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Choosing organic correlates to age, income, education

Consumers choose to buy organic food for several reasons, among them farming practices, personal health and environmental concerns. Classifying the different kinds of consumers may help manufacturers and suppliers build their market share.

Several factors play into consumers’ choosing to buy organic, such as health, environment, freshness or flavor.

A recent survey categorized consumers by how they choose, and it found correlations with age, income and education.

Two organizations, market analyst Information Resources Inc. and SPINS, which provides information for the natural and specialty products industry, listed seven different categories of organic buyers.

The first two, which the analysts labeled “True Believers” and “Enlightened Environmentalists,” account for 46 percent of all natural and organic product sales, and so offer plentiful opportunities for manufacturers and retailers.

“True Believers” are those shoppers who are passionate about staying fit and healthy and serving as strong role models for their children. Their median income is $65,000, their average age is 40, and they attended college.

At Skagit Valley Food Co-op in Mount Vernon, Wash., marketing director Rachael Darden said customers often tell her that organic food is “an easily accessible route toward a healthy lifestyle.” They want food as natural — and as local — as possible.

“There’s a significant relationship between mental, emotional and spiritual about what we put in our bodies,” she said. “We know where things are coming from and how it has been grown.”

Chuck Eggert, founder and CEO of Pacific Natural Foods in Tualatin, Ore., said in the 1970s, buying organic was “an ideological thing, but there has been a paradigm shift thinking about ingredients.”

People buy organic because they enjoy the flavor difference and the quality difference. Some buyers use his company’s organic chicken broth in non-organic soup, just for the taste.

The second category, the “Enlightened Environmentalists,” seek to make good choices to support the environment. They are older than True Believers, averaging 63 years old, attended graduate school and have a median income of $57,000.

Darden said “giving back to the Earth” motivates many of her customers. “You want a relationship with the land that’s around you.”

Buyers are becoming more aware of farming practices, Eggert said, and they want to see fewer chemicals used on crops.

The other five consumer classifications make up the remaining 54 percent of sales:

• “Strapped Seekers” like to try new things and live a healthy lifestyle, but know they should make more healthful choices. With a median income of $45,000 and median age of 45, these shoppers represent all levels of education.

• “Healthy Realists” are fit and make exercise a priority. They often try something new, but can have difficulty deciding whether to buy healthy or traditional products. Their average age is 39, they have attended college and earn a median income of $65,000.

• “Indifferent Traditionalists” may try healthful products, but do not consider themselves on the leading edge of change. With a median income of $46,000 that skews under $25,000, these shoppers are age 65 on average and have a high school education.

• “Struggling Switchers” are focused on staying within their budgets and suffered during the last recession, but know they should be eating healthier and getting more exercise. With a median income of $56,000, they are age 39 on average and attended all levels of school.

• “Resistant Non-believers” stay loyal to the products they know. They have completed high school, have an average age of 52 and a median income of $48,000.



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