Is “organic” less than the sum of its parts? Survey shows single value complaints have more influence on purchases

A survey of 7,500 adults in six markets conducted by Edelman Data and Intelligence commissioned by the Organic Trade Association found that while consumers’ top food and drink concerns align closely with core values ​​addressed by the National Organic Program and held by many “strong positive impressions both around organic products and practices,” these prints “did not necessarily translate into their buying behavior”,Darci Vetter, senior adviser at Edelman Global Advisory, told attendees at the Organic Trade Association’s annual policy and legislative conference in Washington, DC this week.

She explained that research found that 79% of Americans were somewhat or very concerned about the use of chemicals in agricultural practices, 71% were somewhat or very concerned about the treatment of agricultural workers and those working in food processing facilities, 76% were concerned about the environmental impact of the food industry, 75% are concerned about the treatment of animals by the meat and dairy industry and 72% are concerned about the use of genetically modified organisms in animal husbandry.

Similarly, many Americans have also understood that these values ​​are represented by organic certification, but at slightly lower levels.

For example, 68% of Americans believe that organic produce does not contain pesticide residues, 65% perceive organic to be healthier than conventional, and 64% know that organic produce does not contain GMOs, according to research. .

Likewise, the research found that most Americans – but even fewer – think organic is better for farmers and livestock, with 63% saying buying organic supports small farms, 60% believing organic is better for farmers and livestock. organic is better for animal welfare with 60% saying organic farming is “more ethical” than conventional farming, Vetter reported.

Organic claim less influential than “natural”, “clean” and others

Despite these positive perceptions, research has found that many shoppers are more likely to purchase products making single-valued or ambiguous claims that are not clearly defined or regulated rather than organic claims.

“Some of the labels that people look up and say, ‘If I see this, I’ll choose a product’ refer to things that are already in the organic certification,”as raised without antibiotics, which came out on top with 61%, Vetter said.

But other claims more influential than organic were also less stringent, including “all-natural,” which isn’t defined but which 60% listed as influential and clean, which 56% of respondents cited, Vetter said. .

These were significantly higher than USDA organics, which only 54% of Americans said would likely impact their purchases, she added.

“I often think that organic is more than the sum of its parts, but what we see here is that many of those parts were influencing consumer behavior, but organic was less so,”Vetter said.

She hypothesized that “Part of that could be because people don’t know what’s in the norm.”

For example, research showed that more than 40% of consumers were unsure whether organic required livestock to be fed an organic diet, whether organic products were separated from non-organic products, prohibited the use of GMOs and genetic engineering, were grown with organic seeds, provided outdoor access to poultry and livestock or whether hydroponic products are permitted under organic certification.

Strategies to build trust and awareness of organic values

So how can the organic industry best build consumer trust?

For starters, Vetter said, establishing a go-to source for Americans to learn about organic.

She noted that currently there is no overwhelmingly dominant source of information on organic, but rather a very fragmented list dominated by friends and family, which is only 24%. The second and third most popular sources, at 17% each, are social media and posts about food or cooking — all of which are notoriously unreliable, Vetter said.

The ostensibly most trusted source – state and federal government sources and the USDA which oversees the organic program – are among the least trusted sources, with only 11% of consumers noting that it is a place they go to get information.

Making organic information more accessible and easier to understand could also improve consumer perceptions of organic products and standards, according to research, which found that only 24% of the general US population strongly believe that there is enough information accessible and only 21% believe it. is easy to understand.

Leveraging Forward-Thinking Consumers

An outlier among the population on this topic is a group called “food forwards”, which constitutes about 28% of the US population and which research defines as enjoying new foods, following food trends, viewing themselves as a foodie and often sharing information about food. and products with others in person or through social media.

Given Americans’ propensity to gather information from family, friends and social media, Vetter said this group represents an important opportunity for the organic industry to share information and encourage trials and purchases. repeated organic products.

“Overall what we’re seeing is that trust is to some degree held back by a lack of familiarity and standards, but there are certainly opportunities to tip at least a quarter of those consumers to ensure that “they understand what’s behind the organic label. So use this as an opportunity to build trust,”she says.

She also echoed other presenters at the OTA event who encouraged the organic industry to partner with other like-minded communities and raise the profile of the industry on priority issues, including diversity and equity, sustainability and worker and animal welfare.

About Alma Ackerman

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