Organic food is marketed as being healthier, but it is also more expensive. As a university student, it is important to keep an eye on the budget—but do the rewards outweigh the cost?

The Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) claims organic foods are becoming increasingly popular, constituting two per cent of all food sales in the early 21st century. To put that in perspective, the sales of organic food within the United States was over $13.8 billion in 2005.

According to the IFT’s Scientific Status Summary, there are differences between organic foods and conventional foods in regard to food safety and composition of nutritional factors. Organic fruits and vegetables are marked with less pesticide residues and low nitrate levels when compared to conventional fruits and vegetables.

The IFT’s meta-analysis of recent research shows that some studies of organic products contain claims of higher amounts of plant secondary metabolites. This can result in higher levels of beneficial antioxidants but can also have potential health concerns from the naturally occurring toxins. Organic produce relies upon far fewer pesticides than conventional produce, which results in fewer pesticide residues but can also result in the increased production of natural toxins due to increased exposures to insects, weeds, and plant disease.

In the case of meat products, research has shown that conventional meat products have higher incidence of antimicrobial resistance. On the other hand, organic meat products have the potential for higher rates of bacterial contamination due to prohibitions placed on the use of antibiotics.

The variations between the types of food show distinct differences between organic and conventional foods. It is too early to conclude that one type of food is more beneficial than the other because a long-term study of the food and its effects is required. Despite this, some consumers prefer to shop for organic food over conventional.

From 2008 to 2009, a study was conducted by Ulf Hjelmar to gain insight into how and why consumers purchase organic food products. After analyzing the research, the conclusion was that convenience behaviours and reflexive practices were two factors driving the purchase of organic food. Convenience behaviours refers to the convenience of the availability of organic foods. Shoppers purchase organic food when the products are available in local supermarkets with clearly visible markings, however, the difference in price must also be minimal compared to conventional, non-organic products.

Hjelmar found that reflexive practices of consumers occur where consumers are more likely to reflect on the greater impact their purchase has, especially among politically or ethically focused shoppers. Shoppers who have concerns relating to environmentalism or animal welfare are most likely to engage in reflexive practices due to personal beliefs. Many consumers also cite taste as a leading factor in the choice to shop organic.

Consumers do not always practice reflexive consumption, but in fact may be triggered by life events such as having children, a health scare, or exposure to media stories about conventional food products, which shocks shoppers into reflexive shopping practices.