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What's on the Mind of Health-Minded Organic Consumers?

Chicago—“Consumers are telling us they’re looking for food choices that are more nutritious, along with great-tasting and convenient, but they want help in identifying what’s good for them,” according to Debbie Carosella, vice president, strategic marketing, ConAgra Foods Consumer Foods.

ConAgra was one of several companies and organizations that released new consumer surveys this week.

While more shoppers are seeking ways to improve their eating habits with balanced, sensible solutions, deciphering the right food choices isn’t always easy, and confusing nutrition information can leave some consumers scratching their heads. To determine what they should consider “better food,” many consumers are turning to trusted seals, standards and symbols of higher quality.

The new survey of consumer shopping habits commissioned by
ConAgra Foods confirmed this trend:

•Fully 95 percent of Americans say they would consider quality symbols, seals and “trust marks” when food shopping.

•Four times as many survey respondents said they are more likely to consider buying foods based on trust marks today than they were a year ago, compared to only a quarter as many who said less likely.

•The top eight trust marks consumers currently look for are: whole grains, heart-healthy, zero grams trans-fat, low sodium, natural, dietary guidelines, organic and kosher.

Market research confirms growing interest among US food shoppers for certified organic and Kosher seals, ConAgra reported. For organic, a survey commissioned by Hunt’s Organic (a ConAgra brand) found that nearly one in four Americans find organic labeling helpful, especially if certified by USDA, in providing an additional assurance of quality and peace of mind when making choices to purchase “good foods” to serve their families.

The Kosher trend is also gaining momentum as more people come to understand the quality connection associated with the Kosher seal, ConAgra noted. More than one in

10 consumers in the company’s survey recognized the Kosher quality seal as something they would consider when making quality food-purchasing decisions.

Organics Bought Weekly By 23%

A report released this week by The Hartman Group found that, at the core of the market, 23 percent of US consumers buy organic products on a regular (at least weekly) basis.

The report, Organics 2006: Consumer Attitudes & Behavior, Five Years Later & Into the Future, found that organics has overtaken “natural” as a buzzword for mainstream consumers interested in higher quality food experiences from the dual perspective of health and gourmet eating. Additional study findings include:

•Channels: Compared to five years ago, consumers are much more likely to use natural food stores to purchase organic foods and beverages; 29 percent were doing so in 2000, while nearly half (49 percent) are doing so today. Further, while using grocery stores for organic purchases has fallen somewhat (from 63 percent of consumers in 2000 to 58 percent in 2005), using supercenter/discount stores for organics has increased (from 9 percent to 15 percent).

•Demographics: Compared to the general population, two ethnic and racial groups are somewhat more likely to purchase organics: Asian Americans and Latino/Hispanic Americans. Latino/Hispanic Americans and African Americans are much more likely than Caucasians to be what The Hartman Group terms “Core Organic Consumers,” those most involved in the organics world.

•Emerging usage theme: In both quantitative and qualitative research, one of the strongest concerns expressed by consumers compared to five years ago is the impact of additional hormones in food products and their effect on children’s health.

“Organic has less relevance for consumers when one moves into the center store and into categories that are inherently processed to a larger degree with numerous ingredients,” said Michelle Barry, The Hartman Group’s senior vice president of consumer insights and trends. “The exceptions here are categories frequently eaten by children, where the value of organic is significant to the parent.”

Gas Prices Prompt Economizing

The rapid rise in gas prices affects where consumers shop for food and encourages the use of more economizing behaviors, according to a new Food Marketing Institute (FMI) report.

The study, US Grocery Shopper Trends, 2006, also shows that consumers seek convenient mealtime solutions, a fast and easy-to-shop store environment and value, and they have different behaviors when it comes to their primary (where they make their largest or “stock up” weekly purchases” and secondary (used for “fill-in” purchases) stores.

Rapidly rising fuel prices are driving shoppers to use more economizing behaviors prior to and during their shopping trips. Nearly half claim that high energy prices have had a direct influence on purchasing habits.

In response, consumers are buying fewer luxury items, cooking more and eating out less, FMI reported. They are also incorporating cost cutting measures such as:

•Making a shopping list (46 percent).

•Using frequent-shopper programs (39 percent).

•Checking newspaper specials (36 percent).

•Redeeming coupons (28 percent).

•Stocking up on bargains (23 percent).

•Comparing prices across stores (20 percent).

•Buying store or lower-priced brands (17 percent).

FMI’s report suggests that retailers focus resources on consumers that enjoy cooking by offering recipe suggestions, cooking classes and merchandising focused on meal planning. In marketing to shoppers that have less interest in cooking, retailers should place a strong emphasis on meal solutions that require no or minimal preparation, and fast, convenient checkout options.

Shoppers are more likely to shop at conventional supermarkets than any other format. Ninety percent have shopped at a supermarket in the past 30 days, followed by supercenters (38 percent) and warehouse clubs (23 percent).

When choosing a primary store for food purchases, the most important factors to consumers are a clean, neat store (75 percent), high-quality fruits and vegetables (74 percent), high-quality meats (74 percent), accurate shelf tags (70 percent) and low prices (69 percent).

Conventional supermarkets remain the dominant outlet for food products, including meat and poultry (68 percent), frozen foods (63 percent), cereal (61 percent) and natural and organic foods (57 percent).