By Don Schrack

The Packer

Rumors of a troubled economy in 2008 appeared to play only a minor role in the projected shopping habits of consumers who describe themselves as buyers of organic and environmentally friendly products, according to a recent survey—but price remains the key factor.

The survey, by Mambo Sprouts Marketing of Collingswood, N.J., found 33 percent of the respondents are prepared to pay prices that, when compared with conventionally grown products, are 20 percent higher or more for organic foods and for environmentally friendly products and services.

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents said they are willing to pay 10 percent higher prices whereas 24 percent would go up to 15 percent higher. The total willing to pay up to 20 percent higher prices was 72 percent, according to the survey.

"It says to me the desire to make sure what I buy has a moral and social value means a lot to the consumer," says Matthew Saline, founder and chief executive officer of Mambo Sprouts Marketing. "I didn't think it was going to be that high."

A weaker economy could affect the findings. That's why Saline said the company plans to re-ask the questions in six months to 12 months.

Prices remain the single largest attraction for the respondents. Asked to rate a variety of factors for 2008, price ranked highest with 60 percent of the respondents. Selection of healthy or organic products fell second at 56 percent while store quality/cleanliness was very important to 49 percent, the same percentage given availability of organic produce. Convenience ranked fifth at 44 percent.

Ranking price at No. 1 seems to run contrary to popular thinking in organic produce marketing.

"In general, we know the organic segment for staple purchases tends to be driven by a higher economic demographic, which may tend to not feel the economic pinches as much as the middle class," Saline says.

Mambo Sprouts Marketing does not sell produce, but it provides a variety of services, Saline says. Those services range from building databases for research to direct mail and newsletter distribution to custom publishing to in-store programs for retailers. The survey was conducted in mid-December among 1,000 consumers in the company's 14,000-person database, he says.

Mambo Sprouts Marketing does not survey only organic food buyers. It developed a category it calls "natural consumers." Saline says a natural consumer is not necessarily an organic-only customer but favors humane treatment of animals, less use of chemicals, and other practices viewed as environmentally friendly.

The Packer is a sister publication of The Grower. To subscribe to The Packer, click here.