“There no longer is a typical organic consumer. … The face of organic-buying families now mirrors the demographics of the U.S. population in terms of ethnic background,” according to the association.
The percentage of black families in the U.S. buying organic on a regular basis has doubled from 7% in 2009 to 14% in 2015, according to OTA’s U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs 2015 Tracking Study of more than 1,200 households in the U.S.
In addition, 16% of Hispanic households chose organic regularly at the start of 2015 when the study was conducted compared to 7% four years ago, the study found.
Despite these increases, the vast majority of families – 73% – who buy organic describe themselves as white, according to the survey.
While the organic industry could do more to reach Hispanic and black shoppers in the U.S., the current difference between consumers' race and ethnicity and shopping habits accurately reflects the racial and ethnic breakdown in the U.S. population, according to OTA. It cites U.S. Census data that it says found 72.4% of the population is white, 16.4% is Hispanic and 12.6% is black.
The increased diversity of organic shoppers may be partly related to increased accessibility and affordability of the products due to broader distribution.
For example, Walmart launched in 2014 its Wild Oats organic brand with prices roughly 25% lower than organic competitors, Sam’s Club also offers more organic products as does Kroger, which launched its own line of organic products in 2014.
The OTA survey found more organic shoppers buying organic products at “big box” stores and warehouse clubs, which often offer lower prices than those at natural grocery and specialty stores. The survey found more than half of organic shoppers buy products in the category from big box stores – up 10 percentage points from a year ago. Additionally, 30% reported buying organic from club stores, which also is up 10 points from last year.
The rollout of private label organic lines at conventional grocery stores, such as Safeway, also likely enabled a wider range of people access to the products. Now, 78% of organic buyers shop the conventional grocery retail category, the survey found.
Broader awareness of organic also could influence the diversity of shoppers.
OTA’s survey found 47% of U.S. families were “very familiar” with the USDA organic seal, which is up from 27% six years ago. In addition, nearly seven out of 10 parents say they are extremely well informed or know “quite a bit” about organic.
A potential connection between this and shoppers’ race can be found in an oft-referenced focus group from 2006 that suggested blacks in the U.S. at the time had much lower awareness of organic food than whites, but “were more receptive and positive towards organic food,” and more accepting of the price premium than whites. This suggest as awareness increases so should conversion of black shoppers.
Beyond race, increased awareness of organic helped drive a 10 percentage point increase in the percent of families who buy organic to 83% in the most recent study compared to 2009, OTA said.
It added: “Not only are more families buying organic today, they are buying more organic foods in general than before.”
More than half of all families surveyed said they are buying more organic than a year ago, compared to only 30% in 2009 who said they were buying more.
The connection between increased awareness and sales of organics shows that the more consumers know about organic, the more they will buy it, according to OTA, which estimates organic sales in 2014 will have reached $40 billion.
To further drive awareness of what organic represents and sales, OTA is pursuing the creation of an organic check off campaign, part of which would focus on consumer education.