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Farmer Consumer Partnerships: Information search and decision making - the case of ethical values of organic products

Zander, Katrin and Hamm, Ulrich (2009) Farmer Consumer Partnerships: Information search and decision making - the case of ethical values of organic products. CORE Organic Project Report, no. CORE Organic project nr: 1897. University of Kassel, Organic Agriculture, Kassel , Agricultural and Food Marketing.

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The CORE Organic pilot project ‘Farmer Consumer Partnerships’ aims at analysing and testing innovative communication strategies of organic companies with respect to ethical values as a means of reconnecting organic farmers and consumers against the varying cultural and behavioural backgrounds of consumers in five European countries (AT, CH, DE, IT UK).
The previous work packages (WP1 and WP2) provided a selection of the most promising communication arguments with respect to ethical values of organic food based on literature review and on the farmers’ or farmers’ initiatives point of view. Based on this, the task is to narrow down the wide range of existing arguments related to ethical values in organic food production. Therefore, the arguments were categorised in a pragmatic way, taking into consideration the likely beneficiaries of these ethical activities and the expert rating of research partners. The final selection included the three major categories of economic, social and environmental concerns and, additionally, animal welfare as well as cultural issues. Finally, 14 ethical arguments belonging to the following sub-dimensions were chosen: biodiversity, animal welfare, regional production, fairness in relation to the farmer, care farming, social aspects of production, and the preservation of cultural features.
The aim of this work package was to confront consumers with these ethical concerns and to identify the most promising communication attributes for further analyses within the next work packages. It was to be determined which ethical information is most interesting for consumers in the partner countries with respect to the purchase decision on organic food.
Chapter 2 concentrates on the theoretical perspective of information search within consumer behaviour. Factors influencing extensiveness and content of information search are presented.
Chapter 3 is dedicated to the description of the methodological approach of the research within this research step. For the analyses within this research, it was decided to use the Information Display Matrix (IDM). The IDM is a process tracing method aiming at monitoring the cognitive processes underlying information search, judgement and choice. The IDM was used to analyse the depth of information search regarding ethical values of organic food and to identify those ethical attributes most relevant for decision making. The two-dimensional matrix lists alternative product stimuli in columns, while product attributes are listed in rows. Each cell contains concealed information about a product-related attribute, which has to be accessed one after another by the subject in order to obtain the information (Jacoby et al. 1987, Mühlbacher and Kirchler 2003). The ethical attributes were tested with the product organic milk. The IDM was accompanied by a questionnaire aiming at the validation of the results obtained by the IDM, at an explanation of the information acquisition behaviour and at giving answers on the ‘real life’ information behaviour concerning organic food. 240 organic milk buyers were interviewed face-to-face, in a computer assisted manner in the five study countries.
Subject of chapter 4 is the description of the sample regarding socio-demographic indicators of participants and ‘real life’ information and purchasing behaviour. Concerning the sources of information on organic food, the results show that ‘articles in newspapers etc.’ are preferred, followed by ‘conversation with family and friends’ and ‘product packaging’. ‘Information by sales personnel’ was frequently mentioned in Italy but rarely in Switzerland and in the UK. ‘Reports on radio or TV’ seem to be less important in Italy than in all other countries. When asked for the kind of information they had actively been looking for within the last two months, ‘product origin’ was mentioned most often, followed by information on ‘ingredients’. In Switzerland and Germany, on the other hand, information on ‘organic certification’ and ‘production and processing methods’ was ranked higher than information on ‘ingredients’. In Italy, information on ‘product quality’ was more frequently asked for than on ‘ingredients’ whereas in the UK, information on ‘food miles’ is more important. Information on ‘prices’ seems to be much more important in Austria than in all the other countries.
Chapter 5 concentrates on the depth and content of information search for ethical values of organic food obtained by means of the IDM. On average, respondents spent 4:28 minutes for information search and opened 34 information fields within the IDM. There are marked differences between the countries. Besides socio-demographic factors like age and the level of education, attitudes regarding organic food consumption could be identified to have an impact on the amount of information looked for preceding the product choice. The importance of different attributes for the choice of the organic product was analysed via the share that each attribute has in all firstly accessed attributes and via the frequency of accession of each attribute. According to these indicators, the most important attributes are ‘animal welfare’, ‘regional production’ and ‘fair prices for farmers‘. These attributes were followed by ‘product price’, indicating that consumers tend to prefer cheaper products over ethical products with attributes like ‘care farming’, ‘social criteria of production’, ‘protection of biodiversity’ and ‘cultural aspects’. There are only minor differences between the countries in the order of the most important attributes. Only in Italy ‘product price’ seems to be more important than ‘fair prices’ and ‘animal welfare’. Factors impacting on the preferred ethical concern are age, gender, level of education and motives for organic consumption. Expected relationships between attitudes towards organic consumption and the preferred ethical concern proved to be weak.
The choice decision shows that the cheaper organic product without any additional ethical values was preferred by 6% of the respondents only. While in Germany 3% decided in favour of the cheaper product, 9% of the Austrian respondents chose the cheaper one. This result allows the conclusion that a large share of consumers of organic food would be willing to pay a price premium for ethical products.
The report is completed by some concluding remarks (Chapter 6) pointing at the appropriateness of the IDM for the task fulfilled but also its methodological limitations. The central result of the analyses of work package 3 for the whole project is the identification of the most important ethical values from the consumers’ point of view. However, there are still some open research questions, particularly as for the joint effect of different variables on the respondents’ information behaviour. The corresponding analyses will take place during the next months and will be published in scientific journals.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:CORE Organic, Farmer Consumer Partnerships, Consumer behaviour, Information Display Matrix, Ethical values, Information acquisition behaviour, FCP
Subjects: Values, standards and certification
Values, standards and certification > Consumer issues
Research affiliation: Germany > University of Kassel > Department of Agricultural- and Food Marketing
European Union > CORE Organic > FCP
Related Links:http://fcp.coreportal.org/, https://orgprints.org/11028/, https://orgprints.org/12821/
Deposited By: Zander, Dr. Katrin
ID Code:15199
Deposited On:16 Jan 2009
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:38
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed
Additional Publishing Information:ISBN: 978-87-991343-9-7

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