Aussie consumers' organic buying habits - who buys it, where they shop, how they'll pay - and the biggest obstacle stopping more from purchasing.

The Australian Organics Market Report 2014 draws on six years of comparative consumer data gathered by the Mobium Group, which runs annual large-scale surveys of Australian primary household shoppers aged 18 to 69 years that include specific questions on purchasing organic foods and beverages.

These surveys have yielded valuable data on Australian consumers' organic buying behaviours - why we do (or don't) buy organic, who buys organic, where we buy it, and how much we're prepared to spend buying it.

Fresh organic vegies, grown in Australia.
Fresh organic vegies, grown in Australia.
Ben Hosking, Flickr CC, wwwflickrcomphotosbenhosking

Who buys organic?

Demographic characteristics are not the best predictor of whether a person’s likely to buy organic, the Mobium Group research found. A better indicator is a person’s values with regard to personal health and community and planetary wellbeing: those who strongly adhere to such values are two to three times more likely to buy organic than the average shopper.

Significantly, it seems that organic shoppers aren’t all ‘left-leaning greenies’ these days: organic purchases made by people not categorised as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ shoppers rose from 24 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2014.

It is these ‘non-green’ consumers who are driving the growth of certified-organic goods in Australia, contend The Australian Organic Market Report's authors – thanks largely to the increasing availability of reasonably priced organic products in supermarkets.

Where do we go to buy organic?

Surveys have found while that the majority of certified-organic products in Australia are bought from supermarkets, many organic shoppers shopped regularly at various outlets to meet their organic purchasing needs. Around 95 percent of organics shoppers say they buy certified-organic products from supermarkets ‘on occasion’, with greengrocers coming in second at 75 percent, followed by markets (73%) and organic/whole-food stores (54%).

Macro Wholefoods store, selling fresh and processed organic produce to Aussie consumers.
Macro Wholefoods store, selling fresh and processed organic produce to Aussie consumers.
Cargo Collective

Why do we buy organic?

According to the 2014 report, the top six perceived benefits of buying (and presumably, eating) organic foods and drinks are that these products are:

  • chemical-free (80%);
  • additive-free (77%);
  • environmentally friendly (68%);
  • with regard to meat products, free from added hormones and antibiotics (60%),
  • non-GM (57%); and
  • free-range (57%).

Australian shoppers were especially interested in what the authors of 2014’s report call ‘what’s in it for me?’ benefits: products claiming to deliver ‘personal health and wellness outcomes’ resonated most strongly with the bulk of the shoppers surveyed.

Fresh organic produce: Demand for organic produce is outstripping supply, in Australia and across markets worldwide.
Demand for organic produce is outstripping supply, in Australia and across markets worldwide.
P Cutler, Flickr CC, wwwflickrcomphotossilwenae

 

What stops us buying organic?

Price and value continue to be the biggest obstacle to Aussies buying organic, with 82 percent of the shoppers Mobium Group surveyed viewing price as a barrier to purchase, up slightly from 80 percent in 2012.

Supermarket-chain support for homegrown companies such as Macro Wholefoods is a plus, helping to broaden the organics market across Australia and bringing the price of some organic produce down – which, in turn, encourages more consumers to buy organic.

A Macro Wholefoods store: the Australian-owned organics brand is now available in Woolworths supermarkets nationwide.
A Macro Wholefoods store: the Australian-owned organics brand is now available in Woolworths supermarkets nationwide.
An Apple A Day

Another important concern is ‘knowing you can trust it’s organic’: 48 percent of those surveyed in 2012 were deterred from buying organic products by fears about their authenticity; two years later, little has changed, with mistrust still deterring 43 percent of Aussie shoppers from buying organic.

Increasing recognition of the Australian Certified Organic logo, up from 31 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2014, may be partly responsible for the five percent increase in buyer trust. The ACO logo is now the most recognisable logo among Aussie consumers. It’s followed by the logo of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA), which was recognised by 23 percent of the shoppers Mobium Group surveyed in 2014, up from 19 percent in 2012.

 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s USDA Organic seal was familiar only to seven percent of the Aussie shoppers surveyed by Mobium in 2014 – a level of recognition no greater than that found in 2012’s survey data. This indicates, perhaps, that Australian organics shoppers prefer to buy locally-grown, locally-made organic products, and thus are more likely to recognise them.

How much do we spend on organics?

In Australia, the Mobium Group data indicated that nearly half (44%) of ‘organics’ shoppers allocate five percent or less of their total household food spend to organic purchases, though a few ‘highly committed’ organic purchasers – around 10 percent of those who shop organic – claiming they typically outlay 40-plus percent of their households’ food budget on organic products.

Even as the ‘committed-organic-shopper’ end of the market becomes saturated, new consumers buying ‘some organic products’ are helping to fuel continuing growth and expansion across Australia’s organic industry, promising healthy returns today and into the future.

Exports and imports

Growth in Oceania’s organics industry, states the FiBL-IFOAM report, ‘has been strongly influenced by rapidly growing overseas demand; domestic sales are, however, also growing’.

In 2014, export sales across all organic product categories totalled a healthy $340 million, found The Australian Organic Market Report. In the same year, we imported organic products worth $226 million, accounting for 13 percent of organic retail food sales, a drop of four percent between 2012 and 2014 in the share occupied by imports. (In comparison, we imported non-organic products worth $11.3 billion – 8.3 percent of conventional retail food sales – in 2014).

 

Organic fresh produce such as these truss tomatoes are proving a profitable commodity.
Organic fresh produce such as these truss tomatoes are proving a profitable commodity.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

And while the recent data shows that Aussie organic producers are gaining ground in their capacity to cater for the domestic market, the local industry still has a way to go to keep pace with growing consumer demand for competitively priced organic foods, beverages, supplements and personal care products.

The Australian Organic Market Report notes that ongoing strong demand for organics means we’re likely to see more, not fewer organic products imported to Australia in coming years – a situation that’s set to continue until our local organics industry can supply domestic demand consistently and compete with organic imports made cheaper by economies of scale.

The declining Australian dollar does, however, expand opportunities for Australian manufacturers that have been priced out of the market previously, the report notes.

If they’re to compete profitably in a price-driven market, however, Australia’s organic farmers and processors will need to look at lowering input costs, upping productivity and efficiency, and market themselves effectively, at home and overseas.

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