Quick! What are the standards for organic foods? Can a food be some combination of natural, organic and local? According to research done by Sullivan Higdon and Sink and produced in “A Fresh Look at Organic and Local,” Sullivan Higdon & Sink FoodThink, 2012, if you aren’t sure about the answer to those questions, you’re in good company. Only about 44 percent of consumers say they understand the requirements for a food to be considered organic.
On the other hand, the “natural” label is not as highly regulated. In fact, the terms “all natural” or “natural” on a food label have no legal meaning in the United States and are not enforced by the FDA. The FDA has said that it, “has not developed a definition for use of the term ‘natural’ or its derivatives…the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” So, while the term natural may not be as regulated as the term organic, it can still indicate that your food is relatively free of artificial ingredients.
It’s confusion over terms like this that can lead to distrust by consumers. When surveyed, it was found that consumers who sought out organic and local food had less trust than the average consumer in the USDA than mass media, their friends and family, and bloggers and social media when it came to information about their food. Shoppers looking for organic, local and natural foods are more likely to buy a product if it has labels like “sustainable,” “free range” and “no antibiotics.” This follows the trend of more shoppers wanting to know where their food is coming from and how it was treated before it appeared on shelves.
Organic food used to only be sought out by a niche market, one passionate about their food, but still relatively small. Now, more shoppers are seeking out organic, natural and local options. While some consumers still haven’t hopped on the organic bandwagon, 90 percent of consumers agree that organic foods taste just as good as conventional food. While the organic movement is gaining steam, the desire to purchase local products has grown exponentially. Even if consumers aren’t sold on the idea of organic, with 33 percent saying they think organic is just a marketing term, 79 percent of customers want to buy more local food.
A majority of consumers agree that it is important to buy food that is locally sourced, grown or made, and more than half said they would be willing to pay more to get it. For most, as long as a food comes from the state or country they live in, that’s good enough. This shows that while shoppers want their food to be produced and grown closer to home, they have realistic expectations of what that means.
It’s no secret that more and more consumers are drawn to organic, local and natural foods. People want to know what exactly it is they are getting when purchasing food with any of those labels. It is hoped that more companies will begin to provide additional information about their products and what makes them stand out as organic, natural, local or some combination of the three. Until then, it is up to the consumers to stay informed.