A new study co-sponsored by the Organic Trade Association shows that nearly a third of consumers who say they buy organic food products, including meat and poultry, at least occasionally have begun doing so only within the past two years. At the same time, the segment of organic shoppers who buy organic meat and poultry most frequently are the "seasoned" shoppers who have bought organic for at least five years.

"A lot of people equate ‘organic’ with being vegetarian or vegan," OTA spokesperson Barbara Haumann told MEATPOULTRY.com. "But that’s not necessarily the case."

The 2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study, jointly sponsored by OTA and KIWI Magazine, also show that three in 10 U.S. families (31 percent) are actually buying more organic foods compared to a year ago, with many parents preferring to reduce their spending in other areas before targeting organic product cuts, according to an OTA statement. The study, which was unveiled this week at the All Things Organic conference and trade show in Chicago, Ill., reveals that 17 percent of U.S. families said their largest increases in spending in the past year were for organic products.

The study, which surveyed more than 1,200 families, broke down shoppers of organic products into three categories: "Newly organic" for those who began buying organic products within the past two years; "Experienced organic" for those who have bought organic products for two-to-five years; and "Seasoned organic" for those who have bought organic for longer than five years. Within these categories, 64 percent of the "Newly organic" say they buy organic meat and poultry at least occasionally; 71 percent of "Experienced organic" shoppers do; and 81 percent of "Seasoned organic" shoppers are at least occasional buyers of organic meat and poultry.

Haumann said that income and education increase with each category, with the Seasoned group being the wealthiest and most educated. Shoppers in this group also tend to know the most about organic products and practices.

But Haumann told MEATPOULTRY.com the study also indicates many organic shoppers in all three categories, but especially in the "newly organic" category, know little about organic production practices, regulations and standards. "A lot of these shoppers are unclear on what organic means," she said. "There’s definitely a need for more consumer education. Many people don’t realize that all organic companies much follow the same standards regardless of size. There needs to be more work on trust."

The study also shows that many organic shoppers originally begin buying organic products for their children but soon begin buying them for the entire family.