Study shows ‘organic’ label can create a ‘health halo effect’

2 Apr

photo (1)Being cynical journalist, a poor-and-starving graduate student as well as a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I have gone back and forth on whether or not I believe that the word ‘organic’ has been condensed down to a  mere marketing tactic. A March 17 article by Slate , criticizing the suburbia-praised chain Whole Foods, has increased my skepticism.

A study by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers found that food items simply carrying the organic label were evaluated as having a more satisfying taste and containing lower calories than the same food item without the organic label.

To conduct the study, the researchers recruited 115 people from a shopping center in Ithaca, New York. The consumers, after answering a questionaire about their environmental and shopping habits, were asked to evauluate three pairs of products: one pair of yogurts, one pair of chips and one pair of cookies. Each pair consisted of one of the items being labeled as organic, and one without. The food items were exaclty identical, except for the way they were labeled.

In addition to rating the organically-labeled items as tastier and better for the waistline, consumers also reported that they were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for them. Of course, this ‘health halo effect’ as the researchers dubbed the phenomenon, was more likely to affect consumers who already were more inclined to purchase organic foods.

So–the answer to my question–is the term ‘organic’ merely a marketing scheme?

While I do not know that there is a right or wrong answer to this, I do believe that some companies truly do back their labels and are committed to creating pure organic foods, while others may just be trying to attract the environmentally-conscious consumers who typically earn higher incomes and are more willing to spend more on these products.

Now excuse me while I contemplate this thought by eating a “100 percent natural” Nature Valley granola bar.

Note: the “buy one get one free” label at Publix got my attention before the “100 percent natural” label.


4 Responses to “Study shows ‘organic’ label can create a ‘health halo effect’”

  1. Adriana M. April 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    I, too, like to buy organic, but through personal research, I understand that just because something says “organic” does not make it a healthy diet food!! 100% Organic to me means that most of the ingredients in the product were created/grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, preservatives, and without being genetically modified. That sounds pretty good to me! And this ONLY counts for food with the official “USDA Organic” stamp on it (All other foods that claim “organic” without USDA seal havent officially been proven organic or can have fewer than 30% organic ingredients.) I do think companies are taking advantage of the organic craze and are labeling everything organic just to sell. These foods also probably have the same amount of fat and sugar as other products or more, so beware! But other than that, as long as you make sure something is truly organic (look for the stamp!) theres no harm in trying to eat a little more natural.

    • h2obsession April 2, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Adriana! You’re absolutely right.

  2. cathydouglas April 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Food fads, meh. At least I don’t see “gluten free” on the label.


  1. The long debate: organic versus nonorganic | agriculturemadelocal - November 18, 2013

    […] is going to be healthy, but an organic cookie, essentially, is still just a cookie. Check out Layman’s Terms Media’s post concerning this preconceived ‘health halo’ surrounding organic […]

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