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Organic Consumers Association

Organic Foods are Now 'Mainstream', Says USDA

Organic food has entered the mainstream with strong growth in all sectors over the past decade, including packaged and prepared foods and beverages, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

American producers are struggling to meet robust demand for organic foods despite dire predictions for the organic sector during the economic downturn. Some market researchers claim that consumers have increasingly turned to less expensive options that still tap into their ethical concerns, such as local, Fairtrade and free range. But, in this latest review, the USDA said that the organic market has proved resilient, with "double-digit growth for well over a decade", and that organic consumers have become "increasingly mainstream".

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service said: "Organic products have shifted from being a lifestyle choice for a small share of consumers to being consumed at least occasionally by a majority of Americans."

Premium pricing

And while concerns have been raised that consumers may not be prepared to pay steep premiums for organic foods, Economic Research Service (ERS) data has shown that consumers are buying organic foods at significantly higher prices than conventional. The ERS said that the 2006 price for a half-gallon container of milk ranged from 60 percent above non-organic milk for private label organic milk, to 109 percent above non-organic for branded organic milk.

The USDA said that "general themes have emerged" regarding the habits and demographics of organic consumers, although studies have come up with varied results, depending on sample size, geographic location of respondents, and the type of survey.

"Consumers prefer organically produced food because of their concerns regarding health, the environment, and animal welfare, and are willing to pay the price premiums established in the marketplace," the department said. 


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