Recent research from the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association suggests the recession isn’t hurting the sustainability movement.

“We’ve found that people haven’t stopped thinking about it (sustainability),” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for PMA. “There was a feeling that with the economy, people might stop thinking about it, but they haven’t.”

In the past year, PMA has dedicated an entire portion of its Web site, complete with links to multiple research studies and survey information on the topic of sustainability.

In its latest survey on consumer trends in the produce category, the association, in collaboration with The Hartman Group Inc., found that 76% of consumers said they consider sustainability issues at least sometimes when making a general purchase decision. When answering a question about how the same issues apply to fresh fruit and vegetable purchases, 65% said sustainability concerns were a factor at least sometimes.

Less than a fifth of the population said they consider sustainability issues usually or always for general purposes, but 23% said they consider sustainability issues usually or always for fresh fruit and vegetable purchases.

When asked more specifically about what sustainability issues mattered to them, food safety and pesticide usage were at the top of the list. Almost 75% of respondents said food safety, including testing and public education, were very important, while 59% said the same for reducing pesticide usage.

Rounding out the top five issues were hiring of legal workers only, support of local communities and fair trade practices. Eco-friendly packaging came up lower on the list, with 31% listing it as very important.

Means said there has been a slight shift in sustainability focus from consumers with the economic downturn.

“There’s been a little bit of a shift, but not as much as they thought,” Means said. “Consumers believe in it in their core, and a change in the economic situation won’t change that.”

As suggested in other studies conducted with the Hartman Group, the importance of organic continues to lose steam. Only 24% of respondents said organic fruits and vegetables were very important.

Focus on green strong despite poor economy