half of consumers are aware of government regulations controlling organics labeling, the USDA organic label only generates moderate levels of trust, with 40% of consumers claiming to trust it for the most part and 33% saying they trust it just somewhat,” said Sousa.
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In general, consumers would rather spend their money on organic produce, meat and dairy. “Consumers are most attracted to fresh, healthy foods when experimenting with organic products,” said Sousa.
Produce is the most popular gateway for starting to eat organic, with 24% first trying organic vegetables and 17% trying fruit. Another 12% enter the category through organic dairy products.
Organic meat is still the least purchased item, but that has more to do with high prices than consumer preference.
“Natural and organic meats are an area of growing consumer interest. Consumers are very concerned with the meat supply chain in the U.S. and cite media exposés and public health scares as increasing their anxieties around meat consumption,” said Sousa.
Hartman found many consumers would prefer to eat less organic meat than buy conventional products.
While sales of organic breads and cereals are on the rise due to appealing prices, those who do purchase packaged organic goods lack brand loyalty and generally buy such items because of sales or price comparisons.
Regardless of what products they are buying, consumers are looking for more information about the food they eat.
“More and more consumers identify themselves as label readers. The small print on the back of the box matters,” said Sousa.
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