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Trendspotting: Consumers place trust in organics label

By
Craig Levitt

As The Produce News prepares to ramp up its organic coverage (keep an eye out for a new organic column from Ron Pelger of In the Trenches fame) let’s take a look at where organics sit with consumers.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Organic Trade Organization, consumers recognize the USDA Organic seal more than any other certification in the marketplace. Compared to a dozen claims and certifications that can be found on various products in today’s grocery aisles, almost 90 percent of consumers are familiar with organic claims. That deep familiarity with organic carries over into a solid public trust. The USDA Organic seal is trusted by 70 percent of consumers — the most trusted of any agricultural label and the second-most trusted food label existing, second only to the American Heart Association’s iconic checkmark.

“The results of our survey were incredibly encouraging,” said Tom Chapman, co-CEO of OTA. “As organic has become more accessible to consumers, the benefits of organic have become more widely known, boosting the trust in the organic seal. That’s why our advocacy efforts to honor that trust and to ensure that organic standards keep evolving and strengthening are so critical.”  

The Millennial and Gen Z generations are today’s biggest organic buyers. Millennials, individuals from 28 to 43 years old in 2024, have been leading the organic charge for close to a decade. Now the young adults of Gen Z (ages 12 to 27) also are making their presence known in the organic market. 

Millennials and Gen Z pay more attention to labels than older generations, with over 70 percent of those age groups reporting that the USDA Organic seal matters and is an important consideration when choosing their food. These generations see food claims as more important than previous generations — with four claims in particular standing out: organic, allergen-free, regenerative and vegan. 

“Younger consumers want to know about the products they’re buying,” said Matthew Dillon, co-CEO of OTA. “This isn’t just a short-term trend, these information-seeking shoppers will continue to dig for the facts, and so will their kids. The more we can educate them about their food — and about organic — the better.” 

Today’s price-conscious shopper considers organic to be the food claim that most justifies a higher price. When asked in the survey about the value of various claims, organic was ranked the most valuable, with nearly 60 percent of consumers saying that the organic claim warrants higher prices. 

The OTA survey found that the more consumers know about organic, the more willing they are to pay the higher costs. 

Consumers who are unaware of organic’s benefits often think that organic does not justify its higher prices; that changes dramatically when that consumer learns about some of the attributes of organic such as exclusions of GMOs, growth hormones, antibiotics and most pesticides. The justification to pay more for organic jumps by some 16 percentage points once the formerly unaware consumer is more knowledgeable about organic.  

Today’s shopper puts a high value on the attributes of certified organic. The claims that are most important to consumers — pesticide-free, natural, raised without antibiotics, humanely raised and hormone free — are all supported or partially supported by USDA Organic certification. 

Even with increasingly well-informed consumers, some knowledge gaps exist. Most consumers are aware that organic products do not contain toxic synthetic pesticides or synthetic hormones, or GMOs, but are often unaware of other attributes like sustainable animal welfare practices.

“Education is key to expanding organic,” said Chapman. “Even in this lack of understanding, the survey shows organic incorporates most of what consumers care about. Organic has a tremendous opportunity here to use the trust and the recognition of the USDA Organic seal to help consumers understand even more about its attributes and to expand the organic sector.”

Craig Levitt

Craig Levitt

About Craig Levitt  |  email

When his dreams of becoming a professional hockey player came crashing down due to lack of talent, Craig Levitt turned to journalism. He graduated from Hofstra University in 1992 and has covered various areas of the retail food trade since 1996. Craig joined The Produce News in 2017 and is now managing editor. In his spare time, Craig still plays men’s league hockey (poorly) and enjoys walking the aisles of his favorite supermarket with his wife and two daughters.

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