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Organic market forecast to carve larger niche, report

By Lorraine Heller , 09-Oct-2007

American consumers who buy organic food regularly are still a small minority, but are growing, according to a survey conducted last month.

Most people - whether organic consumers or not - consider organic foods to be safer, better for the environment and healthier.


In addition, the majority of consumers surveyed said they found organic products to be generally more expensive, but most organic food buying said these taste better and are worth the extra cost.


"The many people who have positive attitudes to organic food suggest that the increase in consumption of organic food is likely to continue and, in a few years time, could account for a much larger share of the food market," according to the survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive last month and released yesterday.


The online poll gathered responses from 2,392 online respondents, with figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.


The survey comes at a time when overall awareness is growing of organic as a 'healthier' alternative to conventional food and drink products.


According to the latest figures from the organics industry, the market last year grew beyond expectations to represent almost a third of all retail food and beverage sales.


Released earlier this year, the Organic Trade Association's (OTA) 2007 Manufacturer Survey found that US sales of organic foods totaled nearly $17bn in 2006, exceeding last year's forecasts of $16bn. This marks a 22 percent increase compared to sales of $14bn in 2005.


Organic foods' 3 percent share of total food sales is up from 1.9 percent in 2003 and approximately 2.5 percent in 2005.


According to the latest findings from the Harris poll, the number of consumers who report buying organic products 'all the time' still remains small - only one percent of the population.


However, a further six percent said they by organics 'most of the time', while 31 percent responded 'occasionally', and 33 percent 'rarely'. Some 26 percent of respondents said they 'never' buy organics.


Those who buy organics (including those who only buy them occasionally and rarely) report that their organic purchases are much more likely to have increased (32 percent) than to have decreased (5 percent) over the past year - evidence that organic food consumption has been rising, according to Harris.


Almost 80 percent of all respondents believe that organic food is safer for the environment, while 76 percent said they also thought it was healthier. Out of frequent organic food buyers, these figures jump to 92 percent and 98 percent respectively.


Some 86 percent of frequent organic food buyers also think it tastes better, but only 39 percent of all adults think this way. In addition, 95 percent of people, including 88 percent of frequent organic food buyers, believe organic food is more expensive.


About a third (36 percent) of American adults, including almost all (91 percent) frequent organic food buyers, believe that 'organic food is much better for you' and that 'the extra expense is worth it to have better food'. A smaller 29 percent of the public believe it is 'a waste of money as it is no better for you than conventional foods'. Some 36 percent said they 'are not sure'.


The poll also found that some segments of the population are more likely to buy organic food regularly, including college graduates (11 percent), Liberals (11 percent), Westerners (10 percent), Echo Boomers (those aged 18-30; 10 percent), and Gen Xers (those aged 31-42; 9 percent).

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