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This year, Americans will spend about $6.3 billion on organic foods, up from $1.8 billion just five years ago, according to “The U.S. Organic Foods Market,� a report released by London-based research company Mintel in May 2002. This figure does not even include organic beverage sales, which are also gaining ground.

So who's buying all these earthy eats? Pretty much everyone, reveals a separate study conducted by research firm RoperASW for New Rochelle, N.Y.-based organic food company Walnut Acres. This study, entitled “Taking Control and Taking Care: The Role of Organic Foods and Beverages in the Lifestyles of Americans,� finds that 7 in 10 Americans (70 percent) have purchased an organic food product at least once. About a third (32 percent) of those say they buy organic products occasionally, and 16 percent say they buy organic every time they shop. The Walnut Acres/RoperASW survey was conducted by telephone in March, with a nationally representative sample of 1,032 adults. Results were released in April.

The biggest consumers of organic foods are among the Gen Y and Baby Boomer generations (in the Walnut Acres/RoperASW survey, Gen Ys are defined as between ages 18 and 24 and Boomers as between 35 and 49). Fully 80 percent of Gen Y, and 75 percent of Boomers, have bought organic food at some point. While 22 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say they buy organic foods every time they go shopping, just 17 percent of the older set says the same. Even so, 64 percent of both Boomers and Gen Ys agree that organic foods and beverages are healthier than nonorganic, compared with just 56 percent of the general population. Some 43 percent of Boomers and 39 percent of Gen Ys say they plan to make organic foods an increasing part of their diet in the next year, compared with 37 percent of the total population.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people living in the West (the birthplace of granola) are more likely to have ever purchased an organic food product — 75 percent of them have, compared with just 66 percent of those living in the Northeast. Interestingly, however, the Northeast is home to the most loyal purchasers of organic products: 1 in 5 adults (20 percent) living in this region pick up organic foods every time they go to the market, compared with just 15 percent of Westerners. Northeasterners are also the most likely of all consumers to agree that a major reason they buy organic is because they believe such products are better for them. Some 75 percent of them feel this way, compared with 65 percent of Westerners.

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans have purchased organic food at least once, there remains more than a quarter of adults (28 percent) who have never indulged. The bulk of those holdouts are seniors. Fully 42 percent of Americans ages 65 and older say they have never bought organic, and an additional 19 percent rarely do. The two most common reasons? Cost and skepticism. Of those ages 65 and older who seldom purchase organic foods, 38 percent say it's because they cost more than other items, and 35 percent say it's because “there is no proof yet that organic foods are healthier to eat.� Another reason holding this population back from the earthy aisle is the lack of federal standards for organic foods.

However, that concern is about to be addressed. Beginning on October 21, the USDA National Organic Standards will mandate that no product can be lawfully labeled as “organic� unless it is USDA certified as being free of any ingredient produced using genetic engineering, irradiation or sewage sludge. Mintel research analysts expect the new stamps of approval on supermarket shelves will help fuel a growth in sales of organic foods.

That may be so, as 72 percent of Americans say that if given the choice to purchase a food product with or without a USDA organic seal, they would purchase the labeled product, according to the Walnut Acres/RoperASW survey. Gen Ys (81 percent) and Boomers (76 percent) are the most anxious to see the seals. Seniors, however, are not budging. Only 56 percent would likely purchase a product bearing a USDA seal over one without.

Aw, come on, Grandma. Try it, you might like it.

For more about the Walnut Acres study, call (212) 299-0500. To find out about the Mintel study, visit


A full 74 percent of Southerners who purchase organic foods and beverages say the No. 1 reason they do so is because it makes them feel like they are taking care of themselves and their families.


Organics are better for me and my family 75% 60% 71% 65%
Organics are healthier 68% 62% 69% 61%
I'm taking good care of myself and my family 65% 56% 74% 59%
Organics are safer 56% 58% 69% 66%
Organics are better for the environment 59% 59% 66% 59%
I trust organics more than nonorganics 50% 49% 56% 45%
Organics taste better 32% 31% 37% 30%
*Based on responses from 517 adults who says they “sometimes� or “always� buy organic foods and beverages. Source: Walnut Acres Organic Foods/RoperASW
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