Americans Buy Organic, Non-GMO Food Without Knowing What It Means, Thanks To Marketing Ploys

Americans Don't Know What GMOs Or Organic Foods Are
Organic food labels may trick most people into buying them, but they have no idea what they mean. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Healthy buzzwords have become American marketers’ most successful advertising campaign. Young American consumers are likely to blindly grab any package labeled “organic,” despite being confused on what they are actually buying. A survey conducted by brand consultancy BFG found nearly 70 percent of people were buying organic food, but only 20 percent of those buyers were able to define what “organic” actually meant.

“What I think we’re seeing in grocery stores is that consumers are ultimately idealists,” BFG CEO Kevin Meany told Fast Company. “They desire honesty. They want to believe. They trust the label, and they’re willing to pay more based on that for something like ‘all-natural,’ even though they’re not totally sure what it means.”

Out of the 300 respondents surveyed, more than half of them said they were “concerned but confused” because they weren’t really sure what they were purchasing. Unfortunately, many grocery chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have taken advantage of general consumer ignorance. They’ve battled dozens of lawsuits over their incorrect or questionable use of the label “all natural,” “natural,” and, of course, “organic.”

To set the record straight: Organic produce is grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMO), or ironizing radiation. Organic animal meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that were not given antibiotics or growth hormones. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the terms used to label food, and the broad lackadaisical freedom from which companies profit of off is manipulative. Being healthy, or at least attempting to be healthy, is trendy right now, and the food industry is well aware of it.

There’s even a “Coming Clean Campaign” launched by the Organic Consumers Association. It asks both consumers and retailers to take action by buying and selling USDA organic seal products that ensure food and personal care and cosmetic products are what they claim to be. It’s the right of a consumer to understand what he's buying. The organic marketplace has profited substantially from its labeling and has grown into a successful $25 billion industry over the past decade.

But maybe buyers aren’t as naïve as the seller would like to believe. According to the survey, more than 70 percent said they agreed certain food labels were meaningless. However, 37 percent said they still trusted the labels’ promises of what was inside the product. When they asked consumers how they felt about GMOs, 59 percent of respondents said they were concerned about GMOs, but only 32 percent were able to define what a GMO was. A GMO is a food altered inside of a laboratory. Scientists will remove a gene or two out of its DNA in order to make the food resistant to pesticides or juicier, redder, or bigger.  

“I think there’s a constant throughout all this, and it’s indulgence,” Meany said. “Of the two extremes, indulgence [can be] super clean foods, organic, locally sourced. And on the other side, there’s just, ‘I’m going to Carl’s Jr. and get a thick burger and love it.’ They’re both basically consumer indulgences and marketers are smart.”

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