The quality and taste of food is important to more people than low prices, according to an independent survey published today (Tuesday) by the organic group the Soil Association.

When a representative sample of over a thousand people was asked what was important to them when buying food for a meal to serve to family or friends, 95% said 'the taste and quality of the food'. Only 57% said low prices, although most supermarkets and commentators claim this is a deciding factor in purchasing decisions the Soil Association said.

The results were consistent across all social classes. Even among the least well off quality easily beat price - quality and taste were considered important by 94% and low prices by 65%.

Over two thirds of all those questioned also rated avoiding artificial colouring or additives as important. High animal welfare standards (71%), avoiding food grown with pesticides (65%), and farming methods that encourage wildlife (63%), were all rated higher than low prices.

Support for all indicators of food quality was higher among women than men - a significant finding given that women are responsible for most household food shopping.

"This new research shows that people do want high-quality, great-tasting food produced with care for the environment and animal welfare. These issues are important to far more people than low prices," said Helen Browning, the Soil Association's food and farming director.

"The findings give public backing to the government's support for organic farming, and their efforts to increase production of organic food in the UK," she said. "Farm shops, farmers' markets, box schemes, and those supermarkets which offer high quality produce, rather than food that is as cheap as possible, are reflecting what most people want from their food. This is why the organic market is still the fastest growing food sector in the UK."