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Understanding Today’s Organic Consumers

Levels of participation in the organic category vary widely. The Hartman Group’s World Model helps explain the variance in consumer orientations towards organic products.

Tomatoes in man handsWelcome to the new world of organic. The organic market has flourished much as we predicted back in 1997, when we foretold a fast-changing corporate gameboard within a vibrant subset of consumer packaged goods (where large companies would begin to dominate a fragmented market through acquisition of small, pioneering brands) but also accurately foresaw that the explosively growing organic category was capable of steady, sustained growth in the years to come.  

The key to understanding organic consumption in 2018 is exploring the evolutionary process a consumer goes through as they become an organic consumer. In order to identify these stages of evolution, we believe in analyzing consumer segments through what we term a “world perspective.”

One of the great truths of consumer behavior is that it is social behavior. Instead of treating consumers as largely autonomous decision makers, we suggest looking at the social forces that share in or give order to their decisions. In other words, view the “why” of choosing particular goods and services in the context of the activities in which they are used. Common sense would advise us to consider how people use products and services and to recognize that the level of interest from consumer to consumer reflects basic lifestyle differences. We use lifestyle as a device to characterize an entire world of activity.

The world perspective takes into consideration all of the individuals, organizations and cultural practices that contribute to or shape a given category or activity.

The best way to understand how a world works is to picture it as a globe. Within a given world of activity (e.g., the world of organic), we can envision a center, the “Core,” as well as an outer edge, the “Periphery.” The individuals in the Core, even though they may not be large in number, are the most creatively active in a particular world of activity, while those at the periphery are those maintaining only minimal, infrequent and less intense involvement in that world.

The World of Organic: Consumer Profiles

The Hartman Group’s World Model helps explain the variance in consumer orientations towards organic products. For the world of organic food and beverage, the intensity and meaning of “organic” varies depending upon which consumer segment is participating. For example, Core consumers who have adopted organic foods have done so with the expectations that the food has been grown and cared for with intent to take care of the land and the recipient’s health. For the Periphery, organic may simply mean something “new” with only vague health benefits.

The figure to the right from our Organic & Natural 2018 report depicts the segments within the world of organic. We find that many consumers have recently shown increasing aspirations to purchasing organic products, and we have witnessed the mainstream adoption of a wider range of Core behaviors. The closer a consumer is to the Core, the better they are able to articulate the reasons behind their organic purchases.

Segmentation is based on organic usage, number of organic categories purchased, importance of organic when shopping and associations with organic. Of the U.S. consumers who use organic products, the majority (61 percent) is made up of Mid-level (Inner + Outer) organic consumers, with smaller segments at the two extremes: 24 percent are Core consumers, and 15 percent are Periphery consumers. The Outer Mid-level is the largest consumer segment (37 percent).

A screenshot of a cell phoneDescription generated with high confidence

The Core is the most intensely involved. As the trendsetters and early adopters, they are the most knowledgeable regarding issues surrounding organic products. By understanding the Core, we are able to examine potential upcoming important issues, which Mid-level consumers may come to espouse over time.

The Mid-levels represent the majority of consumers and thus the biggest opportunity. Inner Mid-level consumers aspire to Core attitudes and behaviors but pragmatically apply them with less consistency and reach.

Outer Mid-level consumers engage with organic products as well, often motivated by fear of unknown consequences of conventional food as well as by status — “everyone is doing it.”

Periphery consumers prioritize other concerns. They still, however, know some general principles and occasionally incorporate organic products into their diet.

What’s New in 2018?

The growth in the organic and natural market represents a deep cultural change. As such, we have observed what we would expect on a year-by-year basis: an accumulation of subtle shifts in consumer attitude and behavior rather than major leaps or revolutions. For the most comprehensive data and insights into organic consumers and the market potential, get The Hartman Group’s Organic and Natural 2018 report. DOWNLOAD EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND ORDER FORM


Consumer Demographics Food & Beverage Occasions Consumer Package Goods Organic/Natural Retail/Shopper Insights Trends Foodservice/Restaurant


As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


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