- Claims including "raised without antibiotics," "hormone-free," "all natural" and "cruelty-free" are more influential over purchasing decisions than the "USDA Organic" label, according to a survey from Edelman Data shared by the Organic Trade Association.
- The survey asked 2,500 consumers about their purchasing behavior and how they assess organic foods. While a majority expressed concerns about ethical issues assessed in the organic certification process, such as the use of chemicals in farming and the treatment of farm workers and animals, those numbers did not mean they are more likely to buy foods with organic labeling.
- Many of the individual label claims are already covered under the USDA Organic Standard, indicating there is a lack of understanding from the general population about what “organic” labels fully mean.
While the Organic Trade Association survey indicated interest from consumers in many of the practices required by producers to be labeled organic, the results show a need for the organic certification process to be spelled out to consumers in a more easily understood way.
Consumer knowledge about organic foods is typically specific to types of products, the survey said. Organic produce and meat, which are heavily marketed as organic and often placed in their own section in the grocery store, enjoy high familiarity with shoppers at 39%. On the other hand, around 30% were very familiar with organic beverages and prepared foods.
The confusion around organic products could be exasperated by the fact that there is a wide range of places consumers to get information. Only 11% of those surveyed said they turn to federal or state government agencies, including the FDA. The most common place, at 24%, was from family and friends. This was followed by social media and cooking publications at 17%.
Organic food producers and advocates recognize the confusion and know greater transparency is needed. At the Organic Trade Association’s annual policy conference last week, Edelman Global Advisory Senior Advisor Darci Vetter said positive impressions from consumers around organic practices “didn’t necessarily translate to their purchasing behavior,” Food Navigator reported. Vetter added there should be a more accessible, go-to source for consumers to access information about organic certification. Based on the survey data, reaching consumers where they are likely to retain information on organic, like social media and recipe websites, could prove effective.
The Organic Trade Association similarly stressed in the report a need for USDA’s organic label to become consumers’ go-to source. It stated that as claims are pushed by food companies, the USDA must make it known it is the standard for what constitutes organic.
To educate consumers, the USDA could work with CPGs on providing more clarity through labeling and marketing campaigns. Or, they could create stricter guidelines for labeling products that adopt claims found in organic foods but are not actually certified organic.
For CPG makers, however, being clear about claims on packaging could be beneficial, even if those claims already fall under the USDA’s definition of "organic." SPINS data from last fall showed more transparent label claims increase sales. Products citing animal welfare claims on their labeling sparked a 27% sales increase over the previous two years, the data found.