The fiscal crisis of 2009 did not dissuade people from digging a little deeper into their noticeably thinner wallets to pay a lot more for food that they can trust. Sales of organic food rose by 5% during the global financial crisis, sustaining the trend from 2000 through 2008 when organic food sales rose 15%. The purpose of this study was to determine the primary motivational factors for purchasing organic food by those shoppers who regularly buy organic food for their own consumption. The participants in this study shopped regularly for organic foods and despite the steeper prices, considered organic food to be a good value. The subjects were primarily attracted to organic foods because they perceived it to be better for them, but many study participants also expressed environmental concerns. Subjects in this study were relatively young, with a median age of approximately 30 years, and most were married. The subjects shopped at a variety of locations for food and reported buying organic food from all available food categories, although most purchases were organic vegetables.
Organic food is better for the environment, the ecosystem, and the farm workers who plant, tend, and harvest food. The strong marketing points for organic food are the absence of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and artificial hormones. A new benefit is being researched and marketing -- organic food may actually be more nutritious than non-organic food (Cassetty, 2010; Williams, 2002; Worthington, 2001). While this benefit is being debated, consumers are prowling for food that is safe (Baxter, 2006). The last half of the last decade was replete with recall of unsafe products (e.g., milk, infant formula, pet food, eggs), a number of which were intended for human ingestion and consumption. Imports of food from China, "more than tripled in value between 2001 and 2008" (Gale & Buzby 2009). Highly publicized incidences of food alteration and food contamination in imported Chinese food products heightened public concern about imported food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has judged that the most common problems with food imported from China are "filth, unsafe additives, inadequate labeling, and lack of proper manufacturing registrations [most of which] are typically introduced during food processing and handling" ("ERS, 2009). Some degree of processing occurs with nearly all Chinese food imports, leaving consumers wary. More so, as the FDA opened its first overseas office in China as late as 2008. Add to those incidences the food scares related to disease (e.g., E.Coli, Mad Cow Disease) and pesticides such as DDT, and the U.S. population has become jumpy about food quality and food sources. Doubtless the slow food movement has benefitted considerably from these mishaps, disasters, and tragedies, but is organic food the answer?
The degree to which organic farms contribute to environmental protection, biodiversity, cultural landscapes, absence of synthetic chemical and higher animal welfare standards varies considerably (Darnhofer, 2010). These differences are attributable to the trend known as conventionalization of organic farming, which essentially means that come farms comply with organic farming regulations, but do not comply with organic farming principles (Darnhofer, 2010). A bifurcation has occurred between conventionalized organic farms and artisanal organic farms (Darnhofer, 2010). The organic food industry is taking a closer look at whether organic farms are making only structural changes or whether they are complying "with the principles and values that are the fundament of organic farming" (Darnhofer, 2010). The expectations of policymakers and consumers depend on the organic food industry's ability to fully understand the dynamics of organic farming and the impact of these dynamics on the heterogeneous range of organic farms represented (Darnhofer, 2010).
Organic foods are mainstream in U.S. food retail establishments and even in "club" stores -- the growth of the industry has been remarkable (Oberholtzer & Dimitri, 2009). Retail sales of organic foods in 1997 was $3.6 billion and grew to $21.1 billion in 2008 (Oberholtzer & Dimitri, 2009). The organic food industry contains a wide variety of foods, a burgeoning array of private-label product lines, and a growing trend of new product introduction in conventional grocery settings (Oberholtzer & Dimitri, 2009). The range of consumers who purchase organic food is broadening, along with increased revenue for a rapidly expanding range of organic food products (Oberholtzer & Dimitri, 2009). A layer of middlemen has grown up around the organic food industry in the form of organic food handlers whose role is to purchase organic foods from farmers and supply them to retailers (Oberholtzer & Dimitri, 2009). Organic farmers are hard pressed to keep up with the demand (Oberholtzer & Dimitri, 2009).
The viewpoint of organic food consumers regarding the safety and quality of organic food is critical to the fiscal success of the industry and to the capacity of the industry to make substantive contributions to biodiversity, to the protection of ecological systems, and to the provision of safe, healthful food to its consumers. The study described in this paper informs theories about the motivation of organic food consumers.
The unit of analysis in this primary research was individuals who regularly buy organic food. The primary research was conducted at Organic Wholefoods in Brunswick, Melbourne. The approaches used for data collection included a structured questionnaire and a survey. The structured questionnaire was conducted in the organic food store on a Monday afternoon at 5:00 P.M., while the survey was conducted on a Saturday morning at 11:00 A.M. Five subjects responded to each of the research instruments.
III.A. Structured questionnaire findings. The majority of the respondents in the structured questionnaire reported having shopped for organic food in the last month from two to five times, which meets the research criterion for customers who regularly shop for organic food. Definitions of organic provided by respondents included the following: "Expensive," "real and honest food," "natural and pure food," "good for our bodies," and "food grown with no pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms" About half of the respondents indicated that they believe organic food is healthier than conventional food, while the other half believe that organic food safeguards the environment more than conventional food. The respondents' answers to the question, "What reason motivated you to start purchasing organic food?" are shown in Figure 2. Approximately half of the respondents indicated that their purchase decisions were influenced by peers, but the other half said that peers were not influential to their decision-making. The majority of respondents indicated that they were relatively new to organic food with their responses falling in the categories of two years or less. Respondents reported spending moderate amounts on organic food with a majority of those surveyed saying they spent approximately $51 to $75 per week. Equal numbers of respondents spent less than $50 per week and more than $75 per week. Respondents identified a number of locations for their organic food shopping, with a majority of the respondents shopping at supermarkets, and an equal number of respondents shopping at farmers' markets or independent stores. Respondents bought a variety of organic food, with the majority of respondents indicating they purchased predominantly vegetables, fewer reported buying organic meat or organic diary. A majority of respondents indicated that they thought it is worth paying for organic food, and one respondent reported that it was somewhat worth paying for organic food.
III.B. Survey findings. The median age of the survey respondents is 29 years and 8 months. All but one of the survey respondents is married, and about half of the respondents are female and half are male. The levels of education of those responding to the survey vary from high school graduate to bachelor's degree. About half of the respondents indicated that they believe organic food is healthier than conventional food, while a smaller number of respondents believe that organic food safeguards the environment more than conventional food or that organic food is more tasteful than conventional food. The respondents' answers to the question, "What reason motivated you to start purchasing organic food?" are shown in Figure 2. A majority of the respondents indicated that their purchase decisions were not influenced by peers, but one respondent said that peers were influential to their decision-making. The majority of respondents indicated that they had been familiar with organic food for three years of less, while the remaining respondents were relatively new to organic food with their responses falling in the categories of two years or less. The percentage of weekly food purchases that were organic ranged from at least 76% to at least 26%, and about half of the respondents indicated that they purchased 76% to 100% of their weekly food in organic categories. As shown in Figure 1, respondents reported spending moderate amounts on organic food with nearly half of those surveyed saying they spent approximately $51 to $75 per week and nearly half reporting that they spend $100 or above on organic food each week. Approximately half of the respondents indicated that they thought it is worth paying for organic food, and the other half of the…
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