Organic food consumers: what do we really know about them?

Carolyn Dimitri (Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, New York, New York, USA)
Rachael L. Dettmann (Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, USA)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Publication date: 3 August 2012



The organic trade literature in the USA makes strong claims about the relationship between income, ethnicity, and other factors and the likelihood of purchasing organic food products. However, previous economic research focusing on the socio‐economic characteristics of organic food consumers yields mixed findings. One explanation for the literature's inconsistent findings is that most studies rely on one specific product or one region of the country, or base their analysis on data collected from in‐store surveys. Another shortcoming in the existing literature is the failure to account for how access to organic food influences the likelihood of buying organic food. This paper's goal is to identify what is known, as well as what is not known, about consumers of organic food.


The paper extends the literature through the combination of a novel approach and unique dataset of US consumers, and addresses the relationship between demographic traits and the likelihood of buying organic food. The dataset consists of primary data recording all purchases of food as well as household demographic data, such as income, education, gender, and ethnicity, over a one‐year period for 44,000 households. The study uses different discrete choice models and multiple product categories to explore the likelihood of buying organic food from many angles, in order to assess the robustness of the statistical relationship between income, education, ethnicity, and other factors on the likelihood of buying organic food, as well as the frequency of buying organic food.


The results indicate that education has a strong effect on the likelihood of buying organic products, and that the impact of marital status, income, and access to organic are consistent across models. The findings also suggest that further research on the links between ethnicity and consumption of organic food is necessary.

Research limitations/implications

One possible drawback to this dataset is that older, urban households are overrepresented, in comparison to the entire USA.

Practical implications

These findings will appeal to those interested in consumer behavior in addition to those interested in organic food consumption, from both the research and trade perspectives. The research indicates that access to organic food is an important determinant of the likelihood of a household buying organic food, the industry in the USA can expand sales by increasing consumer access to organic food.


This paper's unique contribution is the exploration of the robustness of the impact of different factors on the likelihood of buying organic food. The inclusion of access to organic food is also new to the literature, and as expected, households with greater access to organic food are more likely to purchase organic food.



Dimitri, C. and Dettmann, R. (2012), "Organic food consumers: what do we really know about them?", British Food Journal, Vol. 114 No. 8, pp. 1157-1183.

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