An overwhelming majority of Australians now include a range of organic products and ‘functional’ foods and beverages (i.e. those promoting specific health benefits) in their shopping baskets, according to a new study released by The Nielsen Company.
Conducted twice a year among 26,486 internet users in 47 markets including 500 Australian consumers, the Nielsen study surveyed consumers on their purchase habits and attitudes toward organic products and foods and beverages that promote specific health benefits.

The online survey found that less than two per cent of Australians (1.6 per cent) said they never purchased functional foods and only one in five (21.6 per cent) did not purchase organic products. Of those who purchased organic and functional foods, the most popular reason was for health benefits (50 per cent).

“An ageing population, rising obesity levels and the occasional food scare have all served to heighten awareness among consumers about the importance of diet and staying healthy,” says Megan Treston, director, client service, The Nielsen Company. “This has lead to the rapid expansion of organic products and the emergence of functional foods and beverages.”

Many of the functional foods and beverages purchased by Australians are staples in our diet such as bread, milk and margarine. Whole grain/high fibre products, for example, were by far the most frequently purchased staple with 95 per cent of Australian consumers having purchased whole grain/high fibre products. This was followed by cholesterol reducing oils and margarines (83 per cent) and yoghurts with acidophilus cultures/pro-biotics as well as bread with added calcium or other vitamins (both 81 per cent).

Among the various types of food categories offering organic options, vegetables and eggs were the most commonly purchased by Australian consumers (71 per cent), followed by fruits (69 per cent). 

Overall, the level of consumer acceptance of organic options was found to be higher now than it was when Nielsen conducted the survey in 2005. Products experiencing the largest growth in the two years to 2007 included packaged foods (up 20 percentage points), carbonated beverages (up 15 percentage points) and fruit juice (up 14 percentage points).