University Students’ Perception of the USDA Organic Label

Author: Garen Leung, PiTE class of 2016

Studies to date have examined consumer perception of various organic labels; however, the results are often ambiguous and much confusion remains surrounding the organic label. This study examined consumer perception of one of the most commonly recognized organic labels – the USDA organic seal – on five food products, namely: egg, lettuce, strawberry, banana, and Honey Nut Cheerios. For ease of data collection, students at the University of Michigan represented the sample population of the study. In February 2016, a random sample of 6002 students was contacted by email to participate in an online Qualtrics survey; this study ultimately received 677 completed surveys. Using independent sample t-tests, it was found that consumers generally perceive organic food as more expensive; however, they did not acknowledge significantly greater benefits for organic food and were not willing to pay a significant premium. Across the five products, consumers showed a strong preference for organic eggs. In addition, analysis by demographic characteristics only showed significant results for the difference in perceived benefits of organic strawberries between students who are both environmental and health conscious and those who are not. Further, consumers who prepare their own meals are less willing to pay for organic food than those who do not. Going forward, more research is needed to understand consumers’ perceptions across age groups, a wider variety of food products, as well as the cost-effectiveness of using various health claims to signal quality.