CHICAGO — Although trading down and out of some segments is common during tough economic times, consumers that buy natural and organic food are staying loyal to this health-conscious category, according to a recent Mintel survey.

Approximately 40% of consumers claim they haven’t changed organic product purchasing habits because of the recession and only 3% have stopped buying organic products altogether.

"Heavy users of natural and organic food and drink are most likely to indicate they’ve traded down to less expensive organic options," said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel. "However, less-frequent consumers of organic products have shown they haven’t shifted their behavior. This is good news for the organic food and drink market, as this group may begin to buy more once recession-related fears begin to fade."

Registering a slight decline in supermarket sales in 2009 (-0.3%), Mintel and natural products industry expert SPINS expect the organic food and drink market to recover gradually during 2010-12 — but not at pre-recession growth rates. Consumers have made shifts in their purchase behaviors that are likely to carry on through this time period.

"The natural and organic food industry has an opportunity to instill trust and educate consumers as we work our way out of this recession," Mr. Browne said.

Only 33% of survey respondents trust the term "natural" on labels and 45% trust the term "organic." However, approximately 30% of respondents said they don’t know if they can trust either term.