Analyzing organic purchase patterns

by Jeff Gelski
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Organic strawberries and chocolate sandwich cookies
The on-line study involved 605 people who evaluated strawberries and chocolate sandwich cookies sold under a fictitious brand name.

URBANA, ILL. — The type of store and the type of product may determine whether a consumer buys an organic item or not, according to a study from the University of Illinois. The researchers concluded retailers like Target might be better outlets for promoting organic “vice” products while retailers like Wal-Mart might be better outlets for promoting organic “virtue” products.

Brenna Ellison
Brenna Ellison, Ph.D., University of Illinois food economist

“Past research has often asked how much someone is willing to pay for an organic product but has rarely considered the context in which that purchase takes place,” said Brenna Ellison, Ph.D., a University of Illinois food economist. “In this study we look at how the organic label interacts with the product type as well as the retail purchase context.”

The on-line study involved 605 people who evaluated strawberries and chocolate sandwich cookies sold under a fictitious brand name called Cam’s. The products were either organic or non-organic. People were told the products were sold in either Target or Wal-Mart.

“We chose strawberries and cookies because they represent a ‘virtue’ and a ‘vice’ product, respectively, and both are currently available in the marketplace in organic and non-organic forms,” Dr. Ellison said. “We chose Target and Wal-Mart because the two stores have similar prices but very different brand images. Target has positioned itself in the marketplace as a store that emphasizes style, design and aspiration. Wal-Mart, conversely, promotes a low price image.”

The people in the study evaluated the expected taste, nutrition and safety for the strawberries and cookies as well as likelihood of purchase.

“Organic strawberries had higher expected taste ratings than non-organic strawberries, but cookie taste ratings did not differ,” Dr. Ellison said. “However, the opposite was true with nutrition ratings. Organic cookies were rated as more nutritious — almost twice as healthy — as non-organic cookies, but no difference was observed for the strawberry ratings.

“These results suggest that the purchase of organic ‘virtue’ foods like strawberries may be based more on taste considerations, but organic ‘vice’ foods like cookies may be purchased based on nutrition considerations.”

The study appeared on-line Dec. 9, 2015, in Food Quality and Preference.
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