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JEL Code: M21, M31.
Juan Carlos Castro Analuiza, Cristina Checa, & José Perea (2020). Consumer’s perceptions of organic foods in Ambato, Ecuador, Esic Market Economics and Business Journal, 51(2), 263-279. Doi: 10.7200/esicm.166.0512.1Download in PDF Format
The need to intensify the actions focused in mitigating the impact of climate change was supported during the Lima Climate Change Conference in 2014; especially in most vulnerable regions as Amazonas (Polman, 2014). The cessation of deforestation and adoption of ecological practices have been identified as the main ways of improvement; highlighting, organic production as a key tool. The agro ecological approach of organic production improves the resilience of the production systems, generating a more sustainable and robust environment against climate variability (Padgham, Jabbour & Dietrich, 2015). Besides, it contributes to improve the performance of smallholders, generating wealth and employment in rural territories; thus reducing the pressure on forest areas (Huang & Wang, 2014). Ecuador is one of the Amazon countries with highest growth potential in the organic sector. In the Ecuador Political Constitution, the sustainable development principles are defined into a social and political context. The country has implemented different sector policies and actions to strengthen the food sovereignty and the agro ecological production patterns (Flores, 2015). Consequently, organic production has increased in the recent years, reaching around 40,000 ha and 9,000 farmers, mainly smallholders (Lernoud, Willer & Schlatter, 2016). Although Ecuadorian organic production has a strong orientation to outward markets, mainly to Europe and the USA, many farmers are focusing in local markets as a growth strategy. The exportation requirements are complex and different among markets due to the poor international harmonization of the legislative framework; this situation means a real obstacle for trade. Moreover, policy performances to improving the internationalization have not been adequately effective (Scherer, 2013a). Organic foods have started to be recognized in the domestic market; which is closely related to the increase in the household incomes and the concern of food security (Scherer, 2013b). The positive dynamics of the domestic market has generated the interest of large supply chains. Although the short chains are predominant (i.e. local markets, fairs or small specialized stores), large retails are beginning to adopt some local organic foods (Flores, 2015). Considering the social and political Ecuadorian context, it is probably that both supply and demand for organic food will increase in the coming years. It is necessary identifying the consumer’s preferences and the underlying values of the organic foods for the producers and other stakeholders of supply chain to produce processes and sell these foods in the markets (Feldman & Hamm, 2015). a political perspective, if the organic production support is not addressed to the consumption profiles, negative results in higher financial resources and inefficiency of the system appear (Weatherell et al., 2003). Therefore, it is necessary to properly link the organic production with consumers’ attitudes for its growth and economical strengthen. Although there are several studies about organic consumers in Europe or USA, the perception of organic foods is little known outside the West. Previous studies in developed countries suggest that organic food consumption follows similar patterns resulting of its common values (Zagata, 2012). Nevertheless, the consumer’s value system depends on its cultural background, which has been tested in different context, including the organic food consumption. Therefore, the aim of this study is to analyze the factors that explain the buying behavior of organic foods and the adoption of a specific purchasing behavior.
Materials and methods
The applied conceptual model is showed in figure 1, key concepts described in the literature are implemented into a framework. A similar conceptual model has been previously used by Tsourgiannis et al. (2011) for analyzing consumer’s attitudes regarding genetically modified food. the conceptual model, the following hypotheses are proposed: H1. The factors that explain the purchasing behavior of Ambato’s consumers who buy or try to buy organic foods are different to the factors that explain the purchasing behavior of consumers who prefer conventional foods. H2. The consumers Ambato might be classified into different groups, according to the factors which affect their purchasing behavior of organic foods. H3. The organic food consumers’ opinion is significantly related to a specific purchase behavior. H4. The customary place for buying foods is significantly related to a specific purchase behavior. H5. The socio–demographic consumer’s characteristics are significantly related to a specific purchase behavior. The data needed to test the hypotheses were collected by a survey applied to consumers of Ambato, Ecuador. The surveys were carried on through face to face interviews. This system has been widely used to test consumers purchase behaviors (Arvanitoyiannis & Krystallis, 2005; Oppenheim, 2000). Data were collected in usual sale points, boarding consumers at the buying moment and place actual purchase decisions are made, according to Tsourgiannis et al. (2011) Interviews took place throughout the day to reduce time of shopping – related bias (Chryssohoidis & Krystaillis, 2005). A 30% of the interviews were conducted Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 15:00, other 30% was conducted 15:00 to 21:00 and the rest took place on Saturday. Figure 1. Conceptual model H1 H2 H3 H4 H5 Factors affecting Consumtion attitude Price Quality Brand Availability Labelling Container Certification Local Origin Environment Health Grouping classification according to the purchasing behavior Opinion regarding organic foods Regular food purchasing place Personal characteristics (age, ocupation, etc.) Nutritional Taste A systemic sampling stratified method was used. The sampling system consists of selecting one of six consumers who came into the survey area (Mccluskey, Grimsrud, Ouchi & Wahl, 2003). The sample was composed by 3,000 consumers above 20 years old; 1,500 who prefer organic foods and 1,500 who prefer conventional ones. Demographic population data Ambato is not available, so it is not possible to verify the sample representativeness. However, the sample size is reasonable in relation to the total population area (178,000 inhabitants), and it is similar to other studies on the same subject (Alibabic, Jokic, Mujic, Rudic, Bajaramovic & Jukic, 2011; Roitner-Schobesberger, Darnhofer, Somsook & Vogl, 2008). The survey was integrated by six questions related to consumer knowledge about organic foods, usual purchase place, and regular food purchases; twelve attitudinal statements on a 5 point Likert scale relating to their buying behaviour; five questions related to consumer opinion regarding organic foods; and nine questions about consumer personal information. The survey was pre–tested in January 2014 by five researchers and ten consumers. The pilot survey indicated that no modification needed to the questionnaire and therefore the main survey was conducted in March to May 2014. Subsequently, multivariate techniques were used for analyzing organic food consumers in two stages. Firstly, principal component analysis (PCA) was used to identify purchase behavior factors. Only factors with eigenvalues greater than one were retained. Likewise, the orthogonal rotation varimax was applied for relating more easily retained components with original variables. In order to compare the factors that affect the purchase behavior between conventional and organic food consumers, a PCA was applied for every consumer group (Tsourgiannis et al., 2011). In the second stage, cluster analysis was used to group organic consumers into similar purchase patterns. A sequential cluster analysis was applied based on scoring components retained by PCA. Firstly, hierarchical groupings were used with Ward method and euclidean distance, squared Euclidean and Manhattan (Köbrich, Rehman, Khan, 2003). In each sequence, the optimal number of groups was defined by the rate of change of clustering coefficient and the square root of the average of the standard deviations (Gelasakis, Valergakis, Arsenos & Banos, 2012). Subsequently, non–hierarchic groupings were developed using the centroids and number of groups obtained in the hierarchic groupings. The three consequent groups were studied by ANOVA using post hoc SNK test. This procedure maximizes the homogeneity within groups and the heterogeneity between them (Toro-Mujica, García, Gómez-Casto, Perea, Rodríguez-Estévez & Angón, 2012). The previous hypotheses were contrasted by nonparametric Kruskal Wallis and chi–square tests based on results of the multivariate techniques described. All statistics were analyzed using SPSS v.14.
PCA results for organic consumers and non-organic consumers are showed in Table 1. For organic consumers, PCA retained 4 factors with eigenvalues over 1. The first factor indicated the belief in expected health benefit. It showed a positive relation amongst the interest for the nutritional value, health, label and certification process. The second factor showed a positive relation between the taste and the quality of the product. The third considered factor, the belief in environmental benefits, showed positive loading with the interest on environment protection and local origin of foods. The fourth factor was composed by contextual variables dealing with the promotional aspect, the image and the price of the product. Table 1. Key consumption dimensions derived principal component analysis Key consumption dimensions for organic buyers Factor loading Key consumption dimensions for non-organic buyers Factor loading Expected health benefits Price and quality Product labelling 0.808 Price of the product 0.893 Interest about nutrition values 0.801 Quality of the product 0.885 Health safety 0.738 Taste 0.757 Certification of the product 0.652 Context Taster and quality Attractiveness of the product’s packing 0.826 Quality of the product 0.875 Brand name 0.671 Taste 0.702 Availability in outlets for food 0.598 Environmental expected benefits Information Interest on environment protection 0.843 Product labelling 0.821 Interest on the local origin of the product 0.816 Product certification 0.764 Context Organic attributes Brand name 0.840 Health safety 0.858 Attractiveness of the product’s packing 0.760 Interest on environment protection -0.789 Price of the product 0.682 Interest on nutrition values 0.673 Availability for food in outlets 0.580 Interest about the local origin of the product -0.537 KMO = 0.707 KMO = 0.674 Bartlett test of sphericity, P < 0.000 Bartlett test of sphericity, P < 0.001 The PCA resulting for non–organic consumers retained 4 factors with eigenvalues over 1. The first factor is positively related to price and quality of the food. In the second factor, promotional aspect and product image had a positive loading regard to the attractiveness of the packing, the labels’ name and food availability. The third factor indicated the information disposal of product through the relation between labeled and certification of the product itself. The fourth factor referred to organic attributes and showed positive loadings to health and nutritional value interest and negative to the environmental protection and the origin of the product. The relationships established in organic consumers are different to conventional consumers. This defines different variables that explain the purchase process. Therefore, the hypothesis H1 is validated. The organic consumer’s typology was developed according to the factors that explain their purchasing behavior. The most significant result of cluster analysis was a non–hierarchical clustering of three groups with squared Euclidean distance (Table 2). The results identified three types of consumers according to their purchase behavior patterns. A 33.6% of the sample represents organic consumers interested in self benefit and highly influenced by contextual aspects (Group I). These consumers obtained the highest scores in the contextual factor. Organic consumers interested in expected environment benefits (Group II) represented the 23.8% of the sample. These consumers obtained the highest scores in the environmental benefit factor. Organic consumers very interested in self benefits and less affected by contextual aspects (group III) represented the biggest size group, a 42% of the sample. They are interested in buying tasty and quality foods, and health was also very important for them. Table 2. Characteristics of the three consumer´s groups that buy organic products (mean + standard deviation) obtained through non-hierarchical cluster analysis Key consumption dimensions (first four principal components) Organic consumers’ groups I Consumers interested in altruistic and self-benefits II Consumers interested in altruistic benefits III Consumers interested in self-benefits P value Expected health benefits 1.35 + 0.09b -0.37 + 0.07a 1.42 + 0.19b 0.000 Taste and quality 1.29 + 0.09b -0.42 + 0.07a 1.63 + 0.12c 0.000 Environment expected benefits 0.06 + 0.09b 1.30 + 0.07c -0.68 + 0.12a 0.000 Context 1.97 + 0.07c -0.18 + 0.05b -2.07 + 0.09a 0.000 Means with different letters are significantly different (P<0.000). In order to assess the verisimilitude of the organic consumers’ typology, the predictive capability of the scores obtained in the PCA in relation to identified groups was tested. The obtained scores in PCA classified correctly a 98.7% of the consumers. Thereby, the four identified purchase factors can predict and accurately discriminate the type of organic consumer. Therefore, the hypothesis H2 has been validated. Non-parametric Kruskal Wallis tests were used for comparing the opinion of the different types of consumers on organic foods (Figure 2). All the consumer’s groups highly agreed with the statement “organic foods are more expensive”. The statement “Organic foods do not have negative effects on environment” is accepted for all consumers groups, although non–organic buyers were less convinced than organic consumers (P<0.05). Also, organic consumers groups I and III believe it more firmly than group II (P<0.05). The non–organic food buyers do not believe that “Organic foods are tastier”, neither “Organic foods have better nutritional level”; in opposite to organic buyers (P<0.05). Likewise, organic buyers groups I and III believe more firmly than group II in the affirmation “Organic foods are tastier” (P<0.05). Therefore, the hypothesis H3 could be accepted. Personal and consumption characteristics between organic and conventional consumers groups were compared by chi–square tests. The knowledge on organic foods was not associated to any purchase behavior (Table 3). No significant differences were found between the adoption of a specific purchase behavior and the regular purchase place. Therefore, the hypothesis H4 could not be validated. Table 3. Profile of each consumer´s group regarding consumer´s characteristics Consumer’s characteristics Organic consumers Non-organic consumers P value I II III First retail outlets for foods (%) 0.704 Supermarkets 41.7 43.7 45.9 45.4 Public markets 47.9 41.1 37.7 40.6 Corner shops 9.4 14.6 16.4 13.3 Other markets 1.0 0.6 0.0 0.7 Purchase frequency (%) 0.036 Dairy 5.2 12.0 11.5 4.8 Weekly 61.5 54.4 62.3 22.6 Monthly 11.5 9.5 11.5 51.2 As needed 21.9 24.1 14.7 21.4 Level of knowledge about organic foods (%) 0.821 None 8.3 10.1 6.6 9.3 Low 39.6 36.1 31.1 36.6 Intermediate 42.7 38.0 49.2 40.8 High 9.4 15.8 13.1 13.3 Gender 0.000 Male 38.5 40.5 24.9 65.5 Female 61.5 59.5 75.1 34.5 Age (%) 0.895 20 – 25 years 52.1 51.3 47.5 51.1 26 – 35 years 22.9 20.9 24.6 21.8 36 – 45 years 11.5 18.3 16.4 15.3 46 + years 13.5 9.5 11.5 11.8 Residence (%) 0.476 North 38.5 36.1 45.9 36.3 South 35.4 43.7 32.8 40.6 East 18.7 13.9 14.7 15.5 Consumer’s characteristics Organic consumers Non-organic consumers P value I II III West 7.3 6.3 6.6 7.5 Marital status (%) 0.702 Single 40.6 40.5 44.3 34.5 Married 55.2 50.0 49.2 59.5 Divorced 4.2 6.3 4.9 4.8 Widowed 0.0 3.2 1.6 1.2 Housing property (%) 0.130 Homeowner 81.2 71.5 75.4 83.3 Rented house 18.8 28.5 24.6 16.7 Household size (%) 0.394 1 – 2 persons 4.2 7.8 3.3 7.3 3 – 4 persons 52.1 50.6 54.1 53.9 5 + persons 43.7 41.8 42.6 38.8 Education (%) 0.161 Primary school 50.0 53.2 57.4 56.4 Secondary school 5.21 8.9 8.2 7.3 High school 41.7 36.7 34.4 35.1 Occupation (%) 0.015 Free licence 38.1 51.1 34.0 17.9 Private employee 29.8 16.4 34.7 36.9 Student 23.7 22.6 24.3 41.7 Other 8.3 9.8 7.0 3.6 Household income (%) 0.496 0 – 500 $ 33.3 31.0 26.2 30.8 501 – 1,000 $ 39.6 39.9 45.9 42.1 1,001 – 1,500 $ 18.7 20.9 18.0 18.5 1,501 $ + 8.3 8.2 9.8 8.5 Socio–demographic profiles of all consumer’s groups is showed in Table 3. The profiles were similar in age, residence, marital status, housing property, education, household size and household income. However, the profiles were different in gender and occupation. Women and free license workers were more frequently interested in buying organic foods (P<0.05). Therefore, the hypothesis H5 can be partially accepted. Table 3. (continuation) Figure 2. Consumer´s opinion about organic food products (*p<0,05) 0 1 2 3 4 Organic foods are more expensive Organic foods are more tasteful* Organic foods are healthier* Organic foods have better nutrition value* Organic foods do not have negative impact on the environment* Average Rank Group I Group II Group III Non organic buyers
Several studies have examined the consumption of organic foods and the factors that determine it. Utility theory and the Theory of Planned Behavior have been the most utilized for evaluating the organic foods purchase process and understanding how the consumers make their buying decisions. Available evidence indicated that individual attitudes towards organic foods were mainly based on beliefs about organic food benefits and they are one of the main determinants of the purchasing behavior of organic consumers (Aertsens et al., 2009). The identified beliefs included the best taste of the organic foods, environmental aspects, health issues and the certification of the origin (Botonaki, Polymeros, Tsakiridou & Mattas, 2006; Loureiro, McClusey & Mittelhammer, 2001; Magistris & Gracia, 2008). The three main factors identified for purchasing organic foods in Ambato were related to the beliefs about benefits in expected health, better taste, general quality, and environment. In the Western countries the belief in private attributes (i.e. health contribution) is more relevant than the interest in public attributes (i.e. environment) (Aldondo-Ochoa & Almansa-Saez, 2009). Results obtained in Ambato point to the same direction because the first two identified factors were related to self-beliefs while the third one was related to altruistic benefits. In most of studies, the expected benefits for health have been reported as the main reason to purchase organic foods (Botonaki, Polymeros, Tsakiridou & Mattas, 2006; Chen, 2009; Zagata, 2012). This study confirmed the relevance of health as the main reason to purchase organic foods in Ambato. Organic consumers believe that organic foods are healthier; also, PCA results showed a strong relationship between health and healthy food. The second reason to buy organic foods in Ambato is their best taste and general quality; organic consumers also believe that organic food is tasty. The belief in the best taste is one of the key drivers to buy organic fruits and vegetables, which are the most kind of commercialized organic foods in Ecuador. (McEachern & McClean, 2002; Zhao, Chambers, Matta, Loughin & Carey, 2007). The third determinant for the organic consumption in Ambato was the expected environmental benefits. Different studies have showed a clear positive relation between environment compromise of the consumers and their positive attitude towards organic foods’ consumption (Lea & Worsley, 2005; Mondelaers, Verbeke & Van Huylenbroeck, 2009). Nevertheless, the relationship between local origin and organic purchase is generally weak. Even, there is more interest and more favorable attitude towards local food than to organic food (Adams & Salois, 2010; Padel & Foster, 2005). In this way, In Ecuador the differences between local origin and organic foods are not clearly perceived, due to the fact that the most commercialized organic foods come local origin and they are sold in short food supply chains, they are directly sent the local producer to the final consumer. This explains the strong relation between environment and local origin. According to Aertsens et al. (2009), positive attitudes towards organic foods do not always lead to the purchase behavior. This is explained by the influence of other factors which take part as intermediaries between attitudes and behaviors besides modulate the formation of both (Zepeda & Deal, 2009). These groups of factors are considered by the Alphabet Theory as “context factors”. The context is made up by external positive or negative influences on food purchases, such as price or seasonal availability (Morales, Carrigan & Szmigin, 2012). The fourth determinant factor for the organic consumers was the context, comprising brand, packing, availability, and price. The current context has a moderate influence on the purchasing behavior of Ambato’s consumers, except in group I. The purchasing behavior of organic consumers should be aligned with the attitudes and beliefs previously described. The price and price differences between conventional and organic foods were among the main factors for not purchasing organic foods (Aertsens et al., 2009; Padel & Foster, 2005). Organic food prices are higher than conventional ones according to all consumers’ beliefs; nevertheless, PCA results showed that this is not the key factor to organic consumers. For conventional consumers, the price–quality relation is the main determinant purchasing factor, which showed a more sensibility regarding price than organic consumers. These results support that strong preference of consumers to organic foods is not explained by high prices; while conventional consumers showed a high sensibility to price (Enneking, 2002; Stolz, Stolze, Janssen & Hamm, 2011). Moreover, the positive relation between price and quality of conventional consumers suggest a positive attitude towards “high price for high quality”. In consequence, the strategy of decrease in the price of organic foods could be considered as a low quality for non–organic consumers. About half of consumers in Ambato did not properly understand the differences between organic and conventional foods. Consequently, one strategy for enhancing the consumption will be to promote the specific organic foods benefits. Organic consumers are interested in both self and altruistic benefits: For group III, self-benefits are more important, for group II, the altruistic ones, and both for the group I. For non–organic consumers is interesting to improve their perception about the price– quality relation of organic foods. In this study, the evaluated socio–demographic factors presented a low influence in organic foods purchase. The identified consumer’s groups were differenced by their attitudes and purchase preferences, although, concrete socio–demographic profiles were not showed, except gender and occupation. The socio–demographic characteristics of the consumers are not useful to explain attitudes or positive beliefs on organic foods and to predict the intention or purchasing behavior, according to Aertsens et al. (2009). The women Ambato showed a higher tendency to purchase organic foods similar to what occidental literature reports (Lea & Worsley, 2005). Different studies have showed that women present a more positive attitude regarding organic foods, due to the fact that they have a greater awareness towards healthy food (Stobbekaar, Casimir, Borhuis, Marks, Meijer & Zebeda, 2006). In Ecuador, this could be the main reason why the consumers of group III were most interested in health and nutritional value. This study has been conducted in Ambato for its social and economics characteristics, which could be considered representative to Ecuadorian urban society. Nevertheless, Ecuador is a heterogeneous developing country, with a notorious imbalance socioeconomic situation especially between rural and urban zones. Anyway, this is the first study focused on the organic market in Ecuador that explores determinants of organic purchasing decision according to types of consumers. These results should be completed with future studies focused on other cities or rural areas.
Despite the different socio–economical context in the developing countries Latin America the findings suggest that the Ecuadorian organic sector follows the developing patterns identified in the Western countries. This implies that the promotion and practical support for the organic sector should be focused on strengthening positive attitudes towards organic purchases. Both self and altruistic beliefs are interesting dimensions to be considered in organic consumers while contextual factors have a moderate influence on the purchasing behaviour. Regarding non–organic consumers, it is necessary improving their perception of the price–quality relation of organic foods. The socio–demographic characteristics are not useful to predict the purchasing behaviour.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declare that there is no potential conflict of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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