Organic produce buyer profile expands - The Packer

Organic produce buyer profile expands

01/05/2011 10:08:23 AM
Jim Offner

With more than half of organic food sales having been made in so-called “mainstream grocers, club stores and retailers,” in 2009, the category is expanding its audience, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Educated families appear to be among the steadiest demographic category of organic consumers, according to the OTA, which released a study that reported 41% of parents said in 2009 they were buying more organic foods than a year earlier. According to s similar survey in 2008, 31% of parents said they had increased organic purchases.

“Demographically, a lot of people are young parents that are buying,” said Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the OTA. “What it shows is it’s not so much demographics — it’s more the level of education than income levels. In other words, if people are choosing organics, they either have more education or have wider view on the world, i.e. the connectedness on what you purchase and how it affects your family and the wider world.”

David Lively, marketing director at Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co., agreed.

“I know retailers like Whole Foods and New Seasons (Market) say the No. 1 demographic they look for in deciding where to put a store is education,” Lively said. “They appeal to people who want a lot of information, where it comes from, how it got there.”

The OTA also reported more consumers were looking for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic seal, and that 70% of parents overall and 90% of organic buyers specifically are familiar with the USDA Organic seal, which was up “significantly” over levels of familiarity reported a year earlier.

The growth of the organic fruit and vegetable category and consumer familiarity with it should come as no surprise, said Chris Smotherman, a salesman with Kern Ridge Growers LLC, Arvin, Calif.

“They’ve been around a bit longer, so they’re getting more exposure, and more people are taking a look at them and buying them,” Smotherman said. “Before, it was just those who were ultra-health-conscious that were buying them. Now, some people who go to the store who aren’t particularly health-conscious may buy them if they’re priced well.”

The OTA’s findings about who buys organics appear to be on the mark, according to Craig Hope, chief customer officer for Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

“We’re seeing the demographic profile of the shopper who chooses organic to be pretty steady,” he said. “They tend to be younger, having grown up in a time when organic was more mainstream than too crunchy. And the biggest determiner has been and still seems to be level of education.”

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