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Distribution Channels for Organic Foods and Consumer Trust

This project is designed to follow up perspectives that emerged from af critical review of the available national and international social research concerning consumer motives for buying organic foods (O'Doherty Jensen et al., Økologiske Fødevarer og menneskets sundhed. Foulum:FØJO-rapport nr. 14, 2001). Most of the available research is based on the premise that risk perception plays a significant role in motivating consumers, such that product advantages are seen as accruing to organic foods in so far as they do not incorporate such risks.

This present project, in contrast, is designed to develop a conceptual framework regarding these issues, which is inspired by Polanyi's economic theory. The approach is one that yields the possibility of conceiving buyer motives in positive terms, and it suggests that consumers' discernment of both the trustworthiness of products and of food risks are dependent upon their discernment of the trustworthiness of producers. Since distribution channels comprises the interface between consumers and producers, this project will accordingly compare differences between consumers who currently purchase organic foods through distinct channels, and is designed to explore an alternative set of hypotheses regarding the basis for consumer trust in and demand for organic foods.

It is planned to undertake a qualitative sociological investigation of Danish adults who purchase organic foods through one of three distribution channels. The sample (n=100) is stratified and includes 3 sub-groups of consumers. Qualitative data will be collected primarily by means of focus group interviews, while observation and personal interview will be employed as secondary methods of data collection. The objective of the analysis is to compare differences among and between sub-samples in regard to their conceptions and assessment of organic foods, producers and production methods. An empirical analysis will be based on complete transcripts of all audio-recorded data collected in the course of interview sessions and coded by means of a standard computer programme. The preliminary hypotheses are that conceptions and assessments of products are not divorced from conceptions and assessments of producers, that consumer assessments of both are viewed in moral as well as market terms, and that the distribution channel exerts an influence on conceptions and assessments of producers, production and products. Following completion of this analysis, the attempt will be made to assess the practical implications of its results, seen from the viewpoints of organic farmers and consumers respectively, with particular reference to the principle of "nearness" (nærhedsprincippet).

Apart from making a contribution to the on-going debate regarding the principles of organic farming, this project will yield an analysis of new empirical data regarding consumer conceptions of organic products and producers. It will also present a challenge to current consumer research in this area, which tends to be undertaken within a somewhat narrow conceptual framework and with a view to serving marketing interests in the shorter term.


Project title
III.8 Distribution Channels for Organic Foods and Consumer Trust (DISTRUSTING)

Project leader
Ass.Prof. Katherine O’Doherty Jensen,
Research Dept. of Human Nutrition and Centre for Advanced Food Studies,
Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University
Rolighedsvej 30, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark,
Tlf.: 35 28 24 88, Fax: 35 28 24 83, E-mail: koj@kvl.dk

Project participants