Green Living: 'Normalizing' Organic Food

New research in Denmark by Dr. Hjelmar from the Institute of Governmental Research, identified two main ‘concepts’ to explain organic produce purchase habits : convenience behaviour and reflexive practices influenced by political or ethical considerations. Organic consumers whose buying decisions are related to price, ease of purchase and balue for money exhibit convenience behaviour.

However reflexive buyers place issues like health and animal welfare above convenience criteria. 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.

An increasing number of Danes have become occasional or regular buyers of organic foods over the last 20 years. Denmark has the highest number of organic food buyers in the EU.  The organic food industry is expected to grow and many major agribusinesses are investing in it. The research wants to show what kind of consumer behaviour that would boost organic sales.

Dr Hjelmar said that qualitative methods such as this survey provide "a potentially deeper insight into shopping behavior than quantitative studies." The results from the study proves that  there are a number of factors which lead consumers to choose organic food and these include availability, price, perceived quality, family considerations, political/ethical concerns and health concerns. In his study he revealed that the availability of organic produce in local supermarkets were the biggest reason people bought them as people wanted the convenience of "one-stop-shopping."

Convenience-minded consumers are more likely to buy organic food if the products are more visible. However political or ethical-minded consumers have various considerations when buying organic food including personal health, animal welfare, environmental concerns, taste and origin of the produce.

These practices of buying organic with an ethical motivation can be sparked by major life changes like having children, environmental awareness, media exposes or even likelihood of developing certain health problems. Some of the conclusions of the study might be stating the obvious but having an empirical study always helps.

Such studies not only help in having solid data behind buying behavior, it also helps in understanding how to promote organic food. The same study conducted in different countries might even give varying results. People in other countries might not buy organic food because of the high mark up price. In China for example, organic produce can have a mark-up of up to 700%!

In the UK farming subsidies cost the taxpayer about £3 billion pounds every year. The government spends £120 million of taxpayers’ money every year just to clean up pesticide residues from farming which pollute water systems. According to the Soil Association, if £1.2 billion every year is spent for the next five years, all chemical farms can be converted to organic farms. It also means that the UK could theoretically grow a surplus of organic produce, exporting it to countries where demand outstrips supply of organics.

Danish farmers use organic techniques to produce a wide range of agricultural foodstuffs sufficient for 15 million people - three times the population of Denmark. With a little bit of "reflexive" shopping on government policies, organics can be the new norm, but who's listening?

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan © Organic Food at Pike Place Market, Seattle