Campus News

Researcher finds income not always a factor in buying organic produce

When organic produce flies off the grocery store shelf, it’s not necessarily the upper class doing the buying. In fact, UGA professor Chung-Liang Huang found that income seems to have little effect on organic produce ­purchases.

An agricultural and applied economics professor, Huang began studying organic produce trends in 1989. At that time, only 3 percent of U.S. produce was certified organic, accounting for $1.25 billion in sales. By 2005, sales had jumped to $14 billion.

Between 2001 and 2004, Hispanics emerged as the largest ethnic group of organic produce consumers, according to Huang. Asian Americans spent 133 percent more than Caucasians in 2001. African Americans showed the largest difference between 2001 and 2004, spending 61 percent more in 2004 than three years earlier.

The years Huang chose to study are significant. It wasn’t until October 2002 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture put its certified seal on organic products.

Huang did find that households earning more than $100,000 a year buy more organic produce than people in other income brackets.

But “there was no significant difference between any group in the amount spent on organic fruits and vegetables relative to total produce expenditures,” he said. “The findings suggest that high-income households are no more likely to be users of organic produce than low-income households.”