A Thomson-Reuters-NPR Health Poll revealed in July that when given a choice, more than half of Americans prefer to purchase organic foods. Thomson Reuters and NPR developed the monthly poll to gauge attitudes and opinions in a wide range of health issues. The results of the survey represent responses from 3,008 survey participants interviewed in May, 2011. The margin of error is 1.8 percent.

The survey asked respondents about their attitudes towards organic foods. More than half (58%) said that given a choice, they prefer to eat organic food — a preference that’s less prevalent among older Americans and more prevalent among those with more education. Young consumers showed the strongest preference for organics, with 63% of respondents under age 35 saying that they choose organics when possible. Also, 64% of respondents with a bachelor’s degree or more said that they prefer organics.

Among respondents who prefer organic food, 36% said their primary impetus is an eagerness to support local farmers’ markets and 34% cited a desire to avoid toxins in their food; 17% said they prefer organic food because it’s better for the environment and 13% said it tastes better; 54% of those who preferred non-organic food said price is the primary driver of that preference; 21% said they prefer non-organic food because it is more widely available; 13% said non-organic food tastes better, and 11% believe non-organic foods are safer. When asked where they prefer to obtain produce, the top choice was a farmers’ market (43%), followed by supermarket (32%), their own garden (20%), and farm co-op (5%).While 58% of respondents said they prefer organic food, only 34% say its presence on a menu would influence their ordering decision.

Chief medical officer at the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters Raymond Fabius, M.D., said there appears to be a generational difference in preference for organic foods.  "The strong, positive sentiment among young people indicates they are more concerned with exposure to toxins and place a higher premium on supporting local markets,” he said.  “It stands to reason that, by expanding the network of farmer's markets, we could see a further groundswell around the support for organic foods."

Far outpacing growth in conventional groceries, U.S. retail sales of natural and organic foods and beverages rose to nearly $39 billion in 2010, an increase of 9% over the previous year, and 63% higher than sales five years earlier, according to a report in June by market research publisher Packaged Facts, Natural and Organic Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 3rd Edition.

The next several years are forecast to experience even greater growth. Packaged Facts projects 2011 will serve as a jump-start for the market as sales ultimately increase by a dramatic 45% by the end of the year. Overall projections are that the market will grow by 103% between 2010 and 2015, with total annual sales exceeding $78 billion in 2015.