Earth Day: Consumers Less Likely to Shell out Green on Organics

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Consumers like organics, but won't pay more.
Consumers like organics, but won't pay more.

More cash out of pocket doesn't necessarily equate to greener dispositions in consumers' minds, at least when it comes to organic foods.  That's the conclusion of a Harris Interactive poll of 2,276 adults conducted in anticipation of today's 44th celebration of Earth Day. Perhaps Americans emerged from the recession with a more cynical view: 59% of them agreed that marketers sometimes label products as organic to have an excuse to charge more for them.

“Many are wary of the ‘greenwashing' concept that gives companies a chance to cash in on consumers who want to help the planet, but are confused by all the eco-friendly jargon,” said Harris Poll president Mike deVere in a press release.

To break it down, more men (63%) than women (54%) questioned the motives of organic marketers, and folks in the Midwest and the South (61%) were more skeptical than Westerners (54%). Political partisanship, apparently, also plays a role in how much people trust organic brands. Nearly two thirds (65%) of Republicans said organic labeling was a scam, versus a little more than half of Democrats (54%).

Frequent purchasers of organic foods do tend to fall into some well-defined segments, according to a representative of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). “As a rule, organics buyers are younger and better educated than non-organics buyers,” says OTA spokesperson Barbara Haumann.  “They're also motivated by different life stages and worldviews. For instance, new parents all of a sudden become very interested in providing the healthiest alternatives to their children.”

A study of 1,239 households released earlier this month by the OTA and KIWI Magazine reported that 81% of parents said they buy organic foods at least sometimes.  Their chief reasons for doing so, in order, were to avoid toxins and pesticides, antiobiotics and growth hormones, and genetically modified organisms.  Among families, trust in organics appears to be on the rise: 42% said they had more faith in organic foods, versus only 32% who said so last year.

The OTA study also indicated that organic food consumption is growing exponentially among Hispanic consumers.  A study done by the group in 2012 found that Latinos comprised 15% of regular organics buyers. One year earlier they accounted for only 5%.

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