A majority of consumer respondents, 59%, agreed that it is difficult to find country of origin and grower information. These results point to a need for growers, processors, and retailers to provide consumers with more details about their products. Table 1.Food system information needsAgreeDisagreeNeutral/Not SureI already know enough about how my food is grown,processed,transported,and/or sold15.8%59.8%24.4%It is difficult to find out information about how my food is grown,processed,trans-ported and/or sold59.0%12.6%28.4%Eight food system-related topics were identified as themes that interested the focus groups; these topics were then presented in the written survey (table 2). Not surprisingly, the scores indicated that survey respondents were most interested in food safety and nutrition; nearly all respondents ranked these topics near the top of a scale from 1 to 10. A number of surveys have consistently shown these to be important concerns, even for those with few other food-related interests.2,3One focus group participant highlighted this fact when stating, “Who knows what the heck is in half the stuff we buy, I mean I don’t … Frankly, I don’t care as long as it doesn’t get me sick.” This was a minority view, however, as most focus group participants also had a number of concerns beyond their personal health. The survey results supported this broader concern. Treatment of animals involved in food production, environmental impacts, and working conditions.
CENTER RESEARCH BRIEF #5 | Winter 2005Consumer Interest in the Food System2conditions all received an average score of greater than 7 (table 2). In the focus groups, the treatment of animals elicited the most emotion. Several participants had toured slaugh-terhouses and said this experience had a lasting effect on them. Others had changed their consumption habits after learning of the way some animals are treated, such as veal calves. For some people the interest in animal welfare may also overlap with personal health concerns. For example, a focus group participant discussing the inhumane aspects of confinement animal pro-duction asked, “then are you eating growth hormone and … or whatever you’re putting in them, and what does that do? I mean, in the long run you know, what’s that doing to you?” On the issue of environmental im-pacts, focus group participants most frequently expressed concerns related to pesticides and genetic engineering. Some participants were also concerned about irradiation and the impacts of food packaging or food waste. Several participants noted that environmental impacts were much more important to them when compared to other con-cerns about the food system.On the topic of working conditions and wages, focus group participants were interested in the treatment of farm workers, such as the backbreaking la-bor performed for very low pay, and the exploitation of migrant workers. Workers involved in other aspects of the food system, such as processing or retail, were not discussed as frequently. When asked specifically to list criteria they would like to see improved for workers involved in the food system, focus group participants mentioned higher wages, protection from pesti-cide exposure, health care, education, adequate food, limited working hours, and adequate housing.The influence of large corporations had an average score of 6.6. This theme emerged in all of the focus groups, though it was much more strongly held by some individuals. One participant said, “The huge conglomerates that are controlling agriculture really, re-ally bother me,” and others named specific multinational food processors and chemical companies whose mo-tives they distrusted. Some participants blamed these corporations for the low prices that farmers receive for their products and the loss of family farms.How far food travels was the low-est-ranked topic on the survey, with a score of 5.8. Focus group participants had various reasons for their interest in this topic, involving economic, food safety, or environmental concerns. Most focus group participants wanted to know the country of origin of their food. “I guess I’d like to know [where fruits and vegetables are from] because I’d like to know are we producing our food or are we actually reaching out into other countries?” said one par-ticipant. Some participants wanted to support the U.S. economy, while others went further and expressed interest in supporting their local economies. Another stated reason for wanting this information was concern about the safety of imported food, such as thepresence of pesticides banned in the U.S.or contamination with microbial diseases.Finally,some participants wanted to know how much fossil fuel was con-sumed in transporting their food.Of 60 survey respondents who iden-tified additional topics in a write-in section, 22% had reservations about genetically engineered food, and 15% wanted more information on pesticides. Other interests identified by more than one respondent were fresh-ness, where food was grown, and the fate of food waste.PREFERRED SOURCES OF INFORMATIONWe also wanted to know the formats that people would choose to obtain more information about their food, and asked members of the focus groups which ones they preferred. The catego-ries in table 3 represent the themes that emerged. These information source options were then presented to survey respondents, along with instructions to choose up to 4. Table 3.Preferred sources of informationProduct labels81.3%Brochure or retail display76.4%Newspapers/magazines/books51.4%Web pages/the Internet46.1%TV/videotape/DVD26.3%Tours of farms and/or processing plants18.7% Radio13.4%Talking to seller11.8%Productlabelswerethemostpopular choice for obtaining more information about food, selected by 81.3% of sur-vey respondents. A brochure or retail display was a close second at 76.4%. These results suggest that consumers want information about food when they are actually making their pur-chasing decisions. Print media and web-based information were selected by approximately half of respondents. A number of focus group participants expressed an interest in labels, but also wanted more detailed information via a website. RANKING PRODUCTION STANDARDSA recent trend in food marketing is an increase in the number of “eco-la-bels”—seals or logos that signify that the product meets certain standards. These standards may include environ-mental protection or other criteria, such as social responsibility. Organic, which in 2002 became a national stan-Table 2.Level of interest in food system- related topic.Score of 10 equals great amount of interest,1 equals none at all.MeanStandard DeviationSafety9.41.4Nutrition8.91.7Treatment of animals7.42.7Environmental impacts7.32.4Working conditions7.22.6Wages6.72.7Influence of large corporations6.62.9How far food travels5.83.1
CENTER RESEARCH BRIEF #5 | Winter 2005Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems3dard accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is currently the most prominent eco-label. Organic food sales have increased by at least 20% a year for the last 15 years, a trend that is expected to continue. Focus group participants wanted information on an eco-label to be in “plain English” and easily understood. They also emphasized that any label had to “mean what it says.” They were very skeptical of claims made about their food, particularly those that were not well defined, such as “natural.” A third party certification system is one way to ensure consumer confidence in claims, although focus group participants were not very familiar with the process. Education about how third party cer-tification works may be necessary to overcome current levels of consumer distrust in food marketers.We asked survey respondents to evaluate five potential standards that could be represented by third party cer-tified eco-labels. These standards were based on the themes that emerged from the focus groups. We did not include criteria related to safety or nutrition because making claims in these areas can be very contentious given the cur-rent state of scientific knowledge. We also excluded environmental criteria, because most of the issues raised by focus group participants related to this topic, such as pesticides and genetic engineering, were already prohibited under the USDA Organic label. The resulting standards were–Humane: meat, dairy products, or eggs from animals that haven’t been treated cruellyLiving wage: provides above-poverty wages to workers involved in producing the foodLocally grown: grown within 50 miles of point of purchaseSmall-scale: supports small farms or businessesU.S. grown: grown in the United StatesBecause most focus group par-ticipants were concerned about both workers’ wages and working condi-tions, for simplicity we chose just one of these topics. We selected a living wage because it was discussed more frequent-ly in the focus groups. For the distance food travels, on the other hand, some members of the focus groups wanted to support local food production, while others were more interested in purchas-ing food that was not imported from other countries, and we distinguished these criteria.We asked respondents to imagine a product that was identical except for two of the standards, and to choose the one that they preferred (i.e., locally grown OR humane). All possible com-binations were presented in a series of pairs. The result was a ranking of all five standards for each respondent (table 4). We learned from pre-testing the survey that these decisions were very difficult for most people. Many respondents said they would prefer food that represented all of these standards.Table 4.Ranking of standards criteriaHumane30.5%Locally grown22.0%Living wage16.5%U.S.grown5.9%Small-scale5.2%“Humane” was most often the top-ranked choice; it was chosen in every comparison by over 30% of respon-dents. Although not yet widespread, there are three humane labels in the U.S.: 1) the Animal Welfare Institute’s Humane Husbandry criteria for pigs, rabbits, and ducks, are used by over 300 operations; 2) “Free Farmed” is administered by the American Hu-mane Association for 5 operations; 3) “Certified Humane,” which is partially funded by The Humane Society of the United States, currently certifies 15 operations.Although interest in how far food travels was not as highly rated as other topics (see table 1), locally grown was the second most preferred of the five potential eco-labels. This may be due to the fact that people prefer local prod-ucts for other attributes, such as taste and freshness. The non-profit organiza-tion FoodRoutes has partnered with organizations across the United States to implement “Buy Local” initiatives, some of which include local eco-labels. In California, the local partner Com-munity Alliance with Family Farmers has a “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign. Participating farmers and retailers dis-play a label that denotes the food was grown in either the Central Coast or Sacramento Valley of California. Living wage was the first choice of 16.5% of respondents. Currently, con-sumers interested in a living wage label can seek out the “Black Eagle” label. This label identifies produce from farms that have contracts with the United Farm Workers Union, which indicates “decent wages, benefits and working conditions.”4However, only 27 food-producing operations in the United States carry this label.An additional survey question asked respondents about their willingness to pay a price premium for strawberries that would guarantee a living wage and safe working conditions for farmwork-ers. After being told the regular price was $1.50 a pint, they were asked if they would pay 5 cents to $1.50 more for these standards, depending upon the version of the survey. The median price that people were willing to pay was $1.06, or a 71% increase over the regular price. Eighty-four percent of respondents were willing to pay a 3% increase of 5 cents. These figures indicate that there is consumer support for a domestic version of “fair trade” certified foods (see sidebar, next page), particularly if the price premium is small. Based on a typical piece rate for strawberry pickers of 10.5 to 12.5 cents per pint, increasing the price of a pint of strawberries by 5 cents could fund a 40% or greater increase in piece rate pay.Labels indicating U.S. grown and small-scale received much less support thantheotheroptions;theywerethefirst choice of fewer than 6% of respondents. This does not mean that respondents see these criteria as unimportant, only that they ranked them lower than the other criteria when forced to choose. U.S. grown, in particular, fared poorly in comparison with another geographic criteria, locally grown. However, a re-cent survey reported 86% of consumers
CENTER RESEARCH BRIEF #5 | Winter 2005Consumer Interest in the Food System4This Center Research Brief is part of a series reporting on Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems’research efforts.For more information,contact CASFS,1156 High St.,University of California,Santa Cruz,CA 95064,831.459-3240,www.ucsc.edu/casfs.Photo credits, page 1: Jon Kersey (top), Jim Leap (bottom)favored country-of-origin labeling for fresh produce.5Interestingly, the focus group participants had more trust in operations that were local, even if they were very large, which may partially explain why support for small-scale criteria ranked last. PURCHASING BEHAVIORSAs part of the survey we asked respondents whether they purchased organic and locally produced food. Three out of four survey respondents reported buying organic food; nearly one in three said they purchased or-ganic products at least once a week.Sources of organic foods have ex-panded rapidly in recent years, and now include retail outlets such as su-permarkets and warehouse clubs. Local food sources have also been increasing, as evidenced by the expo-nential growth in farmers’ markets. Approximately half of respondents obtained food from gardens or retail outlets dedicated to local food, such as farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture subscriptions, roadside stands, or U-pick operations. However, less than 15% reported us-ing these sources at least weekly. Local food sources are much less convenient for consumers to access than 24-hour supermarkets, which may explain why purchasing locally is a less frequently reported behavior when compared with organic purchasing. Table 5.Purchasing patterns for obtainingorganic and local* foodPurchase organic74.5%Infrequently44.4%At least once a week30.1%Obtain food from local source48.0%Infrequently33.5%At least once a week14.5%*Local was defined as gardens, farmers’ markets,CSA subscriptions, roadside stands, or U-pick operations.IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATORS,MARKETERS,AND CONSUMERSOur survey results indicate that growers, processors, and retailers could do a better job of providing their customers with information on the way that food is produced, processed, transported, and sold. They should recognize safety and nutrition as con-sumers’ top concerns, but they should also devote attention to ethical issues, particularly the humane treatment of animals, environmental impacts, and social justice issues. Because respon-dents identified labels as their preferred source of information, eco-labels may be an appropriate way to address these matters. A majority of respondents indicated a willingness to pay more for strawber-ries that embodied a living wage and safe working conditions, even at price premiums up to 71% higher. The rapid growth of organic food sales, as well as sales of fair trade products from other countries, suggests that promoting the ethical values (such as a living wage) represented in food will continue to be a promising marketing strategy. Consumers who are interested in ethical aspects of the food system should recognize that their purchasing decisions can influence the way their food is grown, processed, and distrib-uted. They should also recognize that this strategy of change works best for choices that are currently available, such as organic, and is far less effective for creating new alternatives, such as a domestic fair labor practices label. Consumers will have to express their concerns to growers, processors, retail-ers, and policy makers if the current food system is not meeting their needs; to be taken seriously this may requireamplifyingtheirvoicesbyworking with advocacy organizations, rather than relying solely on individual efforts. – Phil Howard1Further details of this study’s methodology are available by request to [email protected]
, or online at www.ucsc.edu/casfs. 2McBride, J. 1997. Food safety is major concern of shoppers. Washington DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. September 17. www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/1997/970917.htm 3Steptoe, A., T. Pollard, and J. Wardle. 1995. Development of a measure of the mo-tives underlying the selection of food: the food choice questionnaire. Appetite25:267-84.4United Farm Workers, 2004. UFW Union Label of the Month. Keene, CA. www.ufw.org/ulmth.htm5The Packer. 2002. Fresh Trends: 2002 profile of the fresh produce consumer. Lenexa, KS: Vance Publishing.6Fair Trade Federation. 2003. Report on fair trade trends in U.S., Canada and the Pacific Rim. Washington, DC. www.fairtradefederation.com/2003_trends_re-port.pdfThe Fair Trade Eco-LabelAnother eco-label enjoying rapid growth is “Fair Trade.” Fair trade is a term that applies only to select, imported products that are certified in the U.S. by a non-profit organization, Transfair USA. The standards ensure that grower cooperatives receive a minimum price, or that workers are paid a fair wage. Although the market share is much smaller than organic (which itself comprises less than 2% of total food sales), sales of fair trade products such as coffee and tea increased by more than 40% in the U.S. from 2001 to 2002,6and have recently expanded to include fruits, such as bananas. Participants in the focus groups were all familiar with the organic label, but most were unfamiliar with fair trade labels. Almost ev-eryone, even those who could define fair trade and reported purchasing fair trade products, easily confused the term with “free trade.” Free trade generally refers to treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which eliminates certain tariffs for imported goods but does not provide a minimum price or wage.