Americans Prefer Organic Over Local

Although interest in USA-made products is growing nationwide, an eco-centric study of Americans’ buying habits shows Americans prefer natural or organic.

by Dani Yokhna
Local food
Courtesy Ceatas/Jupiterimages/Thinkstock
More Americans are interested in buying local food, but a greater number still prefer food labels containing the terms “natural” or “organic.”

What appeals most to Americans on a food product label? Eco Pulse, an annual survey conducted by Shelton Group researchers, finds Americans opt for the terms “natural” or “organic” on their food labels rather than “Grown in the USA,” but also finds all three growing in consumer consciousness.

When asked about the best descriptions to read on a food label, 25 percent of consumers said they preferred “100-percent natural” or “all natural,” while 24 percent said “USDA Certified Organic” or “100-percent organic.” A smaller group, 17 percent, preferred “Grown in the USA.”

“This looks baffling on the surface because we Americans like our bananas, oranges and strawberries year-round. We’re used to eating fresh fruits and vegetables grown out of season, including some that can’t even be grown in the U.S.,” says Suzanne Shelton, president of Shelton Group, an advertising and research firm that focuses on marketing green products to mainstream Americans.

However, Shelton says that interest in nationally produced foods reflects three trends.

“First, Americans are increasingly worried about food contamination, and they’re concerned about water treatment and crop fertilization in other countries,” she says. “Second, there is growing support for family farms and local sourcing—a trend that’s gone mainstream in the last several years, including at Walmart. And finally, people are concerned about the economy and job losses, so buying ‘Grown in the USA’ is a way to help fellow Americans.”

Researchers queried 1,013 Americans for the Eco Pulse survey. Among its findings:

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1. Recycling is on the rise.
More than 60 percent of Americans said they regularly recycle aluminum cans, plastic bottles and newspaper. However, convenience still plays a big role in recycling: Households without curbside service recycle at a significantly lower rate than those who do have it.

2. Americans love the idea of recycled content. 
Forty-three percent said “made with 100-percent recycled content” was the best description to read on a package of disposable plates or cups. However, a significant number of Americans (40 percent) said they’re buying less disposable or single-use tableware.

“That’s why manufacturers should focus on developing disposable tableware made from more sustainable materials to help assuage Americans’ growing guilt about single use,” Shelton says.

3. More shoppers buy with sustainability in mind.
The number of Americans who say they’re searching for more energy-efficient, natural or sustainable products increased almost 10 percent over the past two years. Today, almost seven in 10 American consumers say they’re searching for sustainable products. In fact, green buying behavior seems to be crossing all socioeconomic classes.

4. The price of sustainability concerns Americans.
Only 23 percent of Americans consistently buy green across multiple product categories, such as natural foods, green detergents and energy-efficient appliances. While most desire greener products, many mainstream consumers are turned off by the higher cost. Seventy-one percent of Americans said green products usually or always cost more.

“Most Americans will try a greener product if it is comparably priced and offered by a known brand,” Shelton says. “But if helping the planet is the only benefit, most consumers aren’t willing to pay the extra cost. In this economy, consumers prefer a greener wallet over a greener planet.”

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