CHICAGO — Food safety and health concerns play major roles in pushing organic food into the mainstream and driving sales to new heights, a recent study shows.
Data gathered in research completed last month by Mintel International Group show that organic food sales have grown a whopping 132% since 2002. What's more, the researchers predict organic food sales will grow 59% between now and the year 2012.
With more and more news of tainted food imports, it's not surprising that consumers in this country are looking to buy more local items and are taking the organic sections in their supermarkets seriously, an analyst from Mintel told SN.
“With health issues and food contamination cases in the news, many people have begun looking for safer, more natural food and drink,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, Mintel senior research analyst.
“This isn't a niche market anymore.”
Indeed, it looks like such expanded sales continue to present a big opportunity for supermarkets, especially for their produce departments.
Key findings in Mintel's October 2007 study underscore that point.
Asked to discuss the outlets through which they purchase organic food and drink, 76% of respondents who are purchasers of those products said they rely primarily on supermarkets. By comparison, just 44% said health food stores and 35% said Wal-Mart.
And respondents who have purchased organic food in the past year are most likely to have purchased organic fresh vegetables (72%) and fruit (70%). More than a third purchased organic milk (45%), yogurt (36%) and organic poultry (36%).
The survey also shows almost half (48%) of respondents agreed that organic products were better for them than non-organic products, and 30% said they taste better. The survey also shows 60% of those who purchase organics are willing to pay a premium.
“We didn't ask about imports and safety, but I think it is significant that ‘buying locally’ has become a big issue for consumers,” Mogelonsky told SN.
“Not only are they trying to buy foods from nearby so as to reduce the number of ‘food miles’ products travel from field to plate in order to help the environment, but it is also reassuring to know that food grown in the United States is subject to more stringent inspection than that imported from some countries.”
Mintel's consumer research shows that over half (52%) of Americans purchased organic foods in the past year, while over a quarter (26%) went for organic beverages. And nearly a third (32%) of adults now report purchasing organic products “as often as possible.”
Those most likely to purchase organic foods are younger respondents and those with higher household incomes. Younger respondents tend to seek out organic products for health reasons, but purchase patterns also skew toward older respondents because they don't mind paying the typically higher prices that organics command, Mintel researchers reported.
Sustainability is an issue for many consumers. Indeed, 43% of respondents always try to buy locally grown food, whether it is organic or not. That certainly represents an opportunity for the small organic farmer to capitalize both on the organic nature of the products and their “local” character, Mintel's summary points out. The same goes for retailers. Local and organic could make a product doubly appealing to some consumers.
Another finding in the Mintel study indicates there's a big opportunity for retailers. Researchers found that 68% of people who buy organic do so only occasionally and 54% wish they had a wider selection of organics available to them where they shop. With those figures in mind, retailers with a developed organic section could make turning “occasionally” into “often” or “regularly” a marketing target.