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Consumers believe natural products are better, but very few shoppers have bought them in the past year.

Roper Starch Worldwide, Mamaroneck, N.Y., surveyed a national sample of 1,000 men and women to gauge their feelings about 10 natural products.

"Natural products have a good image in the marketplace," said Tom Miller, Roper senior VP. "For marketers of these products, there is great latitude to grow brands."

According to the survey, free-range chicken and eggs and organically grown produce have the most growth potential.

Forty-three percent of consumers thought free-range chicken was better than conventional chicken, but only 6% bought the product within the last year. Organic fruits and vegetables were considered better than regular produce by 53%, but were only purchased by 19%.

Mr. Miller said he thinks limited distribution is a factor, in addition to cost.

The survey also found people with higher education and incomes think natural products are better. For example, 55% of college graduates compared with 40% of non-high school graduates say natural cereal is better. Also, 56% of those with household incomes of more than $50,000 think natural cereal is better, compared with only 45% of those with incomes of under $15,000.

Even though the study shows consumers have a positive impression of natural products, Roper warns marketers need to be careful.

"Our survey shows that there is a growing skepticism toward products which make the natural claim," Mr. Miller said.

His advice to marketers: "Don't exaggerate the naturalness of the product."

Roper conducted in-home interviews in December, with questions including if participants thought a product's natural form was better than other forms. The survey has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Another Roper study found many print ads with environmental themes fail to attract and hold magazine reader's attention.

In a test of about 300 environmental ads, only a few companies managed to grab the reader while others failed to generate awareness.

"Visually powerful ads that had a good story to tell," caught the eye of most readers, said Phil Sawyer, Roper's director of communications and editor of the Starch Tested Copy, a newsletter about advertising effectiveness.

Low-interest categories fared well in the test. For example, a U.S. Council for Energy Awareness ad touting the environmental benefits of nuclear energy scored 30% above average in being remembered by readers and 17% above average in being read.

Also, companies like Asea Brown Boveri, which provide engineering systems and technology, scored well.

However, Proctor & Gamble Co.'s ads with environmental themes failed to involve readers.

An ad for the marketer's Luvs and Pampers disposable diapers scored 11% above average in capturing readers' attention, but scored 15% below average in being read.

Mr. Sawyer blamed the low readership on the fact that the ad, from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, is hard to read because of the dark background.

The 1994 survey of 22,500 people asked the respondents about what magazines they had read and what ads they remembered.

Mr. Sawyer said marketers who want to use environmental themes should use beautiful illustrations to draw attention, be specific in the copy, and use powerful statements.

"Don't just tell readers about your environmental benefits, but show it in a visually powerful way," he said.

Leah Rickard coordinates Research News.

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