Market Research: Fruit Flies Say Organic is Better

You may have heard, of all things, about recent research related to organic food and fruit flies published in the respected scientific journal Plos One. The study, conducted by Dallas middle-school student Ria Chhabra, tracked the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce, according to the New York Times. The study, which earned 16-year-old Chhabra top honors in a national science competition, provided “evidence that organically raised food may provide animals with tangible benefits to overall health.”

U.S. families, too, are flocking to organic foods, with 81% of families reporting that they purchase organic at least sometimes, says the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in its survey, “U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study,” conducted in January 2013. Nearly half (48%) of those who purchase organic foods said they do so because “they are healthier for me and my children.” Among the top reasons to purchase organic are the desire to avoid toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones, and genetically modified organisms or GMOs. More than four in 10 parents (42%) said their trust in organic products increased, vs. 32% who indicated this point of view a year ago. “More and more parents choose organic foods primarily because of their desire to provide healthful options for their children,” said Christine Bushway, Executive Director of OTA.

However, in a March 2013 Harris Interactive poll of 2,276 U.S. adults, more than half (59%) agreed that labeling food or other products as organic is just an excuse to charge more. "What surprised us most was that while Americans are showing more concern for the environment, they aren't necessarily willing to pay more to do anything about it," said Mike de Vere, Harris president. "While Americans feel better about the economy, many are wary of the 'greenwashing' concept that gives companies a chance to cash in on consumers who want to help the planet but are confused by all the eco-friendly jargon." Manufacturers who convey the true value of organic while offering a fair price will be better positioned to win over this skeptical consumer.

Similarly, the Hartman Group discovered in its 2012 Organic and Natural Report that only slightly more than half (54%) of consumers surveyed believe “organic” means non-GMO. While GMOs are prohibited in certified organic production, the proliferation of non-GMO seals, often appearing next to the USDA Organic seal on packaging, may have diluted the consumer’s perception that organic also means non-GMO.

However, OTA reports that U.S. families are becoming increasingly aware of the presence of unlabeled genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods in the marketplace, with one-third (32%) of U.S. households turning to organic to avoid GMOs.

Graphic: Courtesy of The Hartman Group,