Industry News | August 22, 2013

Consumers Care More About Natural Foods Than Organic

Organic is out, and natural is in—at least for some discerning, health-conscious consumers. Though organic has become more mainstream than ever, the label is actually being watered down and no longer has the same power and significance, says Amy Sousa, senior research analyst at The Harman Group and co-author of the research firm’s Organic and Natural 2012 Report.

Many people “even wonder if something that’s organic is really organic, is it really that much better,” she says.

This doubt means many consumers are less likely to shell out the cash to pay for items and products labeled organic. In 2012, 30 percent of consumers surveyed for the Organic and Natural Report said they were not willing to pay more for organic products (compared to 20 percent in 2010), while 44 percent said they would pay less than 10 percent more for organic products (compared to 52 percent in 2010).

Sousa notes that when it comes to dining out, many consumers relax their standards for the type of product or items they want to eat. “Moms who maybe are used to dining out or taking their kids for fast food, they don’t necessarily … worry about the same health concerns and organic concerns as they might be at home,” she says.

But for those consumers who are still conscious of and concerned about what they eat, natural products are now the star of the show, Sousa says.

“By natural, we are not taking about a marketing term just slapped on the front of the package, because consumers are absolutely not convinced by that,” she says. “But natural in terms of less processed, having few ingredients, it’s very pure.”

She says many consumers would now prefer to have a truly natural product than one that is labeled organic but is more processed.

“Organic is important, but it really comes down to ingredient lists more and more,” Sousa says. “Consumers really want fresher, less processed, more natural foods, and the more that ingredient list is clean, … the more enthusiasm consumers will have.”

But just because customers prefer natural to organic doesn’t mean that brands that offer organic products have nothing to gain. In fact, the Organic and Natural 2012 Report found that more than 60 percent of guests surveyed said their impression of a quick serve would improve if that restaurant offered organic products.

Organic definitely can lend a quality halo to food,” Sousa says. “But when it comes to actually pulling out your wallet and spending the extra money, that’s always a somewhat different situation.”

In general, Sousa says, specific brand practices that point to a larger social responsibility—whether it’s serving natural products or sourcing sustainable proteins—“actually can mean more than organic, and I think there is a response to more sustainable practices in quick service.

“The more specific the action,” she says, “the more poignant.”

By Mary Avant

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by QSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.


This is ridiculous. Natural is meaningless. The term "Organic" is regulated and carries a much stronger message. Amy Sousa should join the real world, not one that claims something is so because she thinks it is so. This is silly rationale.

I think Amy is referring more to manufactured products ie General Foods, Nabisco etc But, those orgs use all kinds of deceptive tactics. Best advice, shop green & cook from scratch.

This is beyond laughable...did ConAgra or ADM or Monsanto write this???I hope that people don't read this and actually buy it...natural is something more than an organic "label slapped on the package".Disgusting and irresponsible reporting.

This is completely backwards! Natural can mean's totally unregulated! An apple sprayed with 44 pesticides is still natural...but is toxic! Meats injected with hormones and antibiotics are still natural...but are they healthy? GMO is basically untested modification of what was once natural...the affects of which we are beginning to see reflected in the health of our country's population. Education is the key to understanding what is actually healthy and what is being marketed as such. Society is becoming more educated and when they are, they will be empowered to make positive lifestyle choices for themselves and their families. QSR are already missing out on a slice of that educated population, but when the tipping point is reached, we will either have to shift to what is healthy or be left out in the cold. This is an unfortunate article.

It's funny to read comments by defenders of organic production railing against this article. The article is about a consumer survey, not the opinion of the author. You got a problem with public perceptions of organic production, take it up with American consumers; they're the ones who are deciding it's not worth paying the premium. I would add that the organic community has been complaining about retailers like WalMart sourcing organic food from overseas. They're not promoting the production method, just their own labels.

Dean is 100% correct, "All natural" is unregulated and honestly it is a joke. The organic label must be earned!

great piece. exactly where the trend is. movement is not towards organic froot loops etc, it's towards delicious food w/ simple ingredients e.g. kind bars

I think that many of you complaining here about this article are missing the point. This is a survey that shows that consumers ARE very well informed. Organic has lost most of its meaning, but the government taking over the word and relaxing the standards so that the General Mills, Nabiscos, and Coca cola's, of the world can get in on the action. As an employee of a small farm that does pay the exorbitant fees to be certified organic, we often discuss if it is worthwhile for us to do it. We would never stop or change the way that we do things, but consumers are now looking at more local, natural, and artisan (or small batch) as terms to look for. Consumers are learning the they trust Dave and Flo down the road who might not be able to afford their organic certification, vs. Horizon Organic who is a giant corporation and has money to burn. To be honest, we would love to get rid of our USDA certification. This gives me hope that people are learning.

Too many black-and-white people commenting here about organic being regulated, making it mean far more than 'natural'. Truth is... Most consumers don't give a lick about organic, and won't pay more for it, So FDA designated organic means nothing to them. (They aren't reading labels much, so to expect them to check more than the package is a illogical). People simply care about feeding the family and themselves right, in general. The initial sales blip was just another fad.

The dirty little truth is that in it's current state the 'organic' label is no better than the 'natural' label. Regulated you say, BAH!!! The truth is that in many instances the 'organic' products are still sprayed with chemicals and treated with hormones etc. This has occurred because big producers put pressure on their politicians to relax the standards so they could enjoy the same windfall profits that the legitimate organic producers were realizing without having to meet the same requirements. In Washington, money talks.

Glen really said it all: "shop green & cook from scratch" - its heart healthy & it supports your local business community. Well done Glen!

I'm an operator of an organic burger offering. The author is correct. To boil this article down, organic has relevance in the marketplace. But there are not enough consumers to support a business case. The "translastion" of organic is losing steam. It's even being reported now that organic really isn't that much better for you. Nearly no research definitively points to "better for you".

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