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Survey: America's taste for organic food on the rise

Survey: America's taste for organic food on the rise

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Among those who prefer non-organic choices, price remains the primary driver of that preference.

Over the past two years, I have become a much more discriminating shopper at my local grocery store, taking the time to peek at food and product labels and taking note of the organic labels scattered through the produce section. I figure I should try to practice what I preach.

Apparently, more Americans are doing the same: a poll released this month by Thomson-Reuters-NPR suggests that close to 60 percent of shoppers will choose organically produced foods over "conventionally produced" foods if they have the option. The younger and more educated a survey respondent was, the more likely he or she was to gravitate to organic. There was decidedly less interest in organic in survey respondents who were more than 65 years old.

The survey reflects the responses of about 3,014 respondents interviewed during May 2011.

The appeal of organics, according to the joint survey, is twofold: first, those interested in organics are looking to support local farms; they also are seeking to cut down on the potential toxins in their food, according to the data.

Said Raymond Fabius, the chief medical officer at the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters:

"There appears to be a generational difference in preference for organic foods. The strong positive sentiment among young people indicated they are more concerned with exposure to toxins and place a higher premium on supporting local markets. It stands to reason that, by expanding the network of farmer's markets, we could see a further groundswell around the support for organic foods."

Interesting, organic ingredients were less influential for the choices that survey respondents are inclined to make in restaurants, when choosing different menu options. Slightly more than one-third of the respondents responded "Yes" to the following statement: "In a restaurant, would your ordering decision be influenced by the availability of organic options?"

That makes for an interesting dilemma in the restaurant industry, which has been making lots of noise lately about organic sourcing and more nutritious menu choices. Just this week, for example, McDonald's announced it would automatically include produce or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal that it sells starting in September 2011. What's more, it plans to include apples in every Happy Meal by the end of the first quarter of 2012. McDonald's announcement comes on the heels of the launch of the voluntary Kids LiveWell Campaign by 19 national restaurant chains. Among other things, there is a much bigger push on the use of produce in their menus, which could translate into increased revenue for local farmers.

The healthy eating advocacy campaigns spreading across the United States aren't exactly the same as the organic movement, of course. But I do feel that the two are related, and both trends should be of acute interested to any businesses involved with food, including grocery stores, restaurants and giant food companies that are evaluating the long-term sustainability of certain ingredients choices.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure