Consumers Buy Organic Food for Taste and Health Reasons, Not Ethics, Study Shows

Consumers Buy Organic Food for Taste and Health Reasons, Not Ethics, Study Shows
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A new study from the University of Kent shows that most people who buy organic food are motivated by taste and health benefits rather than by ethics.

The paper, entitled “The Organic Food Premium: A Local Assessment in the UK,” compared the stated and revealed preferences of 104 consumers in Canterbury and found that while shoppers often claim they buy organic food because of its positive impact on the environment and on animal welfare, most people who answered the survey responded that they choose organic because of the improved healthfulness and taste.

“There are several explanations for this gap between what consumers say and what they do,” study author Dr. Adelina Gschwandtner of the School of Economics tells Inquire. “One of them is called ‘social desirability bias’. Consumers get a good feeling or a ‘warm glow’ from giving a social desirable answer and this is why they sate that they buy organic mainly due to environmental reasons. In reality, the driving force behind purchases seems to be their perceived health benefits and better taste.”

While this is a relatively small study limited to one city in the UK, Gschwandtner notes that her findings are “supported by several other studies from Europe.”

“This is not just a UK phenomenon,” she continues.

A 2016 poll from the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of Americans believe that organic food is healthier than conventional, particularly organically grown fruits and vegetables.

The study also found that consumers were willing to pay an average of about a 13 percent premium on organic products, though most consumers actually payed about a 9 percent premium for organic.

Sales of organic food continue to rise in the United States. The market reached $43 billion in 2016, and a 2017 survey found that 82 percent of American homes stock organic food. Danish research published this fall showed that buying organic is habit-forming.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.