Consumer attitudes about private label items are changing, especially with food products and more so with organics, according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates' Web Research and Intelligence Division.

"What we found striking was that organics got a lot of comments and a lot of enthusiasm with people switching," said Janet Eden-Harris, vice president of the Westlake Village, Calif.-based division.

The study was conducted by surveying social media sites, including blogs and message boards, and collecting information about consumers' shopping habits. Researchers reviewed more than 50,000 conversations, Eden-Harris said.

"It's all passive, so it gives us a more accurate picture," she said. "This gets into the feeling, not just sales data."

A lot of the excitement about private label organic products was triggered by different motivators in different demographics. A consumer in the baby boomer generation tended to appreciate organic products for their health benefits, but were also the most price-conscious consumers. Generation X consumers purchased organics because they wanted the best for their families, Eden-Harris said, while the youngest generation was very enthusiastic about the quality of organic products and the environmental benefits. The youngest generation also tended to be the least price conscious.

"In general, there's no question about the enthusiasm among consumers for organic products," Eden-Harris said. "There's also no question there's a premium, so a private label offers the products for less of a premium than many of the standard organic products."

Consumers were most excited about private label products found at Safeway and Whole Foods, Eden-Harris said. Products with the most positive sentiment were ones that were not named after the store they appeared in.

"Wal-Mart brand wouldn't do as well as Archer Farms, for example, and O (Organics) brand would be viewed more positively than Safeway Select." Eden-Harris said. "But part of that is in the positioning."

Safeway's O Organics brand includes a line of salad, fresh-cut vegetables, fresh herbs and dried fruit. In general, private label food products were viewed more positively than other products, such as diapers.

"It was striking, such a big difference between sentiment, positive and negative sentiment across categories," Eden-Harris said.

When shopping for produce, consumers tended to talk less about what brand they had purchased.

"I do suspect they're not thinking about it as much," Eden-Harris said. "But for produce, retailers can build up a private label equity that doesn't necessarily limit itself."

The complete study will be issued around the first of May. Eden-Harris said the study's results will be useful for both retailers and private label manufacturers, as it gives an insight into the consumer's non-pressued opinion.