Apr 5, 2024
Consumers recognize, trust USDA organic seal

Consumers recognize the USDA organic seal more than any other certification in the marketplace, according to a new survey released by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

Compared to a dozen claims and certifications that can be found on various products in today’s grocery aisles, almost 90% of consumers are familiar with organic claims. That deep familiarity with organic carries over into a solid public trust. The USDA organic seal is trusted by 70% of consumers — the most trusted of any agricultural label, and the second-most trusted food label existing, second only to the American Heart Association’s iconic checkmark.

Courtesy of the Organic Trade Association

“The results of our survey were incredibly encouraging,” Tom Chapman, co-CEO of OTA, said in a news release. “As organic has become more accessible to consumers, the benefits of organic have become more widely known, boosting the trust in the organic seal. That’s why our advocacy efforts to honor that trust and to ensure that organic standards keep evolving and strengthening are so critical.”

OTA partnered with Euromonitor International in a survey conducted in December 2023 of about 1,200 consumers across the country to evaluate what today’s consumers understand about organic, as well as their willingness to pay for organic products and the individual attributes supported by USDA certification.

USDA National Organic Program logo sealA look at how organic stacked up against various claims and certifications was also done. The other food and beverage claims included in the survey were natural, local, grass-fed, raised without antibiotics, vegan, pesticide free, free range, hormone free, humanely raised, allergen free, fair trade and regenerative.

Millennials, Gen Z driving organic

The Millennial and Gen Z generations are today’s biggest organic buyers. Millennials (28 to 43 years old in 2024) have been leading the organic charge for close to a decade. Now the young adults of Gen Z (ages 12 to 27) also are making their presence known in the organic market.

Millennials and Gen Z pay more attention to labels than older generations, with over 70% of those age groups reporting that the USDA organic seal matters and is an important consideration when choosing their food. These generations see food claims as more important than previous generations — with four claims in particular standing out: organic, allergen-free, regenerative and vegan.

“Younger consumers want to know about the products they’re buying,” Matthew Dillon, co-CEO of OTA, said in the release. “This isn’t just a short-term trend … these information-seeking shoppers will continue to dig for the facts, and so will their kids. The more we can educate them about their food — and about organic — the better.”

Consumers place value in organic

Organic products often command a price premium over non-organic. That’s due to a variety of factors, including generally higher production costs for organic including certification fees, higher processing costs and limited federal support for organic agriculture and food production.

Today’s price-conscious shopper considers organic to be the food claim that most justifies a higher price. When asked in the survey about the value of various claims, organic was ranked the most valuable, with nearly 60% of consumers saying that the organic claim warrants higher prices.

The OTA survey found that the more consumers know about organic, the more willing they are to pay the higher costs.

Consumers who are unaware of organic’s benefits often think that organic does not justify its higher prices. That changes dramatically when that consumer learns about some of the attributes of organic such as exclusions of genetically modified organisms (GMO), growth hormones, antibiotics and most pesticides. The justification to pay more for organic jumps by some 16 percentage points once the formerly unaware consumer is more knowledgeable about organic.

Knowledge gaps, opportunities

Today’s shopper puts a high value on the attributes of certified organic. The claims that are most important to consumers — pesticide-free, natural, raised without antibiotics, humanely raised and hormone free — are all supported or partially supported by USDA organic certification.

But even with increasingly well-informed consumers, some knowledge gaps exist.

Most consumers are aware that organic products do not contain toxic synthetic pesticides or synthetic hormones, or GMOs, but are often unaware of other attributes like sustainable animal welfare practices. As the world struggles with climate change, a large portion of consumers remain unaware of organic’s ability to contribute to biodiversity, help mitigate the causes of climate change and improve the health of our planet. Less than half of consumers are aware that certified organic agriculture is regulated and enforced by the federal government.

“Education is key to expanding organic,” Chapman said in the release. “Even in this lack of understanding, the survey shows organic incorporates most of what consumers care about. Organic has a tremendous opportunity here to use the trust and the recognition of the USDA organic seal to help consumers understand even more about its attributes and to expand the organic sector.”

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