Eating organic foods and beverages ranks as one of the top methods for ensuring long-term health along with taking vitamins and cutting calories, according to a US survey conducted for Walnut Acres, a US-based organic food company.
The study findings come just a week after the UK's Consumers' Association claimed that many British consumers were being tricked into thinking that organic food was more healthy simply because it was more expensive.
The US survey showed that nine out of 10 Americans believed that lifestyle plays a critical role in determining long-term health, while nearly six in 10 said they were thinking about the future when making food choices.
For many, that means consuming organic foods and beverages, the company said. The majority of Americans (56 per cent) believe that organic foods and beverages are healthier than non-organics and 57 per cent believe that "eating and drinking organic foods and beverages from childhood helps protect people from possible health problems."
"Americans clearly see organic eating as a way to take control of their long-term health," said Mark Koide, vice president of marketing of Acirca, maker of Walnut Acres organic foods. "We are giving consumers high-quality, great tasting certified organic foods and beverages that provide a convenient way to care for themselves and protect their future health."
According to the survey, when asked to select from a list of actions that they personally considered good choices for long-term health, 67 per cent of respondents stated that taking vitamin or mineral supplements was the number one priority, followed by reducing calories (62 per cent), eating or drinking organics (47 per cent), cutting out carbohydrates/adding protein (36 per cent), eating a vegetarian diet (15 per cent) and taking diet pills to suppress appetite (5 per cent).
Americans also see organic eating as a way to take good care of their families, according to the survey. Six in 10 organic purchasers (61 per cent) said they were buying for the entire family, and this percentage increases to nine in 10 (89 per cent) among parents who buy organic foods and beverages. Two-thirds of organic purchasers said the major reasons for buying were that organics are better for them and their family (68 per cent), organics were healthier than non-organic foods and beverages (66 per cent), and that they felt that they were taking good care of themselves by choosing organic products (65 per cent).
These positive perceptions may help explain why organic foods have grown more than 24 per cent per year for the past decade, the company claimed. Sales of organic foods and beverages totalled $8 billion in 2000 and are expected to reach $20 billion by 2005.
The survey from Walnut Acres found that currently more than half of Americans (51 per cent) buy organic foods or beverages at least sometimes, and about four in 10 expect that organic foods (44 per cent) and beverages (38 per cent) will be an increasing part of their diets in the next five years.
Of particular interest is the fact that younger adults are buying even more organics than the general population. Nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) of 18- to 24-year-olds say they purchased organic foods or beverages every time or sometimes when they went shopping.
Food safety concerns were also at the forefront of people's purchasing decisions. Some 74 per cent of respondents said they were concerned about the safety of foods today and the majority (87 per cent) of organic purchasers were motivated to buy organics because they are safer. However, respondents were also worried about 'mystery ingredients' in non-organics: 74 per cent of them agreed that "with non-organic foods and beverages, you never know what hidden ingredients you are eating."
This last concern may be at least partially rectified by new regulations due to come into effect in October which allow products with at least 95 per cent organic content to carry a USDA Organic seal, indicating the product fulfils the new standards of the National Organic Program (NOP).
"All Walnut Acres products will carry the seal." the company said. "For the first time, consumers nationwide will be able to select a food labelled 'organic' knowing that it meets a strict, consistent standard, no matter where it is produced or sold. Moreover, the use of the USDA Organic seal will signify that the maker follows the rigorous NOP certification programme and is reviewed by certified inspectors."