Organic agriculture still on rise across U.S.
NEW BRUNSWICK (March 1, 2018) — Consumer attitudes toward Certified Organic produce and its costs were the topic of discussion in an afternoon presentation at a meeting of the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
The conference, which drew academics from the all over the country, was held Friday, Jan. 26, before the annual NOFA-NJ Winter Conference at Douglass College Student Center, Rutgers University.
Dr. Ramu Govindasamy, chairman of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at of Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, discussed a recent survey of consumer attitudes toward organic products.
Govindasamy said organic agriculture continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States and has grown rapidly since the late 1980s but currently amounts to 4.2 percent of all food sales in the nation.
Those surveyed in late 2016 and early 2017 were from New York (41 percent) Pennsylvania (27 percent), New Jersey (18 percent), Maryland (12 percent) and Delaware (2 percent.) About 76 percent of the respondents were female and the remaining 24 percent were male. About 40 percent of the respondents obtained a 4-year college degree, while 23 percent attended up to a graduate degree. Among the pool of survey respondents, 82.6 percent were white, 6 percent were Asian, 5.5 percent were African American, 4.8 percent Hispanic or Latino and 1.1 percent of them “other.”
About 32 percent of respondents earned an annual income above $100,000.
Similarly, 31 percent earned an income between $60,000 – $99, 999, 17 percent earned between $40,000 to $59,999, 14 percent earned between $20,000 to $39,999 and 6 percent earned less than 20,000 per year.
“In terms of income based on our sample, the largest of organic food consumers [had income] between $100 and $250 grand, 28 percent, but also look at the other numbers, [income] between $40,000 and $60,000, that’s 17 percent so everybody is buying organics these days,” he said. “If you look at numbers from previous surveys, it was skewed toward people with higher incomes. Now, everybody buys organics.”
“In terms of shopping at more than one store, more than 80 percent are shopping at more than one store to buy their fruits and vegetables,” he said, “and many are looking for organic restaurants. If you look around out there, there are not that many organic restaurants around yet.”
Reasons for buying organic, he said, “include freshness is No. 1, and the lack of pesticides is another big consideration.”
In terms of quantity and type of organic products, survey results indicated vegetables ranked No. 1, followed by fruits, followed by yogurt, third and eggs, fourth.
Organic consumers in Mid-Atlantic states across all income groups also indicated a willingness to pay more for organic foods, and realize they may already be paying a premium.
“The majority of the respondents indicated they were willing to pay 20 percent more for organic produce,” Govindasamy said.
Using slides to display the data, Govindasamy told the crowd about a range of other habits of organic produce consumers in this region, including that most respondents indicated they visit farmers markets, specialty food stores and supermarkets four times a month to buy organics. What’s more they spend an average of $27 per visit.
“If you own a farm stand or store and you’re getting less than $27 per visit, there may be something wrong with the mix of products you are offering,” he said. Most respondents said they’re willing to travel about 10 miles to buy organics.
“In terms of what they buy, it’s apples, tomatoes, strawberries that are the top three,” he said, but consumers are also looking for organic bananas.
“With vegetables, they’re buying lettuce, carrots, spinach, broccoli, while in terms of value-added products, they are interested most in sliced fruits and vegetables, juices, salsas, jams and jellies, anything fresh.”
Finally, respondents were surveyed about reasons for not buying organics. The number one reason was ‘Too Expensive,’ followed by ‘Choice of Produce was Limited,’ to a third reason, ‘Consistent or Steady Supply.’
The survey was conducted in the winter of 2017 and yielded a 44-page report. Others involved in the survey, “The Status Of The Organic Produce Marketing Opportunities In The Mid-Atlantic United States,” included Isaac Vellangany, Surendran Arumugam, Joseph Heckman, Jenny Carleo, Hemant Gohil, Meredith Melendez, Richard W. Vanvranken, Wesley Kline, Pat Huizing, William Walker and Tianxin Wu.
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