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Survey Shows Consumers Confused by USDA Organic, Want Both Local and Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, August 31, 2007) According the results of a survey by Mambo Sprouts research services released August 20, 2007, consumers are torn between buying local and buying organic food, but in the end want both. The results show that 36.1% of natural product consumers said they would choose local produce over organic items, while another 33.3% indicated the opposite. The remaining respondents said they were unsure which to choose, but overall, consumers reported a preference for food that was both local and organic.

Respondent comments reflected three distinct motivators for purchasing locally grown food: 1) better for the environment and sustainability due to reduced environmental impact of transporting food, 2) a belief that much local produce is fresher and healthier – even if not certified organic, and 3) a general mistrust or confusion regarding organic food labeling.

“This survey revealed that consumers are definitely looking for more clarity and definition in organic product classifications,” says Matthew A. Saline, CEO of Mambo Sprouts Marketing, a multi-faceted direct marketing company that operates exclusively in the health, natural and organic products arena. Regarding the USDA Organic seal, 46.7% of respondents thought it indicated 100% organic contents, 24.8% thought it meant at least 95% organic, 16% thought it was 70%+ organic, 12% felt it meant some organic. Some consumers also expressed concerns that the USDA standards were declining or weaker than they would like.

Currently, the standard behind the USDA Organic seal indicates that a processed product is 95-100% organic. A product that is 100% organic can be labeled as such. Organic produce marked with the seal is 100% organic. Beyond Pesticides believes that a strong organic standard backed by consumer confidence is key to eliminating toxic pesticides from our food production system, and encourages its members to buy both organic and local whenever possible.

When asked what label information would most influence organic food purchasing, seven in 10 cited “All Organic” while just 25% selected “USDA Organic”. More than half said they would be more confident about buying organics if stores had their own organic food standards in addition to the USDA seal.

To facilitate shopping, consumers asked for more information. Seven in 10 respondents asked for better in-store signage while 45% thought flyers and information pamphlets would be beneficial.

Based on the findings, Mambo Spouts – an organic, health and natural foods marketing service, had the following advice for retailers marketing and advertising organic products: feature organics and local products since the consumer ideal is local and organic; improve signage signifying organic and local food products; educate with colorful eye-catching placards at the point of purchase; label products as “All Organic” when possible; and, complement in-store strategies with other marketing and educational campaigns about organic products (i.e., mailings, newsletters).

Survey results courtesy of Mambo Sprouts’ online survey taken between July 26 and July 30, 2007—850 natural and organic product consumers responding.

For more information, see Beyond Pesticides Organic Food program page.


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