British Consumer Attitudes and Perceptions Toward Organic Food Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3305 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

Organic Food

British consumer attitudes/organic food literature review

Five years ago, the New Statesman asked the question, "Are you an ethical consumer?" And elicited answers from some public figures. Broadcaster Zenab Bedawi said he bought Fairtrade coffee. He did not' mention health benefits; he mentioned socio-political factors, saying that he found it problematical that more food products were not labelled (2000, p. 15).

His desire for more information for making ethical choices was echoed by writer Alain de Botton. He lamented the fact that news about a company acting unethically was usually six months old, and said he was pessimistic about the chances of ethical buying actually becoming widespread, not because of consumer resistance, but because of company subterfuge (New Statesman, 2000, p. 15).

Photographer Koo Stark said she thinks, too, a lot of lip service is being paid to the issues by companies and that responsibility for finding out what to buy and what not to buy should begin in the home.

In fact, several of the interviewees echoed the same sentiment: they were willing to buy organic food, not for the health benefits (they considered those almost an added-value extra), but because, according to writer/musician Brian Eno, "it is better for the land" and he doesn't want his buying patterns to become part of the global problems caused by monoculture and exploitive businesses (New Statesman, 2000, p. 15).

Arce and Marsden echoed these sentiments from a more academic viewpoint, saying that today:

Value has been added by naturalizing the product rather than industrializing it. The life of the product has been domesticated according to the priorities of extracting value. Exotic products acquire immediacy for consumers in industrialized countries, while also maintaining a novel aspect. Production time is coordinated, the ideology of healthy eating is expanded, and, above all, the environmental problems and intensive labour conditions associated with land- based production are distanced (1993, p. 293+).

Arce and Marsden also noted that consumer behaviour has changed, with a "strong phenomenological intellectual influence... introduced into the analysis concerning the importance of changes in the sociocultural perceptions of food consumption and the symbolic meaning of food" (1993, p. 293+).

They noted, too, that food quality has become a public issue because there are differences in people's experiences concerning food, economic valuations of food production systems, cultural meanings for food and political action. That these issues are important is supported by the claim that "Food or environmental issues cannot be wholly explained by disaggregating them either to a functional side effect or as separated, exogenous price- elastic components" (Arce and Marsden, 1993, p. 293+).

Food production and consumption, Arce and Marsden point out, is reliant on delicate balances between social and economic arrangements. These balances are created, they say, by the tension between different interests involved in producing the commodities. "The social life of commodities can achieve fragile and temporary operational links and interfaces, achieving value through the politics of everyday life.

To demonstrate the balance, and the ways in which the balance is maintained as much by producers as consumers, or more so, Arce and Marsden used the banana controversy that arose in the United Kingdom in spring, 1992. That incident, they noted, allows researches to see how actors identities operated in existing political, cultural and social environments regarding the decision to buy or not buy bananas. First, retailers attempted to lure consumers by highlighting the nutritiousness of bananas, stressing that British consumers ate one-third less than German consumers. However, bananas were more expensive in Britain because they came from former British colonies in the Caribbean, rather than from South America, where they were more economically produced. Retailers wanted the protectionism dropped. Politicians did not. "The banana, as an icon of the global fruit trade, is an example of how commodities go beyond being simple objects. Rather they are based on social and political conflicts located in an international situation of exchange" and it is only after those factors have been expressed that the consumer portion of the equation becomes operative (New Statesmen, 1993, p. 293+). However, once the commodities have been introduced to the market, supermarkets "reinforce the importance of consumerism and choice...." In the United Kingdom, most food purchases are made in just five retail giants, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Safeway, Argyle, and Asda, which account for 62% of total retail food sales. Rather than those markets dictating consumer choice, however, consumers can "superimpose on the market their high and low standards of quality" (Arce and Marsden, 1993, p. 293+).

Arce and Marsden quoted Clunies-Ross' 1990 examination of organic food production in Britain, arguing that "although supermarkets do not pay high prices for products and their cosmetic quality demands are very strict, for producers the advantage is that they sell large quantities.... In order to reformulate the value relations between changes in patterns of consumption, taste, knowledge, and price, supermarkets must vary their products and promote individual choice (1993, p. 293+).

Moreover, various consumer organizations have emerged demanding safer, better-quality food; Arce and Marsden took this to mean that the process was interactive, with supermarkets responding to consumer demands for safer food.

Food selection, Arce and Marsden noted, is an ideological process and "Changes in consumption are contextual zed in the ideas and awareness of people. The question here, then, is what are the key ideas that have triggered changes in consumption patterns? Arising out of this question is the process of social definition and the extent and significance of cultural, political, and economic perceptions" (1993, p. 293+).

Murdoch, Marsden and Banks (2000), Halweil (2001), and Lamb et al. (2000) linked the health scares associated with Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE) and other illnesses such as salmonella and e. coli with enhanced consumer sensitivity to the ways and means of food production and processing: perhaps most importantly, this has resulted in a "re-embedding of food production processes in local contexts, in part because locally produced food is often assumed to be of a higher quality (i.e., 'safer') than global food (Nygard and Storstad 1998). Many producers have thus responded to the quality concerns of consumers by attaching a local identity to their products" (2000, p. 107).

This has not been as rapid as it looks at first. The first incidence of BSE was, in fact, as long ago as 1986. At the time, it is arguable that British attitudes toward food safety were irrevocably altered. That year, all British beef cattle over 30 months old were slaughtered and the sale of beef on the bone was temporarily banned (Patnoad, 2001, p. 21).

Rickard points out that this consumer demand has pushed agriculture even further, but doubtless it was allied with bona fide food safety concerns, such as those that arose after the BSE incidents. British government policies have turned to supporting a holistic view of he rural countryside, for one change (2003, p. 280+).

That the British press has a strong influence over the food safety issues of concern to consumers is unavoidable. However, the issues featured in each type of publication reflect the socio-economic makeup of the readership; this indicates that British consumer attitudes toward organic food and food risk issues are hardly monolithic. Patnoad notes that For example, the highly emotion al issue of genetic modification is heavily biased toward readers of the quality press (Mintel, 1999)" (2003, p. 280+).

While that report would make it appear that only upscale British consumers are biased in favour of organic products, coupled with the earlier information about the driving influence of supermarkets, it is possible that a majority of British consumers shows concern about food safety and might be willing to buy organic foods. That is supported by the knowledge that "British supermarkets fly in green beans from Kenya and organic eggs from Wisconsin, available for sale within 24 hours of leaving the country of origin" (Murphy, 2001, p. 36).

It is apparent that British supermarkets are willing to stock organic foods. Still, another question that might arise concerning consumer attitudes and consumer willingness to spend for organic foodstuffs concerns whether consumers' buying decisions are influenced by nutrition labelling. And, "It has been suggested that nutrition information search may increase when the decision risk is significant and the effect visible" (Baltas, 2001, p. 57). Other research indicated that the willingness of consumers to make purchasing decisions based on label information, coupled with additional factors, "may be associated with consumer characteristics, for example, education and age," (Moorman, 1990; Mueller, 1991; Guthrie et al., 1995; Variyam et al., 1996; Nagya, 1997; Nagya et al., 1998; Vari yam et al., 1998, cited by Baltas, 2001, p. 57).

Moon and Balasubramanian specifically investigated the willingness of British consumers to pay for organic foods. They first established what some of the additional costs were likely to be, noting that it costs money, in agribusiness concerns, to keep organic and non-organic crops separated. Estimates are that the segregation "adds about $0.22/bushel for corn and $0.54/bushel for soybean to marketing costs from country elevator to export elevator. Labelling also… [END OF PREVIEW]

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