NOTE: This is an excerpt of a master paper ordered by a British undergraduate. The title of the paper is “What Are The Factors That Influence UK Consumers To Purchase Organic Food?”. This is unedited and on its first draft. Written and published in 2007.
Past and present studies on the consumer purchase of organic food have produced diverse results. In this part, the researcher will give several study results about the factors that influence consumers to buy organic food (mostly theories made and applied inside the United Kingdom). Each of these ascertains gave different reasons and ideas about the purchase influence factors inside and outside the country. Furthermore, this paper’s section will detail about the dissertation’s main objectives by relating organic food studies done in the past. Accordingly, in-depth analysis will be discussed by the researcher so as to give a clear and comprehensive idea about the theories being presented.
Furthermore, the Taylor Nelson Sofres (2003) research and the Midmore et al. (2005) study indicated that the most important factors that influence consumers to buy organic food could be subjected to health benefits and taste. Likewise, Slaley et al. (2002, quoted in Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002) and Wier & Calverley (2002, quoted in Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002) agree with the fact that the organic food’s health benefits and taste are the primary factors that influence consumers to buy organic produce.
Almost all organic food consumers believed that eating organic produce are good for the body because it is all natural. In addition, they also think that organic foods taste better as compared to eating a conventional one. This is because organic produce are not processed and prepared with any forms of chemicals, such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
The idea that organic produce are healthier to eat and much tastier is supported by many food critics, scientists, food experts, food technologists, and organic food enthusiasts. Meanwhile, Bonti-Ankomah and Yiridoe (2006), Alvensleben (2001), and Magnusson et al. (2003) also confirmed that safety and health are the central factors why consumers opt for organic foods. Their study revealed that it is the most significant factor that tends to influence buyers to purchase organics.
However, these factors are only opinions of organic consumers. It is not considered factual. In fact, UK’s FSA is still making sure about the claims that eating organic produce is healthier and safer.
The research conducted by Makatouni (2001) in the United Kingdom has also established that the organic food’s taste (which is different and fresher because it is processed with no additives) is the number one cause why consumers purchase it. Accordingly, Lohr (2003) writes that the organic food’s health and taste benefits are the principal reasons of purchase. It is the same wherever country a consumer lives in.
Furthermore, the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming (2004) also stated that it is the primary motive particularly in the United Kingdom, Germany, and other countries in the European Union.
However, the report writes that the organic food consumers’ secondary reasons vary among member countries of the EU. Nonetheless, the most common secondary reasons include animal welfare and environment protection. These health and taste factors can only be subjected to a consumer’s behavior and food choice.
It is the buyer’s own personal choice. In addition, 33 different organic food studies conducted from 1993 to 1998 has affirmed that eating organic foods is far more better than eating conventional one (Alföldi et al., 2001, quoted in Economic Evaluation of the Organic Farming Scheme, 2003). For most organic food consumers, it is a way of making sure that they will be healthy for the rest of their lives. It is for them a health investment in the future because the country’s inhabitants are getting fatter and fatter each year.
In United Kingdom for instance, people are getting obese each year with more than 16 million British (both men and women) getting overweight in 2002 alone. It is predicted that if people will continue to do this kind of diet, there will be an additional 1.2 million obese British by the end of 2007. If we sum this up, the country will have 30 percent of its entire population overweight (UK Consumer Trends, 2003). Because of this, many British consumers are now choosing organic foods (particularly fresh organic fruits and vegetables) because it is good for everyone’s diet.
Consequently, a study conducted by Makatouni (2001) has observed that the country’s buyers at present are more concerned with the safety of the food. Through this, UK consumers are now deciding to pick organic foods rather than conventional foods because it is safer. The food’s safety criteria has resulted many consumers to switch and transfer their choice to organic produce. In the United Kingdom, certain food scare factors such as the infamous BSE (bovine spongiform encephalophathies), FMD (foot and mouth disease), E. coli, and salmonella have caused many consumers to be influenced to purchase organic produce (Soil Association, 2000).
Because of this food safety concerns in the country, UK’s organic food industry at present gathered enough following and has improved its sector growth (Pomfret, 2005). In fact, Baker et al. (2004) has observed that the organic food market in the country is very promising. Similar studies conducted by Lohr (2003) also stated that several food scares, including the mad cow disease, have caused many consumers to purchase organic produce. At first, this factor was only localized. However, because of the growing market of globalization of products, the behavior of consumers was also affected.
During the late 1990s and the beginning of the 20th century, the country has experienced the so-called animal activism wherein advocates tend to look after the welfare of the animals. The study done by Shaw & Shiu (2003) has discovered that animal welfare and other kinds of moral values towards animals have been one of the factors why people support the consumption of organic foods. For them, killing and slaughtering an animal in an improper way is not ethical. This is when the country has started to organized a strict guideline towards organic farming. The research done by Schlegelmilch et al. (1996) has noted that people were also influenced to buy organic produce because of the environmental factor.
Consumers who are affected by this factor felt they have an obligation to Mother Earth that they must follow and adhere. They are labeled as environmentalists or nature lovers. In relation to this, because of the progress of information of the mainstream consumers towards several environmental problems (such as pollutions) and food safety apprehension, they tend to purchase organic produce (Organic Food: new Regulation will improve clarity for consumers and farmers, 2005).
This awareness of the buyer has been a massive factor in the development of organic food purchase in the UK. In relation to this, Lohr (2003) affirms that the protection of the environment plays an integral factor in the purchase of organic food particularly in Europe. However, it only ranks second to the product’s health and taste factors.
One of the major factors why consumers buy organic produce is that it promotes biodiversity. According to Soil Association (2006), the biodiversity effect of organic farming can be categorized into three groups. These include the enterprise mix, treatment of the cropped area, and the boundary features. The enterprise mix upholds mixed livestock crop rotation as an alternative to monoculture. The treatment of the cropped area factor has to do with staying away from agro-chemical products and severe farming techniques. Lastly, the boundary features promote additional and larger hedges to the farms.
Organic produce and its subsequent method tackles farming based on a “holistic approach”. Meaning, problems are dealt with as a whole rather than as an individual. Consuming an organic food helps the environment to bind itself in a natural way. For instance, buying organic produce helps promote spring sowing, which in turn aids nesting birds’ innate habitat and natural food source. The process of spring sowing in a typical farming is not that feasible as compared to organic farming because of certain chemicals such as nitrate fertilizer. Aside from spring sowing, the biodiversical effects of organic produce also include having a natural crop rotation, green manuring, undersowing, and the likes.
When it comes to energy efficiency, organic farming is more capable than non-organic farming (DEFRA, 2000, quoted in Soil Association, 2006). In particular, it is 35 percent more energy-efficient when it comes to organic arable production and 74 percent more in organic dairy production.
In addition, Midmore et al. (2005) has developed a notion that categorized organic food purchase factors into two features. The first factor is the organoleptic element that includes the food’s color, size, form, and general look. The second attribute is the sensory that includes the food’s feel, smell, and taste. According to the study, these two features affect the way people buy organic produce. It also influences the buyer’s quantity purchase. If we look this closely, consumers are attracted to organic foods that are well handled during in their farming, manufacturing, and production stage.
The better the food’s overall appearance, the higher market it will have. These two purchase factors were agreed by Slaley et al. (2002, quoted in Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002). They established that the organic food’s taste and look factors are a very good determiner in the organic food’s purchase. However, there study also included some aspects of the organic food’s supply and demand in UK’s traditional food market. Accordingly, the price, reliability & integrity of the country’s organic food industry, the condition of a place’s economy, and the accessibility, are the main issues that settle on the organic food’s purchase.
Consumers are much influenced by these factors. For this reason, the United Kingdom has implemented several rules and regulations about the production, manufacturing, and selling of organic foods. Specifically, sets of standards were imposed in the country’s organic farming. In particular, such offices include the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). However, these sets of standards implemented in the country have also hindered some typical food consumers not to opt for organic produce.
Bonti-Ankomah and Yiridoe (2006) has criticized the country’s organic food and farming standards because it caused some consumers to be doubtful. In particular, potential first time purchasers of organic foods are unsure about its benefits and its safeness because of these standards.
Aside from health reasons, Baker et al. (2004) and Dreezens et al. (2005) believed that “personal values” play an integral factor why consumers tend to purchase organic foods. There are people who promote the balance of the environment by eating organic produce. It is a very well known fact that organics encourage eco diversity. This premise was supported by Squires et al. (2001).
They stated that organic food consumers want to be associated with saving and maintaining the equilibrium of the environment that is why they purchase organic produce. In short, eating organic foods upholds taking care of your surroundings. This point of view has confirmed the researcher’s perspective that organic foods are essential not only to one’s health but also to the society in general. It is a way of reliance to the environment and its subsequent applied biology. However, this factor is not a walk in the park. It connotes deep understanding because it has to do with a person’s own behavior and individual judgment.
Thompson et al. (1994) illustrated that people are influenced to buy food because of their attitudes – whether at their homes or in society in general. People who have a definite or specific mind-set towards organic food are persuaded to purchase organic produce because they feel it is their obligation not only to themselves but also to the society as well. This kind of factor can be subjected towards a person’s behavior specifically to its psychological manner.
The information dissemination (and its subsequent process) about the benefits of eating organic produce also affects consumers to buy organic foods (Taylor Nelson Sofres, 2003). However, mainstream consumers are not that well informed about organic food and what is considered as organic (Bonti-Ankomah and Yiridoe, 2006). This is true especially on the complications and guidelines when it comes to organic farming.
Organic food standards have also caused some consumers to be doubtful about organic produce. On other hand, the Report On The results Of the Online Consultation: Action Plan for organic food and farming (2004) stated that the giving out of information could help sway consumers to purchase organic foods. According to the report, this can be done by applying a massive public awareness campaign using the media. This includes TV commercials, newsprints / magazines / publication promotions, and / or internet ads. This factor only tells us that right information coupled with a feasible plan is a great deal in endorsing and marketing organic food because it helps alleviate public awareness.
The most purchased organic food items in the United Kingdom are vegetables and fruits because they have more health benefits. After this, consumers then march on to organic dairy produce that includes eggs, and then they budge to organic grocery foods. Organic meats and drinks then follow the purchase transformation. However, the trend in the market is that most British organic food consumers only purchase organics if it comes within the country (Taylor Nelson Sofres, 2003).
The study stated that approximately 60 percent of them only buy if the organic food is farmed and manufactured in the United Kingdom. This purchase factor highly revolves around the support of local goods. Consequently, Lohr (2003) also noted down that most organic food consumers only buy organic products only when it is grown in their own localities. The reason varies but the food’s freshness and quality are much ensured when it is locally farmed. In addition, consumers also tend to support their own local organic food growers. This factor only tells us that consumers are influenced with organic produce that are locally sourced out. This also notifies that consumers have a tendency to subject national pride in their organic food purchase. The British’s idea of self-importance to their own organic produce is a good factor.
Likewise, Richter et al. (2000, quoted in Lohr, 2003) reasons that the long distance travel that the organic food has to endure could affect the overall quality of the food. Its implication is that the shorter the food has to travel, the fresher the product will be once it will be bought in the market. Furthermore, government programs that provide incentives and support to local products can also be a reason why consumers tend to buy homegrown organic produce.
The Report on the Results of the Online Consultation: Action Plan for organic food and farming (2004) considered the organic food’s “direct links” from the farmer to the consumer as an important factor in the purchase of the product. Through this system, organic food buyers have an easy and fast access to the products. However, the “direct link” method is much more feasible if the farmer and the market retailer will collaborate with each other in terms of marketing, supply, and demand. The cooperation of each individual are needed in order for this system to work.
Through this process, the dependency and connection of the farmers and retailers are analyzed and then applied as a purchase factor.
Nevertheless, UK’s organic food purchase is influenced first at homes (Makatouni, 2002). A parent (mostly mothers) who buys most of the family’s food can be a great source of influence in consuming organic produce. He or she can influence the entire family member to try eating organic food. The parent’s behavior and view towards organic foods can help sway other family members’ outlook to organic produce.
The reason of this is because parents are not only the head of the family but they also are the children’s main source of information. However, it still depends on the family’s idea and principles about consuming between organics and conventional types of foods. In view of this, Lohr (2003) stated in his journal that most organic food consumers are parents of infants. This situation can pose a very good step towards introducing organic produce at homes.
Midmore et al. (2005) found out in there study that the act of buying organic food is identified by the consumer to be more “superior” than purchasing a conventional type of foods. Meaning, they are influence to buy organic produce because they want to be finer than the rest of the society. This is because organic produce is identifiable to organic or natural food production that helps support animal welfare, ecological biodiversity, and most importantly the environment.
This factor is themed to the premise that a person who buys organic food is a person who cares more. As a result of this purchase, they feel that they are more advanced, better, and greater than the traditional food consumers. Moreover, for them, organic produce has the same meaning with high and safe food quality. Their premise is that purchasing organic produce is both beneficial for their health and the society in general.
This aspect can be attributed to the well-established fact about the co-dependency of humans and the environment. Meaning, organic food consumers are their because of the environment and in turn, the environment is their for the organic food consumers.
Moreover, Slaley et al. (2002, quoted in Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002) also developed a theory that states that organic food consumers are influenced by a country’s mindset towards buying or shopping for a thing. There idea is that UK shoppers see the purchase of organic produce the same with any kinds of food purchase.
The reason of this view varies but they suggested that this is because of the rationale that the country’s shoppers at present have developed a sort of immunity towards strong supermarket competition. As a result of this market familiarity, most UK buyers do not penetrate the organic food sector because they are “less prepared to pay what they see as excessive margins above conventionally produced equivalents” (Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002). This is the main reason why the country’s organic food growth is slower as compared to Germany and the Netherlands.
In particular, Germany tops the Europeans in terms of organic food supply and consumption because they tend to be more equipped and “prepared” in purchasing an organic produce. In fact, the Germans can give as much as 30% more payments in their organic food purchase when compared to the British (Wier & Calverley, 2002, quoted in Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002). This view can be attributed to the organic food’s branding and marketing (in general terms).
The researcher believed that if more organic food promotions and marketing were done in the country, UK’s organic food industry would flourish better. In relation to the product’s promotion and marketing, the Report on the Results of the Online Consultation: Action Plan for organic food and farming (2004) has affirmed that UK’s organic food’s standard logo and proper labeling can help influence the purchase of a certain organic product.
However, buyers are much more “confident” in their purchase if the organic food has a national and / or private manufacture logo. They tend to devalue an organic product that has a European Union logo in its label. This is true especially when applied to first time organic food buyers. The reason for these devalue is that EU organic food logo is occasionally not firm on its standards as compared to the national-sponsored logo. The proper logo labeling can assist consumers to easily identify organics from conventional foods.
In addition, other purchase factors such as the product’s “traceability”, “transparency”, and “high quality values”, can also affect a consumer to buy organic food. These factors will ensure future growth in UK’s organic food industry.
Similarly, public perceptions toward organic foods and genetically modified foods (also known as biotechnological foods) are a great purchase factor. If a certain country has a high acceptance rate about biotechnological foods, then the organic food sector will suffer and vice versa. The study of Zechendorf (1998) about the science of agricultural biotechnology concluded that most European countries are not in favor of it. In particular, the United Kingdom public is totally against genetically modified foods with 53 percent of them being an opponent of it (Gaskell, 2000).
However, the agricultural biotechnology awareness in the United Kingdom is quite high when compared to other European countries such as Spain, Greece, and Austria. UK is also one of the three countries (along with Finland and the Netherlands) that have a remarkable certainty about the many advantages of foods grown out scientifically. These facts and figures only tell us that the country’s public perceptions toward organic foods are much lower as compared to biotechnological foods.
This is one of the many reasons why organic produce in the United Kingdom did not fully penetrate the typical food industry. Again, this can be subjected to the premise that a massive information drive about the benefits of organic food can be a good marketing strategy for the industry.
Furthermore, the Midmore et al. (2005) study also determined that some people who buys or wants to buy organic produce are influenced by the trend of the so-called exclusive society of organic food eaters. They want to belong to that elite group of people who consumes organic produce. For them, fitting in with an exclusive group is a sophisticated way to live. This concept can be pointed to a person’s lifestyle view associated with eating organic produce.
In United Kingdom, the “heavy organic food consumers” are the ones that keep the organic food industry blooming through the years although they are not the largest group of organic food consumers. However, some people have criticized this group because they belong to the upper class demograph of the society and have established a façade of exclusivity from the others.
Squires et al. (2001, quoted in Hingley & Lindgreen, 2002) write that the strong organic food purchase in other countries such as in Denmark can be credited to the government’s well-established plan and policy towards organic produce. This purchase factor revolves around a feasible plan enacted by the government and implemented towards the organic food industry.
The government plays a lot of important rule not only in the production and in purchase of organic food but also to its overall future growth. They also added that an entrenched relationship between the suppliers and the retail markets could produce a very robust organic food purchase among the buyers. The United Kingdom and European Union (EU) in general has several sufficient plans and approach towards organic food and its subsequent market industry.
Consumers are also influenced to buy organic food if it has a proper label attached to it. This is because not all organic produce sold in UK markets are 100 percent made from organic materials. Some of them are only 95 percent organic. Others are even only 70 percent. The proper labeling does not only affect consumers but also influence the quantity and quality of the food purchase. In the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) handles all the organic food labeling so as to have a proper brand and marketing identification. Certain rules and regulations are implemented to protect the interest of the buyers.
One of these sets of guidelines authorized that organic foods sold in the market should pass a certification process done by an approved packer. In addition, the product’s label should also have a code number coming from that registered packer (Food Standards Agency: Organic Food, 2006). Through this system, the buyers are assured that the product they are buying is safe and has a standard quality.
Lohr (2003) summarize in his study that the price premiums, the country of origin, social issues, and the GE content will be the future factors that will have influence on the purchase of organic food. Moreover, the research also labeled organic food consumers as “apprehensive about the quality of the product & health”, “well-educated”, and “affluent” (quoted in FAS 2000b, The Packer, 1998, 2000a & 2000b, HealthFocus, 1999, Hartman Group, 1996, Thompson, 1998, ITC, 1999, and Richter et al., 2000).
The organic food’s price premiums are conveyed in terms of the percentage by which the organic food’s value is beyond the price of a related conventional manufactured good. In short, it means the total fraction when the price of the organic produce and traditional food are compared. In the United Kingdom, the price premium of organic food is 30% to 50% more than when compared to conventional food. The research also revealed that the country’s proportion of regular buyers (organic food consumers who are classified as buying organic products at least once per week) is 25%.
Moreover, the organic food’s GE (genetically enhanced) content factor can also persuade consumers to buy organic produce (Lohr, 2003). In fact, the GE labeling is primary in a consumer’s selection of organic produce. In most countries, particularly in the United Kingdom, a food with GE content is not acceptable.
The Taylor Nelson Sofres (2003) study also confirmed that there are three kinds of organic food buyers. The first one is the “lighter organic food consumer”. This kind of buyers bought organic produce “accidentally”; meaning, their purchase was not planned and it is not on purpose.
The second type of organic food buyers are the “medium organic food consumer”. They buy organic produce with intent but on a limited basis only. The medium buyers also do not purchase organic produce because it promotes environment security, biological diversity and / or it encourages better animal welfare. They buy because it is beneficial and good for them specifically for their health.
The third and the most important kind of organic food buyer is the “heavy organic food consumer”. These types of purchasers are considered as the main proponent and advocate of organic food in the United Kingdom. They have a good enthusiasm and the right approach when it comes to purchasing organic produce. The “heavy organic food consumer”, however, are not the country’s main demographic. Most buyers who belong to this classification are senior citizens aged 60 years old and above. In addition, most of them are residing either in the South East or in London.
Moreover, the study also revealed that these buyers are considered as food and wine experts and aficionados. They also have the propensity to read first the products’ main ingredients before buying them and they also go with manufactured goods that are environment friendly. If we look this more closely, these organic food buyers are influenced more by merchandises that has to do with style and sophistication.
Taylor Nelson Sofres (2003, quoted in Organic Food: Understanding the consumer and increasing sales, 2003) has categorized the United Kingdom’s organic food buyers into three types to further investigate the country’s organic produce industry. The types of consumers are light, medium, and heavy buyers. Each of these types has their own sub-categories. For light consumers there are three sub-categories.
These include Light 1 (with a very minimal food purchase), Light 2, and Light 3+. For medium consumers there are also three sub-categories > Medium 1, Medium 2, and Medium 3+. For heavy consumers there are five sub-categories > Heavy 1, 2, & 3; Heavy 4; Heavy 5; Heavy 6; and Heavy 7 & 8 (with a very high food purchase). The figure below will illustrate the types of buyers (together with its corresponding sub-categories) in relation to organic food’s purchase factor.