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ACNielsen has completed a study suggesting that American consumers are the among the least committed shoppers in the world to the purchase of organic products. Asked about their purchasing of organic alternatives from 11 food and beverage categories, between six and 15 percent of US consumers said they purchase such products regularly – far less than in any other country included in the study. There were a total of 38 countries included in the study, in Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Latin America, and in South Africa.

Interestingly, no such disparity exists when it comes to so-called "Functional Foods" - products fortified with added vitamins or supplements and promoting specific health benefits. Unlike organic products, US consumers are much more closely aligned with the global averages for functional foods purchasing. In fact, in 5 of the 10 categories included in the survey, a greater percentage of U.S. consumers said they regularly purchase such products than the global averages.

For glass-half-empty people, this means that organics simply don’t enjoy the same sort of cachet in the US as elsewhere, and are unlikely to in the foreseeable future. For glass-half-full folks, it simply means that organics have plenty of room to grow…as they inevitably will.


But regardless of whether your glass is half-full or half-empty, shoppers’ lack of commitment to organic products seems to be largely a matter of price. For those who never buy organic food or beverage products, which includes 40 to 72 percent of US consumers, depending on the category, the main deterrent seems to be how much these products cost.

"How mainstream organic products become, to a significant degree, depends on what happens with their prices," says Tom Markert, ACNielsen’s chief marketing officer. "But I'm not expecting large price cuts. Even as production increases and the number of categories that include organic offerings expands, marketers may very well opt to maintain organics' upscale positioning."

Across all regions, according to the study, the main reason for purchasing organic food and beverages is that consumers believe such products are healthier for them. The secondary reason cited by consumers in all regions except Europe is the perceived health benefits for the shoppers' children. In Europe, more people cited benefits for the environment as their secondary reason to purchase organics.

According Markert, one of the reasons that US consumers may have fewer qualms about functional foods than organics is that "the functional foods distinction is beginning to blur, as manufacturers enhance more and more products with additional health benefits. As that trend continues, an increasing number of consumers are likely to become functional foods buyers without even realizing it."

Which certainly isn’t the case when it comes to organics.

The 28 markets studied included Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the UK, and the US.
KC's View:
Our first reaction when reading about this study was that it is amazing that the US – where more people have a greater amount of disposable income than in most of the other markets studied – also has more people that don’t want to spend extra money for organic products.

But then we thought about it some more, and figure that maybe this has more to do with the fact that Americans simply may have greater confidence in the mainstream food supply.

Still, we’d probably fall into the glass-half-full category. With reservations.

By the way, we take all this glass-half-full stuff seriously. Even the glassware we use reflects it – we got these wonderfully sturdy Pallino Glasses, made in Italy, from Sur La Table, that have a line around the middle of the glass, with the words “ottimista” above the line and “pessimista” below the line.

Very cool.