Revealed on Sunday, the findings from the Organic Trade Association's (OTA) 2007 Manufacturer Survey demonstrate the growing importance of organic foods and beverages to a consumer base that has become increasingly conscious of 'healthy', 'natural' dietary choices. According to the preliminary findings, released at OTA's All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show in Chicago, US sales of organic foods totaled nearly $17bn in 2006, exceeding last year's forecasts of $16bn. This marks a 22 percent increase compared to sales of $14bn in 2005. Organic foods' 3 percent share of total food sales is up from 1.9 percent in 2003 and approximately 2.5 percent in 2005. "These preliminary findings verify organic product sales to be a shining star in the marketplace, and we expect strong growth in 2007 as well. Both farmers and consumers will have more choices as organic grows," said Caren Wilcox, OTA's executive director. According to another report released last year by OTA, as sales of organic goods continue to rise, food and beverage manufacturers are increasingly turning to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal as a mark of approval. Some 60 percent of the OTA 2006 Manufacturing Survey respondents said they display the seal on their products, while over half of those who do not currently use the seal said they planned to use it in the future. According to the survey, 17 percent of respondents reported that USDA labeling requirements and certification programs had "dramatically increased" their ability to generate sales of organic products, while 38 percent reported that labeling increased sales somewhat, and 43 percent reported no change. The 2007 Manufacturer Survey OTA was prepared in collaboration with market research firm Packaged Facts, which conducted the survey in March and April. Full results of the survey are expected to be available in June.