Study: Core Organic Consumers Seek Local, ‘Clean’ Products

Core organic consumers — those who are the most loyal to buying organics — are seeking more authentic, clean foods through farmers’ markets and community support agriculture (CSAs), according to the “State of the Organic Consumer 2010” by the Hartman Group.

Overall, the organic industry has grown steadily since 2000 before leveling off in 2008, said Arwen Kimmell, senior ethnographic analyst with the Bellevue, Wash.-based research firm and lead analyst on the study, “Beyond Organic and Natural.” About 75 percent of consumers use organics, and one-third buy organics monthly, up from 22 percent in 2000, she noted. “Consumers are using the same or more organics than a year ago, indicating the economy isn’t stopping organic purchases,” Kimmell said. The size of the organic market wasn’t identified by this study.

When studying the organic consumer, The Hartman Group classified them into four groups:

Core consumers are “most intensely involved” in organics, Kimmell said. These loyal, early adopters account for approximately 24 percent of consumers. Mid Level is the largest group of consumers, and they’re continually learning about organics. This group is often subdivided into Inner and Outer Mid Level. Periphery is where consumers begin learning about natural and organics. They’re the least involved in natural and organics, accounting for 14 percent of consumers. Periphery consumers tend to be motivated by price.

Consumers in these different groups have varied buying habits yet share many of the same views of the words “natural” and “organic.” Consumers associate “organic” with how a product is grown on the farm, usually without pesticides, while “natural” refers to what happens to food “after it leaves the farm,” explained Kimmell. Natural foods are believed to be minimally processed as well as free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.

In general, consumers don’t believe the word “natural” when they see it on the package. “They read the labels,” said Kimmell. “They are going to flip it over and see if it is ideal.”

During the April 8 Webinar, Kimmell identified “clean” as a concept that goes beyond organic and natural; consumers identify clean foods as real, pure and whole.

“‘Clean’ is not a marketing term,” Kimmell noted. “It has symbolic and objective associations.’ Clean can refer to how a product was grown or processed, or the product ingredients used, and is also associated with fresh, safe and responsible items.

Several private label organic products were perceived as more authentic organic products than national organic brands, according to the study.

“Consumers see private label products as being more authentic than mainstream organic products,” said Kimmell. “Consumers are purchasing more and more private label across the board.”

Core Consumers have moved beyond organic, and are looking for biodynamic, non-mono crops grown on small farms. Farmers’ markets, CSAs and co-ops provide consumers with more knowledge about the products they buy and the ways in which they are grown. Mid Level Consumers want to see organic and natural certifications on the products they buy, and they have a growing interest in buying socially responsible products as well, Kimmell noted.

To meet consumer demand for organic and clean products, suppliers should have a clear mission statement on their packaging and use high-quality imagery. Organic, natural and Fair Trade certifications also give a product credibility, Kimmell noted.

For more information, visit To download an overview of the “Beyond Organic and Natural 2010” report, visit
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