The market research organization conducted a survey of 1,000 people aged 18-75 in its online panel in early January 2011, replicating an earlier poll conducted in November 2008. Its results show the percentage of consumers buying organic products stood at 38.4 percent in 2008, 38.0 percent in 2009, and 38.6 percent in 2010, and claims that other research indicating a growing US organic sector could be incorrect.
"We still see many fallacious reports that the number of consumers purchasing organic products is growing; our research does not support that conclusion,” said TABS Group president and founder Kurt Jetta.
A recent study from RNCOS, for example, found that the organic food industry grew by 5.1 percent in 2009, despite the struggling economy; and Organic Monitor has reported sales growth of just under five percent for the organic sector during the recession, following double-digit growth for several years previously.
This year’s survey was the first time that TABS Group had included red meat and chicken, and it found that 6.4 percent of respondents reported buying organic red meat, while 13.4 percent said they bought organic chicken.
"When we see a consistent penetration over three years combined with the fact that adding more categories does not increase that penetration, we conclude that there is a well-entrenched consumer base for organics,” Jetta said. “There is little hope of increasing that base any time soon. Any growth in organics from one outlet must, therefore, necessarily come at the expense of another channel."
Organic goes mainstream
The market research firm reported that there has been a shift away from purchasing organic products from natural foods retailers toward mainstream grocers, with natural foods retailers falling from being the preferred organic outlets by 26.8 percent in 2009 to 24.4 percent in January 2011, a nine percent drop. Meanwhile, traditional grocers saw an increase from 41.0 percent to 44.1 percent, the researcher found.
"If I were a natural foods store owner, I would expect that mainstream grocers will continue to expand organic offerings and support, and I would be quite concerned at this competitive threat,” Jetta said. “Natural foods retailers – particularly the small independents – need to consider whether they are taking these consumers for granted. Organic foods consumers are the lifeblood of the natural foods channel."
In terms of organic categories, fresh fruit remains the most popular with 27 percent of consumers choosing organic, followed by fresh vegetables (26 percent), eggs (17 percent), milk (16 percent), chicken (13 percent), red meat (six percent), frozen vegetables (six percent), frozen fruit (four percent), and ice cream (four percent).