Survey Results: 50% Believe “Natural” Means No GMOs; Price is the Biggest Barrier to Buying Organic Foods

What factors influence a typical buyer’s decision to buy organic vs conventional foods? How well do consumers understand the differences between food marketed as organic vs those marketed as natural? These are questions we hoped to answer in our “Organic & Natural Foods” survey of 206 US consumers.

After compiling and analyzing the survey data, I’m pleased to report that it reveals some very interesting facts. In this blog post I will present the most notable conclusions we’ve been able to draw from the data.

1) 50% of respondents believe that “natural” foods don’t contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
While organic foods are required to be GMO-free, there is no such requirement for natural foods. In fact, there isn’t even a requirement that GMO ingredients be disclosed on the label.

2) When asked why they don’t purchase organic foods more frequently, 87% of respondents said “organic foods are too expensive”
“Organic foods are too expensive” (87%) was by far the most popular response, outpacing answers such as “I don’t feel that organic foods are any healthier” (18%), “I can’t find a convenient way to buy the organic foods I want” (26%), and “I don’t feel that organic foods are better than conventionally-grown foods” (19%).

Why don't you purchase organic foods more frequently

3) Nearly the same percentage of respondents with $100K+ annual income said “organic foods are too expensive”
While 87% of overall respondents said “Organic foods are too expensive”, 80% of respondents with $100K+ annual incomes also cited “Organic foods are too expensive” as the reason they don’t buy organic foods more frequently. In short, both high-income and low-income consumers consider organic food to be expensive.

Percentage of respondents who said organic food is too expensive

4) 43% of respondents believe that foods marketed as “natural” must meet strict guidelines set by the USDA.
While there are some explicit rules for foods marketed as “natural”, especially meat, the term “natural” is an ambiguous one. The USDA does not provide as strict guidelines for “natural” as they do for “organic”.

5) 33% of respondents believe that natural foods are grown without the use of chemical pesticides or sprays.
While organic foods are required to be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or sprays, foods sold as natural are different. Natural foods may be grown with synthetic pesticides or sprays, and the majority of them are.

Which are grown without the use of chemical pesticides or sprays

6) Respondents who purchase organic foods “Often” or “Nearly Always” were not significantly better educated regarding GMOs.
Of respondents who said they purchase organic foods “Often” or “Nearly Always”, 41% believe that natural foods don’t contain GMOs. However, these respondents were better educated on the difference between natural and organic – 0% of them believed that foods marketed as “natural” must meet strict guidelines set by the USDA.

Percentage of respondents who believe natural foods are GMO-free

Percentage of respondents who believe natural foods must meet struct USDA guidelines

Interesting: Where did survey respondents live?
Our survey didn’t have enough responses from each state to make the below data significant, but it’s still interesting.

Overall:

Frequent organic food buyers:

Survey Notes
Data was collected from 206 US consumers via an online survey administered by Survey Monkey. Survey participants were compensated for completing the survey, and a platform with a broad demographic user base was used to reduce self-selection bias. (In simple terms, survey respondents represented a diverse group of consumers, not just organic food aficionados.) To maintain data integrity, the sponsoring company and survey purpose were not disclosed to respondents.

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4 Responses to Survey Results: 50% Believe “Natural” Means No GMOs; Price is the Biggest Barrier to Buying Organic Foods

  1. Zephyr Hill says:

    One thing this survey didn’t cover is the “humane” issue. Meats can be organic without being what many of us would consider “humanely raised” in the sense of the animal being able to live a natural life for a chicken (hunting and pecking for food, taking dust baths, etc.) or cow (grazing at liberty in a field, raising calves with their mothers, etc.) or pig (at liberty in a pasture, free to wallow, etc.) “Natural” is supposed to cover those kinds of issues, but obviously there is no guarantee since there is no standard. However, many growers of “natural” meat consider that the government has taken over the “organic” label so that it no longer means what people think it means, and that is why they developed the “natural” concept to try to cover the gaps. In the long run, we can’t trust the government to make our decisions for us; we need to do our own research to decide what kind of food-raising practices we can accept despite whatever the labels might say. Knowledge is power!

    • ViJuvenate says:

      Good point – “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean that the animals were raised in what we might consider a free and natural way. Organic does have at least some requirements as far as access to pasture, etc.

      “Natural” has no such requirements (at all). For meat to be sold as “natural”, it doesn’t matter how the animal was raised. The USDA only requires that the meat not have any artificial ingredients and be minimally processed.

      From our perspective, the “organic” label is far more meaningful than a “natural” label, but at the end of the day what’s most important is knowing your farmer/supplier and the methods they use! As you said, best to “do our own research to decide what kind of food-raising practices we can accept despite whatever the labels might say!”

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  3. stacy warner says:

    thanks for this….it is interesting. recently asked two local vendors about gmo. they didnt even know what i was talking about. . and one person flat lied. if you didnt grow it yourself, consider it suspect……..fyi…i live in nw montana and it is only beginning to catch on here. still backwards but gaining in education.

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