(Jan. 8) Rumors of a troubled economy in 2008 appeared to play only a minor role in the projected shopping habits of consumers who describe themselves as buyers of organic and environmentally friendly products, according to a recent survey — but price remains the key factor.

The survey, by Mambo Sprouts Marketing, Collingswood, N.J., found 33% of the respondents are prepared to pay prices that, when compared to conventionally grown products, are 20% higher or more for organic foods and for environmentally friendly products and services.

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents said they are willing to pay 10% higher prices while 24% would go up to 15% higher. The total willing to pay up to 20% higher prices was 72%, according to the survey.

“It says to me the desire to make sure what I buy has a moral and social value means a lot to the consumer,” said Matthew Saline, founder and chief executive officer of Mambo Sprouts Marketing. “I didn’t think it was going to be that high.”

A weaker economy could affect the findings. That’s why Saline said the company plans to re-ask the questions in six months to 12 months.

Prices remain the single largest attraction for the respondents. Asked to rate a variety of factors for 2008, price ranked highest with 60% of the respondents. Selection of healthy or organic products fell second at 56% while store quality/cleanliness was very important to 49%, the same percentage given availability of organic produce. Convenience ranked fifth at 44%.

Ranking price at No. 1 seems to run contrary to popular thinking in organic produce marketing.

“In general, we know the organic segment for staple purchases tends to be driven by a higher economic demographic, which may tend to not feel the economic pinches as much as the middle class,” Saline said.

That a large segment of consumers may not be able to afford organic foods is a target concern for Mambo Sprouts Marketing.

“Mambo is delivering coupons and other incentives so that consumers may save on their shopping cart purchases,” Saline said. “Our goal is to bring people who may be struggling into the organic market, because they really want to buy the right things for their children.”

Mambo Sprouts Marketing does not sell produce, but it provides a variety of services, Saline said. Those services range from building databases for research to direct mail and newsletter distribution to custom publishing to in-store programs for retailers. The survey was conducted in mid-December among 1,000 consumers in the company’s 14,000-person database, he said.