Canadians trust natural over organic: poll

Almost half of Canadians say it is more important a food be labelled natural than organic, even though organic foods are more heavily regulated, a survey has found.

Almost half of Canadians believe it is more important a food be labelled natural than organic, even though organic foods are more heavily regulated, a new survey suggests.

Sixty per cent of Canadian consumers believe it's important a new product be made from "all-natural ingredients," while 45 per cent have "greater trust" in natural products than those labelled organic, the poll by BrandSpark International suggests.

The Toronto-based brand strategy firm polled 25,000 Canadians online on their eating and food-buying habits. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points 95 per cent of the time, the company said.

BrandSpark president Robert Levy said he was surprised at the apparent consumer disconnect in trust levels about food, given "natural" claims are not regulated. On the other hand, organic foods are regulated by several industry and government bodies.

Levy said between 60 and 70 per cent of consumers surveyed about food safety said they were most concerned about chemicals and preservatives.

"So logically, if they are concerned about chemicals and preservatives, you can fix that by buying organic," Levy said in an interview.

Yet this isn't what happens, according to the poll. And Levy said cost and trust are the main reasons.

When asked why they don't buy organic, 75 per cent of consumers surveyed cited cost, while 53 per cent said they "don’t trust that all products labelled as organic are actually organic."

Forty-eight per cent of consumers in the survey said they "are confused by what the term organic actually guarantees."

"Natural always trumps organic even though organics provide the mechanism if you want to be protected from chemicals and preservatives," Levy said. "It appears that further consumer education is required in the natural versus organic debate."

Overall, Canadians also have a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to products that make environmental claims, the survey indicates.

Eight-two per cent of those polled said they felt companies are exploiting environmentally friendly claims for marketing purposes. Last year's survey revealed a similar finding.

Packaging is one of the top environmental concerns of consumers, and 89 per cent who took part in the survey believe manufacturers have a long way to go in this area.

Sixty-nine per cent of Canadians polled said they felt a new product should be better for the environment. This compares to 76 per cent in 2009.

The study is also used to compile the Best New Product Awards, where consumers vote on 144 products in 47 product categories. This year's winners include: Astro Zer0 Superfruit Yogourt for best in show, Burt's Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil in the health and beauty category, and Ziploc Evolve Sandwich Bags for household products.