Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Review Article

Organic food: What we know (and do not know) about consumers

David Pearsona1 c1, Joanna Henryksa1 and Hannah Jonesa2

a1 Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

a2 School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AR, UK.


This paper reports on the latest contributions to over 20 years of research on organic food consumers. There is a general consensus in the literature on the reasons why people buy organic food. However, there is also a gap between consumers’ generally positive attitude toward organic food and their relatively low level of actual purchases. Product differentiation based on intangible features, such as credence attributes such as organic, in fast-moving consumer goods categories is enjoying rapid growth. However, there are many difficulties with research in this area, including the errors inherent in research that relies on consumer self-reporting methodologies. Further, in relation to organic food, there is a divergence between consumers’ perception of its superior health features and scientific evidence. Fresh fruits and vegetables are of vital importance to the organic sector as they are the entry point for many customers and account for one-third of sales. Further, although there is a small proportion of dedicated organic food buyers, most sales come from the majority of buyers who switch between conventional and organic food purchases. This paper identifies the practical implications for generic organic food marketing campaigns, as well as for increasing sales of specific products. It concludes with suggested priorities for further research.

(Accepted September 22 2010)

(Online publication November 11 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: