AUSTIN, Texas -- A recent poll found that consumers, most of them women, are becoming aware of the USDA Organic Seal, which went into voluntary use by manufacturers last October.
Six months after the implementation of new federal standards for organic food production and labeling, a majority (51%) of U.S. women have seen the USDA organic seal where they do most of their food shopping, according to the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., which hired RoperASW to conduct the survey. The interviews -- with 1,025 people selected at random -- were conducted by phone April 11 to 13.
The OTA met here last month for its annual trade show and conference, a meeting that was rife with surveys. One of them, the Natural Marketing Institute's Health and Wellness Trends Database, of 2,000 households, found that 32% of the general population said the USDA Organic Seal would have the effect of increasing their purchases of organic products, while 64.5% said it would have no effect, and 3% said it would decrease their purchases.
Overall, 47% of Americans reported seeing the seal where they shop for food, the OTA survey said. In addition to women of all ages, younger baby boomers are most aware of organic products, with 53% of consumers aged 35 to 49 reporting that they have seen the round, green-and-white seal where they shop.
Quick interviews with several shoppers at supermarkets here, during the OTA's annual conference and show last month, tended to confirm that, but for some, the seal doesn't matter.
To Curt Nelson of Austin, the seal is not a plus. "I don't trust the government," he said. "The USDA is too industry-friendly." He spoke to SN in the bottled water aisle of the Brodie Oaks Sun Harvest Market, one of two of those banners here.
That attitude would not be unusual in Austin, said Catherine Markette, the director of advertising, marketing and public relations for Sun Harvest Market, San Antonio, which is owned by Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. Austin, the state capital and home to the University of Texas, is known as a quirky city. "Keep Austin Weird" is a slogan seen on car bumpers, T-shirts and souvenirs sold here.
The general manager of a popular local cooperative, the Wheatville Co-Op, Dan Gillotte, told SN "We are seeing a lot more interest in our store in organic, now that there is clear delineation. We are seeing a lot of sales that are 100% organic."
Kent Willis of Dripping Springs, near here, loading groceries into a minivan outside an H.E. Butt Grocery Co. store, told SN he hadn't noticed the USDA seal. "Surprising in this town, huh?" he said. But, he added, "I know about organic food, and I buy it occasionally."
A few minutes later, a woman with a little girl said she didn't know about the organic seal, either, and asked SN to describe it. One man had a problem with the price of organic food, and said the seal made no difference to him. "When organic food becomes affordable, then they'll sell more," said Jim Doss, a personal chef. "It's double the price, at least," he said. "I have clients that request it, but I can't do it. It would double my cost."
A woman outside the Westgate Central Market, owned by H-E-B, said she buys organic when it's at all comparable in price, to avoid pesticides and added hormones. "I try to buy organic whenever I can," said the woman, Sandie Bonsell. But even she wasn't sure she would recognize the USDA seal. A middle-aged Oak Hill resident, at an Albertsons there, knew about the organic seal but said it wouldn't influence her purchasing, because she grows her own organic vegetables.
Some exhibitors at the OTA's "All Things Organic" show said they don't use the seal because its graphic conflicts with their package design or label. One workshop speaker, Helene St. Jacques, president of Informa Market Research Co., Toronto, said, "The branding of organic is essential. Every item must educate."