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Organic and Functional Foods Have Plenty of Room to Grow in U.S.: ACNielsen

NEW YORK -- Although organic and functional foods have generated a healthy amount of interest in the United States in recent years, these categories still have a lot of room to grow -- especially when compared to other markets around the globe. That's the conclusion of global consumer and marketplace information provider ACNielsen, which released results from a new global online survey yesterday.

U.S. consumers are among the least likely shoppers from around the world to regularly purchase organic food and beverage products, according to the survey. Asked about their purchasing of organic alternatives from 11 food and beverage categories, just 6 percent to 15 percent of U.S. consumers said they purchase such products regularly -- well short of the average among consumers from all 38 markets included in the study.

Across all regions, the main reason for purchasing organic food and beverages is that consumers believe such products are healthier for them. The secondary reason cited by consumers in all regions except Europe is the perceived health benefits for the shoppers' children. In Europe, more people cited benefits for the environment as their secondary reason to purchase organics.

For those who never buy organic food or beverage products, which includes 40 percent to 72 percent of U.S. consumers, depending on the category, the main deterrent is price.

"How mainstream organic products become, to a significant degree, depends on what happens with their prices," noted Tom Markert, ACNielsen c.m.o. "But I'm not expecting large price cuts. Even as production increases and the number of categories that include organic offerings expands, marketers may very well opt to maintain organics' upscale positioning."

The survey also asked respondents about their purchasing of so-called "functional foods" -- products fortified with added vitamins or supplements and promoting specific health benefits. Unlike organic products, U.S. consumers are much more closely aligned with the global averages for functional food purchasing. In fact, in five of the 10 categories included in the survey, a greater percentage of U.S. consumers said they regularly purchase such products than the global averages.

Functional food categories that U.S. shoppers said they buy most frequently include whole grain, high-fiber products (50 percent), cholesterol-reducing oils and margarines (36 percent), iodine-enhanced cooking salt (30 percent), and fruit juices with added supplements/vitamins (29 percent).

Among U.S. consumers who don't buy functional foods, the most frequently cited reasons were doubts about the products' health claims and taste considerations.

"The functional foods distinction is beginning to blur, as manufacturers enhance more and more products with additional health benefits," said Markert. "As that trend continues, an increasing number of consumers are likely to become functional food buyers without even realizing it."

The twice-yearly global ACNielsen Online Consumer Opinion Survey polled more than 21,100 respondents -- regular Internet users -- in 38 markets across Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Latin America, and in South Africa in May 2005. For more details on the survey, go to
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