First-Ever Study Reveals Consumers' Preferences for Organic Food

May 30, 2008 - News Release

In the eyes of the consumer, organic products are most appealing when they are regularly tested for pesticides and locally grown, University of Guelph researchers have found.

Profs. John Cranfield and Brady Deaton and master's student Shreenvas Shellikeri, all of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, conducted the first-ever study examining which standards consumers would like producers to adhere to in order to label a product organic.

Currently, there isn't an official set of national organic standards, although regulations have been proposed by the Canadian government.

"If the industry is to continue to grow to its fullest potential, it's important for the producers and those setting the standards to consider what consumers want when it comes to defining organic," said Cranfield.

Canada's organic industry has been growing at a constant rate of 15 to 20 per cent over the past decade, according to the federal government.

Cranfield said sales could increase even further if industry producers have more information that allows them to cater to consumer preferences.

The study, which is to be published in the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, involved researchers surveying consumers' preferred organic standards by asking them to rank a dozen different profiles for organic apples. The profiles differed depending on standards that govern how an apple is tested for the presence of pesticide residues, where an apple is grown, the organization responsible for setting the organic standards, and the organization responsible for monitoring whether the apple is produced in accordance with the organic standards as well as price.

The study found consumers place the most importance on having standards that ensure pesticide-residue testing and would like to see products tested regularly rather than only when concerns arise, said Deaton.

Under the proposed organic standards, regular testing of the end product is not required. Producers are simply prohibited from using pesticides, he said.

"Although a product is pesticide-free, that doesn't mean there won't be pesticide residue because the chemicals can blow over from neighbouring areas. Consumers want the regular testing of the end product to ensure it is free of pesticide residue before reaching grocery store shelves."

Consumers also preferred standards requiring the product be grown in the province where it will be sold, said Deaton.

"There is a huge push for locally grown products, but there is no requirement in the proposed regulations that calls for organic products to be sold locally."

Right now, about 80 per cent of the organic food consumed in Canada is imported, he said.

Consumers also show a preference for a government agency to govern organic standards rather than a private agency, said Cranfield.

Considering consumers' preferences when establishing organic standards is vital to the industry's continued growth, especially when it comes to determining who is monitoring the standards, because whoever monitors the standards shapes consumer confidence in the products, he said.

Based on the results, this study anticipates the use of private labels that identify attributes that are not part of the current proposed Canadian organic standards, he said.

"Once we have organic standards, companies can go beyond those standards and get a competitive edge by marketing their products as locally grown and regularly tested for pesticides in addition to being organic."

Prof. John Cranfield
Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics
519-824-4120, Ext. 53708

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

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