Organic consumers are complicated souls. For a start, according to a thorough piece of research from Better Organic Business Links, on behalf of the Organic Centre Wales, there is no such thing as an “organic only” consumer. Not one of 1407 shoppers interviewed by BOBL bought organic from every category they shopped.
Neither is there any individual category which attracts a high degree of purchasing loyalty. Whatever the type of food, be it milk, meat or vegetables, a maximum of around 30% of organic buyers “almost or nearly always” bought from the category.
And yet, when prompted about the benefits of buying organic, around 70% agreed that organic production results in better standards of animal welfare and allows wildlife to flourish, around 60% feel it is healthier and 50% that it tastes better. The problem is that too often those benefits do not outweigh the price premium. Just over a quarter of those interviewed said that organic represents good value for money. And a worryingly cynical third said that an organic label was just an excuse to charge more.
When asked about future buying intentions, 3 out of 10 people said they would consider buying more organic food, but around 6 out of 10 people said that they did not intend to buy more organic produce, with price being the main stumbling block.
The BOBL research seems to indicate that many consumers are interested in organic food, but not sufficiently convinced to prioritise its purchase on a regular basis.
The stiff competition offered by local foods also inhibits organic purchase.
Consumers are increasingly interested in provenance, or where the food has come from, a trend which has been gathering momentum in recent years. About 60% of consumers agreed with the statement “I’m much more interested in where a product has come from than whether it is organic”. Asked to choose directly between a locally produced product and an organic one, 6 in 10 chose the local version versus 1 in 10 for the organic version.
Measured and accurate communication of what organic means will help consumers make up their minds, but it will be a long and slow process. The issues around communication remain as they always have been – currently there are several organic messages rather than one clear and compelling one, with the result that consumers remain ambivalent.
The Soil Association has published it market report for 2011 and sales have dropped again, by 5.9%, although the rate of decline is slowing. The Association says that sales have levelled out during the back months of the year, and they are hopeful of a return to growth before long. This is encouraging news for organic enthusiasts.