Organic Food Increases in Popularity

Organic consumers are no longer the hippie health nuts of decades past or even the affluent, thirty-something women of just a few years ago. Today's organic consumers come from all demographic groups and spend more money than ever on organic foods and beverages.

While the growth in organic purchases is primarily in the retail category, consumers are demanding these offerings more when they dine out, and restaurant operators need to meet these demands.

Sales of organic foods and beverages-typically described as items produced without the use of artificial pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms-have experienced double-digit sales growth each year since the 1990s, according to a recent Manufacturer Survey. In 2007, retail sales of organic foods and beverages reached $20 billion, up from about $4 billion in 1997. That growth is expected to continue, and sales are expected to exceed well beyond $20 billion by the end of 2008.

Further studies provide further proof that a significant number of Americans want organics. In the two years ended February 2008, approximately one-fourth of those surveyed said they eat at least one organic product in an average two-week period. In the six-month period ended in January, 26% of those surveyed said they considered themselves regular organic users.

Just a decade ago the organic user was typically described as woman in her thirties with one or two children. Today, organic users are no marginal group.

The definition of the organic consumer has continued to evolve even in the past few years. Just three years ago, adults older than 55 were the primary users of organic foods and beverages, but today it's young adults and kids. In the 24-month period ended February 2008, adults aged 35 to 44 consumed organic food and beverages nearly 55 times annually, up from about 22 times in the 24-month period ended February 2005.

During the same period, children younger than 6 ate organics 50 times a year, up from 20 times, and adults aged 18 to 34 consumed organics about 40 times a year, up from just 12 times.

Older adults continued to contribute to the growth, just not as strongly. In the 24-month period ended February 2008, adults aged 55 to 64 ate organics 45 times annually, up from about 32 times a year in the 24-month period ended February 2005.

Organic users may be from different generations, but they have a lot in common when it comes to the environment, NPD discovered. In the six-month period ended in January, of those consumers surveyed that consider themselves organic users, more than 70% said they are very or somewhat concerned about the environment, compared to just 52% of all respondents.

Organic users also have a higher awareness of environmental terminology. In the six-month period ended in January, more than half of organic users surveyed said they are familiar with the term "carbon footprint," compared with just 39 percent of all respondents. In addition, more than 60 percent of organic users said they are familiar with "sustainability," compared with just 50 percent of all respondents.

Perhaps because the morning meal is most often associated with healthful eating or because organics have a health halo around them, consumers eat organics most often at breakfast. In the 12 months ended in February 2008, on average consumers ate an organic product for breakfast at home approximately 11 times, up from 10 times a year earlier. During the same period, consumers ate an organic product for lunch at home five times, up from four times. There was no increase in consumption of organic fare for dinner at home, which remained flat at eight times.

As the demand for organics grows, more restaurant operators are considering traveling the organic road, and many are seeking out consultants well versed in the subject to help them navigate it.

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