Organic Food Marketing Journal of Food Products Marketing

Journal of Food Products Marketing

Articles examining aspects of organic food demand and supply have been well represented in the Journal of Food Products Marketing.  This special virtual issue revisits literature on organic food products and highlights both classic articles and more recent publications which use unique approaches to examine important and novel aspects of this market.  The articles selected for this special virtual issue also draw upon examples from a variety of product categories and geographic settings across three themes: 1) studies examining consumer understanding, preferences, and demand for organic products; 2) studies which use understanding of consumer preferences to inform supply decisions and, 3) studies which examine some portion of the farm to retailer organic supply chain. 

The first theme of this special issue focuses on consumer demand for organic products. The classic study by Dettmann and Dimitri (2009) was among the first develop a demographic profile of U.S. organic food consumers using supermarket scanner data. Using a Heckman selection model, the authors found that households with higher levels of education are more likely, and older households and African American were less likely, to purchase organic vegetables. Household income was found to be positively correlated with the decision to purchase organic vegetables but, unexpectedly, was not related to decisions regarding how much to buy.

Other literature in this theme considers consumer use of, and attitudes concerning, the labeling of organic products.  Results presented in Annunziata et al. (2011) suggest that Italian organic food consumers can be segmented into three groups based on their ethical motivations for consuming these products, perceptions of information on the label, and confidence in the sources of information. In a study of German consumers, Hasselbach and Roosen (2015) found the reported willingness-to-pay (WTP) for organic foods varied by product and was impacted by other label claims.  In particular, a positive interaction between WTP for local and organic production was found suggesting that higher prices can be charged for organic products which are also produced in the “local” area. 

In a study of six European countries, Hemmerling et al. (2016) assessed consumer perceptions of “core organic taste” which is characterized by preference for natural flavor, less sweetness, intensive aroma, and other ‘wholesome ‘ attributes.  Key findings reveal considerable heterogeneity across countries in preferences for the “elements” of core organic taste.  Findings from this, and other studies in this theme, have important implications for potential consumer demand and strategies used to market organic products. 

Our second theme capture studies which explicitly bridge literatures focused on food consumer and supplier considerations.  By way of example, most economic analyses assume that the most direct substitute for a given organic product is its conventional counterpart.  Denver and Christensen (2014) used a choice experiment to assess the way Dutch consumers perceived and categorized organic and conventional food products. Consumers who consumed larger amounts and were more confident in the benefits of organic foods, were more likely to group food products according to whether or not they were organic (“organic first”) rather than what type of product they were (“product first”). Less committed organic consumers instead grouped foods by the type of product. These results have important implications for grocery store layout and organic product placement within stores. 

A final literature theme evaluates various aspects of the supply of organic products. Among the first studies of its type, Naspetti et al. (2011) examined the structure and performance of organic food supply chains in eight European Countries. While some evidence of collaboration along organic supply chains was found in instances where there was higher food quality or safety risk, the level of trust and collaboration among supply-chain partners was generally low.  The authors conclude that the performance of organic supply chains would improve with additional collaboration and information sharing among partners concerning, in particular, cost management, inventory planning, logistics and product development. 

Hooker and Shanahan (2012) examined spatial dependencies within U.S. organic supply chains. State-level annual Gini coefficients were estimated and used to assess trends in regional agglomeration in the U.S. organic market.  Strong evidence of increasing concentration of organic producers was observed.  Benefits of this geographic concentration may accrue to farmers in the form of better access to producer associations and input suppliers, technology spillovers, and the likely increased opportunity to purchase inputs or sale of outputs through cooperatives.

Focusing instead on retailing, Dimitri et al. (2017), conducted a case study of the organic food landscape in Manhattan New York.  Site visits were used to determine if a given retailer sold organic products and, if so, how many and what types of organic products were carried. From this data, an organic foods product index was estimated for each store and the extent of spatial clustering of organic food availability was assessed.  Findings suggest that once a decision was made to carry organic products, neighborhood characteristics did not influence the decision of how many organic products to carry.   This unique research approach enabled a nuanced examination of the food landscape and organic food access.

A few lessons worth further consideration emerge from these papers. First, there is a high degree of heterogeneity among organic consumers which makes generalizing advertising or other marketing efforts across countries, and in some cases, across consumer segments within the same country, challenging. Second, there are a number of other product claims which are viewed by some consumers as complements to its being organic.  Among the considered articles, this was found to be particularly true of ‘local’ production or processing of organic foods.  Third, the evidence from the U.S. (Hooker and Shanahan, 2012) suggests that there is increasing concentration in organic production, while in the European market consumers prefer ‘local’ organic products (Hasselbach and Roosen, 2015) and supply chains are characterized by a lack of coordination (Naspetti et al., 2011). These streams of literature suggest that organic markets in the U.S. and E.U. may be taking divergent paths to their growth. There is a need for future studies to address these and other important organic food marketing issues.  

This has been guest edited by Kathryn Boys and Christiane Schroeter