UK shoppers are losing awareness and understanding of organic, MMR Research Worldwide reports

As the organic movement seeks to raise awareness of food produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods this September (Organic September:, a new survey of food symbols and endorsements found on many products in supermarkets and other retailers reveals a less than healthy situation for organic.

The survey of 285 UK shoppers aged between 16 and 74 in July, by MMR Research Worldwide (MMR,) asked consumers to indicate if they recognised a list of 13 symbols found on food products. It then asked which symbols were ‘actively looked for’ when out shopping. Results were compared with a previous poll in 2008.

The Soil Association symbol – belonging to the leading charity behind the organic movement in the UK – has seen recognition levels soften from 40% observed in December 2008, to 33% in the latest poll.  As a point of reference, the Rainforest Alliance commanded 47% claimed recognition, the Fairtrade symbol 89%, the Lion Quality mark, as found on eggs, achieved 76% and the Recycling symbol 72%. The fastest riser, jumping 13% in recognition, was the Red Tractor brand with 65%.

While 36% of shoppers look for Fairtrade, 31% look for Red Tractor and 28% look for Lion Quality-marked products, only 10% of the sample claimed to seek out the Soil Association symbol when shopping.

More important still is that only 29 % of people believe they could confidently relay what organic means to a friend, although a further 47% indicated that they could relay something, albeit with less confidence.

According to food and drink research specialists, MMR Research Worldwide (MMR), lowering awareness and shopper confusion surrounding organic can be remedied with simpler messaging.

“Our figures show that the Soil Association has taken a bit of a knock in recent years, particularly among younger people” said Andy Wardlaw, insight director at MMR Research Worldwide. “It may come as a surprise not only that organic is in the bottom half of food symbols recognised by 16 to 34 year olds but that it performs so poorly compared to the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade symbols.

“Further probing in our research indicated that simple information about organic could have a positive impact on the way consumers feel about organic produce.  We suspect that people think they know what it means but when it comes to the crunch, there is very little to draw on. Nearly three quarters of people said they would feel more positive with messaging linked to “no harmful pesticides”, “works with nature”, “animals reared humanly” or “no artificial fertilisers”.

“It would appear from this research that there are issues that consumers care about, that are not currently associated with the organic movement.  This represents an opportunity to increase the relevance of organic foods and fill the void of consumer understanding. The Soil Association and brand owners alike could consider initiatives to reinforce consumer trust regarding the supply chain and quality. We recommend exploring the different facets of organic status and how they fit a particular brand’s positioning and strategy.”

Symbols that UK consumers claim to have seen

Fairtrade 89%
Lion Quality 76%
Recycle 72%
Red Tractor 65%
Rainforest Alliance 47%
Soil Association 33%
Freedom Food 29%
Vegetarian Society 21%
Carbon Trust 17%
Vegan Society 15%
Marine Stewardship 14%
Celiac Society 7%
I have not heard of any of these food labels 2%