The research, led by Dr Ulf Hjelmar from the Institute of Governmental Research, Denmark, identified two main ‘concepts’ to explain organic produce purchase habits : convenience behaviours and reflexive practices influenced by political or ethical considerations.
Dr Hjelmar said that convenience behaviours are characteristic of pragmatic-oriented organic consumers whose priorities are related to price, ease of purchase, and value for money.
Political- or ethical-minded consumers, on the other hand, are described as ‘reflexive’, generally placing issues such as health or animal welfare above price when purchasing organic food products.
Hjelmar said studies of reflexive practices may aid understanding in how ‘consumer’ and ‘citizen’ identities play a role in the forming of reflexive shopping practices.
Dr Hjelmar noted increasing number of Danish consumers have become occasional and regular buyers of organic foods over the last 20 years, resulting in a very high proportion of organic consumers compared to other European countries. Organic consumption in Denmark has become “normalized”, he said.
According to many experts the global production of organic food is expected to grow substantially, and the organic market is frequently regarded as one of the biggest growth markets in the food industry.
“This makes Denmark an interesting case since it can show us the main factors driving organic food purchase in a very mature market, a type of market which could become more frequent in the future”.
But although existing research has revealed a number of key issues which increase the understanding of shopping behaviour regarding organic food, it also points to gaps in understanding, Dr Hjelmar said.
Because the majority of research is based on quantitative survey methods much of it “is not geared to understanding the complexity of organic food purchase,” he wrote in the journal Appetite.
Qualitative methods “provide a potentially deeper insight into shopping behaviour than quantitative studies, and could help us in understanding this,” he added.
In the new study, Dr Hjelmar performed in depth interviews with sixteen Danish households, addressing the types of food they regularly bought – including organic produce – and the reasons behind why they bought these products.
The results from the interviews suggested that there are a number of factors which lead organic minded consumers to buy organic food product, including availability, price, perceived quality, family considerations, political/ethical concerns, and health concerns.
He said that the interviews revealed that the availability of organic products in local supermarkets was “essential for pragmatic minded consumers since one-stop-shopping and convenience behaviours were dominant among these consumers.”
Visibility was reported to be a key factor for the convenience-oriented consumer, with interviews revealing that organic food products had to be clearly visible and easy to find in order to become a type of product which was routinely purchased.
Political or ethical minded consumers have a number of considerations when purchasing organic food products, according to Dr Hjelmar. He said that these include personal health, and animal welfare, in addition to political considerations (e.g. environmentalism), quality considerations (taste), and considerations about national origin.
The study suggested that such considerations are part of a reflexive shopping practice, a type of practice in which price and convenience is of lesser importance and broader personal and societal concerns are of more importance.
Dr Hjelmar explained that such shopping practices can be sparked by life events – for example having children – or due to ‘shocking information’ from the mass media about conventional food products.
The theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’ may be helpful in explaining the way in which consumers react emotionally to shocking information, and afterwards process such information rationally in order to create a consistency between emotional impulses and rational beliefs.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.12.019
“Consumers’ purchase of organic food products: A matter of convenience and reflexive practices”
Author: Ulf Hjelmar