Goods new for organic—it turns out that a majority of Americans, 58 percent, say they prefer to eat organic over non-organic food. And bad news for organic—nearly an equal percentage of non-organic buyers said price is the primary driver of their choice.
The findings stem from a recent poll of more than 3,000 adults across the country about their attitudes toward organic food. Conducted by NPR and Thomson Reuters, the health poll revealed predictable news for those involved in the organic industry, but also illuminated a few new clues into the demographics of the organic shopper.
While all ages preferred organic over non-organic, those 65-years-old and older don't care for it as much as those 35 and younger, the group that showed the strongest preference. And as household income and education levels climbed, so did preference for organic foods.
Why do consumers prefer organic?
According to the poll, 36 percent of organic consumers want to support local farmers and 34 percent are concerned about toxins and pesticides found in non-organic food. As NPR reported, the concern with toxins is strongest among people with at least a college education. Interestingly, organic matters less to consumers when dining out. Only 34 percent said its presence on a menu would influence their ordering decision.
Organic is also benefitting from the local movement. Some 43 percent of respondents said they prefer to buy produce at a farmer's market, followed by 31 percent preferring the supermarket.
Across the age spectrum of those who preferred non-organic foods, all said the top reason was because of expense, followed by the fact that non-organic food is more readily available. Read the complete poll results [PDF].
Organic appetites help to grow industry
This younger wave of consumer preference for organic is a positive sign for industry. Nutrition Business Journal reported that the natural and organic food category's annual sales were up 8.3 percent to $39 billion in 2010. That translates to organic food and beverage sales representing approximately 4 percent of overall food and beverage sales in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Advocates, such as Maureen Wilmot, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, are pushing the category toward 20 percent. Given the NPR-Thomas Reuters health poll findings, it appears that this jump is doable.