Does Organic Make A Difference?

The Lempert Report
February 09, 2016

What a study from the University of Illinois found out about organic food sales.

No one disputes that the rise of organic food and beverage sales continues to be on solid ground, and those retailers who heavily promote organics, like Kroger and Target are growing the category’s sales.

A new study from the University of Illinois designed an experiment to shed insight on the variables that influence consumer perceptions about organics. Brenna Ellison, a food economist at the University says “Past research has often asked how much someone is willing to pay for an organic product, but has rarely considered the context in which that purchase takes place. In this study, we look at how the organic label interacts with the product type as well as the retail purchase context.”

605 people evaluated a food product’s expected taste, nutrition, safety, and likelihood of purchase. The products chosen were strawberries (what they call a virtue product) and chocolate sandwich cookies (a vice product) under the fictitious brand - Cam’s – both as organic and non-organic varieties. 

In the experiment, the products were either organic or non-organic and sold in one of two supercenters, Walmart or Target. 

They chose Target and Walmart because the two stores have similar prices but very different brand images.

The study reports that the “organic strawberries had higher expected taste ratings than non-organic strawberries, but cookie taste ratings did not differ.” The organic cookies were rated as more nutritious – almost twice as healthy – as non-organic cookies, but no difference was observed for strawberry ratings.

Another finding from the research was that where the food item was purchased did matter. They concluded that Target may be a better outlet for promoting organic vice products while Walmart may only be good outlets for promoting organic virtue products.

No surprise, the study also revealed that participants seemed misinformed about organic standards.