What does organic mean to shoppers?

September 04, 2009

A recent debate over whether or not organic foods are actually healthier has made quite a presence in the media recently

A recent debate over whether or not organic foods are actually healthier has made quite a presence in the media recently. And with all kinds of other current hot topics such as eating local, sustainability, the reliability of labeling, and food safety, this one comes in a timely manner as to add more confusion to shoppers trying to make sound choices in the supermarket.

A recent study by the UK's Food Standards Agency concluded that foods produced organically are not nutritionally superior to foods produced scientifically. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found minimal differences between the two approaches of growing food when it came to nutrients such as vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The same was found true with meat, dairy and eggs.

A number of different organizations have disputed the findings based on the simple fact that the study did not address the use of pesticides. There are some shoppers that buy organic based on that reason alone.

But what are the real reasons shoppers gravitate towards organic? Is it nutritional value, taste, or environmental responsibility? After all, shoppers do pay a much higher price for organic foods. We conducted our own quick poll to find out what shoppers think when they hear the word "organic".  

The SupermarketGuru quick poll "What does organic mean to you?" found that the number one issue that comes to mind is "no antibiotics" (71%). However, the number two answer was "higher cost" (64%). In a tie for third place, 62% our readers associate "better for the environment", "hormone free", "no artificial flavors/colors", and "no pesticides". "Better nutrition" only received 29% of the votes, while "always the healthiest option" received 22% of votes. Twenty-six percent chose "better flavor".

These findings suggest that when it comes to organics, a majority of shoppers don't feel like they are getting any added nutritional or flavor benefits. However, more shoppers do associate the implications of antibiotics, pesticides, the use of hormones, and farming practices that are more environmentally friendly. And, in a majority of our surveyed readers, organic means more expensive.