Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Research
Organic or local?

September 30, 2009  ByMarg Land


September 30, 2009 — The
emerging trend toward healthier, fresher foods that are also gentle on the
environment presents new dilemmas for conscientious consumers.



September 30, 2009 — The
emerging trend toward healthier, fresher foods that are also gentle on the
environment presents new dilemmas for conscientious consumers.

Marketers tout the
attributes of organic food, while the local foods movement is gaining
popularity throughout the world. The organic-or-local debate is particularly
interesting when it comes to fruits and vegetables; proponents of each system
offer strong evidence to support their cause.

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Consumers frequent local
farmers’ markets because they expect higher quality, freshness and taste, and
lower prices. Organically grown produce is considered to be healthy and
environmentally friendly because of the use of less-damaging pesticides. But do
consumers really understand the difference between organic and local produce?
And what price are we willing to pay for these fresh, premium products? These
questions present challenges for growers, retailers, and ultimately, savvy
consumers.

Understanding consumer
preferences and willingness to pay for organically grown and locally grown
fresh produce helps producers and retailers determine what type of fresh
produce to grow and sell, what to emphasize in marketing efforts, and what
prices to charge. Intense competition from large-scale growers has forced
small-scale farmers to find new niche markets for their commodities through
value-added marketing. But information related to consumer preference and
willingness to pay for both organically and locally grown fresh produce is
sparse, presenting a fertile field for researchers.

Chengyan Yue, the Bachman
Endowed Chair in Horticultural Marketing at the University of Minnesota–Twin
Cities
and colleague Cindy Tong published the results of a research study in
HortScience that investigated consumers’ preferences and willingness to pay
(WTP) for organically grown and locally grown fresh produce. The research team
combined hypothetical and nonhypothetical experiments for the study, which was
conducted with 365 volunteer participants at the Minnesota State Fair in August
2008.

The researchers found that
consumers’ willingness to pay for organic produce was about the same as they
would pay for local produce. But the frequency of purchases was different for
organic and local produce. Participants were asked: “When you buy fruits and
vegetables, how often do you buy locally grown (or organically grown) fresh
produce when it is available?” For locally grown produce, 14 per cent of
participants chose always, 40 per cent chose most times, 38 per cent chose sometimes,
and eight per cent chose seldom or never. For organic produce, six per cent
chose always, 15 per cent chose most times, 39 per cent chose sometimes, and 40
per cent chose seldom or never.

Additionally, the team
determined that consumers consider freshness and safe to eat as very important
attributes when purchasing locally grown produce, and recommended these
attributes be stressed by local growers when promoting their products.
Consumers considered good for health and safe to eat as their main reasons for
purchasing organic produce, implying that these selling points be emphasized in
promotional materials.

Yue explained that the
study showed consumers' demographics affected their choice between organically
grown and locally grown produce. For instance, older consumers were less likely
than younger consumers to choose organic tomatoes, while females were more
likely than males to purchase locally grown tomatoes.

“Furthermore, we found
that consumers patronized different retail venues to purchase fresh produce
with different attributes,” said Yue. “The results of this research are very
important for small-scale farmers, market organizers, and sponsoring agencies
in making their production and marketing decisions.”


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