Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Market intelligence on attitudes, behaviour and potential future responses of consumers of organic products

Our research provides the first comprehensive European study of consumer attitudes, motivations, expectations, barriers, and behaviour intentions towards organic products, using focus group discussions and laddering interviews. It defines the organic consumer, why they purchase organic food products, where they prefer to shop, and how can producers and marketers can match their marketing strategy to the consumer needs. Regular consumers are perceived as being well educated, health and environmentally conscious, often families with young children. Frequent buyers are often seen as well-off, middle or upper class, but this was occasionally challenged: consumption of organic food also seen more a matter of attitude than of high income.

Some characterise consumption of organic food as a sign of elitism; in contrast others suggest that consumption of organic food is in vogue. Non-consumers are characterised by lack of interest (not primarily interested in health issues and food) or lack of resources (people with only a limited budget). Negative (alternative) images still prevail and may affect attitudes and purchase intentions. The majority of regular consumers fall into the median age group, and frequency of purchase is lower among older and younger consumers: however, employment status and gender seem not to influence consumption.

Organic products are perceived as healthy because they contain no agrochemical residues, taste good, are farmed naturally, are not mass-produced, contribute to environmental and animal welfare, are associated with the home country and represent a sensible lifestyle. Consumers usually relate organic food to regularly purchased, fresh, unprocessed products such as fruit and vegetables, milk and milk products, meat and bread. Health seems to be the central motive for purchase. Price is still considered to be the main reason for non-purchase, but in most countries poor availability and lack of variety are also important barriers.

Consumers want to trust in the health aspect of organic food; they require farmers, processors and retailers not to cheat, effective certification bodies, and desire more information to improve trust. Animal welfare also motivates purchase, organic food is often perceived as tasting better than conventional products, and in most European countries, environmental concerns provide motivation, but are less strong than non-altruistic values such as own health or food as enjoyment. The health issue and environmental protection issue seem to be connected, being rooted in the same concrete attributes, but differences exist between countries regarding the importance given to environmental protection.

In German-speaking countries and the United Kingdom, consumers express a preference for buying organic food from their own region. Perceived higher prices and poor value for money are important barriers to purchase. The price is either too high or the consumer’s food budget too low. Some claim that organic food does not give good value for money. Besides higher price, lack of availability is one of the strongest arguments for not buying organic products. Supermarkets are the most preferred point of purchase in all countries, due to their wide ranges and convenient, easy shopping, but are also the most rejected point of purchase; consumers show remarkable mistrust when organic purchases are concerned.

Specialist organic shops, especially very small health food shops, are losing importance as a distribution channel in almost all European countries and are only a preferred outlet of a minority of consumers. Organic shops are mainly preferred by regular organic consumers. Our study concludes that greater contact between consumers and producers would build trust. Participants recommend promotion of organic food in schools.

Traditional marketing tools are also frequently recommended for the promotion of organic products. The majority of participants in all countries, and especially regular consumers, agree that organic food is expensive. Further studies are necessary because, as the focus groups indicate, price elasticity and reference prices can differ with regard to different organic products and product categories.

Caution should be employed in generalising results. However, regular and occasional consumers represent distinct segments, differing in terms of benefits they seek and values that guide them. At national market level, research should examine in further detail what this study has only been able to explore in simple terms. At EU level, other specific relevant issues could become the focus of further research: how organic products differ, in terms of taste and appearance; product availability; higher perceived prices; the level and variation of organic food product knowledge; communication strategies to stimulate involvement; the concrete relevance of the cognitive dissonance that consumers experience when shopping for organic food in supermarkets.

Reported by

Universita Politecnica delle Marche
Via Brecce Bianche
60131 ANCONA
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