Department of Management

Consumer evaluation of imported organic food products in emerging economies in Asia

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Consumer evaluation of imported organic food products in emerging economies in Asia Introduction Consumers in emerging economies such as Thailand and China have started to demand organic food products – mainly due to food safety reasons (Ortega, Wang, Wu, & Hong, 2015; Roitner-Schobesberger, Darnhofer, Somsook, & Vogl, 2008; C. L. Wang, Li, Barnes, & Ahn, 2012; O. Wang, De Steur, Gellynck, & Verbeke, 2015). However, since the domestic organic markets are still not well-established in Thailand and China, import is needed to satisfy consumer demand. Hence, there is a huge potential for export of organic food products to these markets from countries, where the organic markets are more established and able to provide consumers with safe products. It is well-known that consumers are more willing to buy products originating from some countries than others and that they perceive some favourite brand-country combinations in every product category (Pappu, Quester, & Cooksey, 2006, 2007). A country-of-origin-effect strong enough to drive purchasing decisions appears when a country’s equity is high and there is a good product-country match (S. A. Ahmed, d'Astous, & Petersen, 2011; Herz & Diamantopoulos, 2013; Roth & Romeo, 1992). Country of origin (COO) has consistently been found among the extrinsic cues consumers use in product evaluations, along with price and brand name (Dekhili & Achabou, 2014; Essoussi & Zahaf, 2009; Liu & Johnson, 2005; Mauracher, Tempesta, & Vecchiato, 2013), shaping consumers’ perceptions, preferences and purchase behaviour (Newman, Turri, Howlett, & Stokes, 2014). A wide range of contingencies and moderators of COO effects has been identified (Pharr, 2005; Verlegh & Steenkamp, 1999) – also for food products (Z. U. Ahmed et al., 2004; Chryssochoidis, Krystallis, & Perreas, 2007; Hoffmann, 2000; Mauracher et al., 2013). However, little is known about consumer preferences for imported organic food in emerging economies in Asia. The growing demand for organic food products – also in Asia – has also given rise to literature on consumer preferences for organic foods (Aschemann-Witzel & Zielke, 2015; Hemmerling, Hamm, & Spiller, 2015; Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Shultz, & Stanton, 2007; Rödiger & Hamm, 2015; Sirieix, Kledal, & Sulitang, 2011). Although there are many studies of consumer preferences for COO on the one hand and organic food on the other, research on COO effects in the context of organic food is scarce (Thøgersen, Pedersen, Paternoga, Schwendel, & Aschemann-Witzel, 2017). More specifically, there is a lack of research on how consumers in emerging markets evaluate imported organic food products. A few studies have focused on understanding and comparing preferences for domestic versus imported organic foods (Dransfield et al., 2005; Schjøll, 2016; Xie, 2015). These studies confirm that a domestic country bias is also – maybe even especially – evident in the case of organic food products. However, there seems to be no published research investigating consumer preferences for (i.e., evaluation and choices of) imported organic products comparing different countries in emerging organic markets. This study assesses the combined effect of organic certification and COO on consumer preferences for organic food products in Thailand and China. These countries are compared, since the consumer demand after organic products is developing – but at different stages – in the two countries. The aim is to improve the understanding of consumers’ preferences for imported organic food products in these two different emerging economies in Asia. Methods Data was collected in the big cities of Bangkok, Thailand and Guangzhou, China (8.2 and 17 mill. citizens, respectively), since the supply of organic imported products were assumed to be richer here and hence, also the organic oriented consumers. The study focused on organic vegetables (carrots), dairy products and meat (pork) in order to control for potential differences between product types. Two types of data collections were conducted; in-store interviews and focus groups. There were several reasons for this multi-method approach: It allowed access to different types of consumers (such as those volunteering for a focus group and those who agree on a short in-store interview) and in situations, where they had time to think (focus group) and were caught more “off guard”. The study design also included within-method data triangulation, where data were collected from a number of places (different stores and two focus groups in each country) and at various times (different days and time of day). Also, several in-store interviewers instead of one were used to balance the subjective influence of individuals. The aim with this triangulation was to enhance the validity of the findings and reduce inherent method bias. In-store interviews Data collection took place in 15 different grocery stores in Guangzhou and 16 different stores in Bangkok. The stores were a mix of retailers and larger specialty stores with a bigger supply of organic products. A total of 139 in-store interviews were conducted with organic consumers in China (70 in March 2016 and 69 in March 2017). In Thailand, 81 in-store interviews were conducted in August 2016. The face-to-face consumer intercept interviews lasted approximately 5 minutes and were conducted with individuals inside the grocery stores by either the meat cooler, dairy shelves or fruit and vegetables section. The interviews were conducted by MBA-students from local universities, who were thoroughly instructed by the authors. They followed a structured interview guide designed to elicit consumer knowledge of and associations to COO and organic products and the importance, preferences and reasons for buying organic products. The interview guide was developed to obtain reliable answers and allow comparison between participants. By intercepting consumers spontaneously at the shelf, the aim was to retrieve only what was accessible from memory in the buying situation. At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer introduced himself and briefly explained that the answers were used for the purpose of a research project. The actual aim of the study was disguised to avoid a potential bias through unintended triggering of associations with the topic. Before starting questioning, each respondent was asked for permission to audio-tape the interview. The audio recordings were transcribed by the interviewers and translated to English. Another native speaker checked the audio recordings, the transcriptions and translations for any inconsistencies. Focus groups Focus groups were also conducted with consumers in both countries. In Bangkok, Thailand, two focus groups were conducted in August 2016 with 8 and 9 participants, respectively, with five females and three males in each. The participants’ age was between 25 and 59 years and the majority with masters’ degrees. In Guangzhou, China, two focus groups were conducted with 9 and 10 participants (5 and 6 females, respectively) in March 2016. The participants’ age was between 25 and 37 years and the majority with masters’ degrees. The focus groups were audio recorded with the consent of the participants, and the participants were informed that they were allowed to leave the focus group at any time. The semi-structured interview guide contained the following themes: country associations, match between country and food products and organic food products including knowledge of and trust in organic labelling. The focus groups lasted between 1 and 1.5 hours and were moderated by native speakers. The audio recordings were transcribed in the native languages by the native moderator of the focus groups and then translated to English by another person. Then the moderator compared the audio recordings, the transcriptions and the English translations to ensure consistency. Data analysis Content analysis using Nvivo 11 was conducted for each data collection method in each country – both by native speakers and by the first author. First an open coding was conducted, then a thematic coding following the themes in the interview guides followed. Then the analysis for the two different data collection methods were compared for each country and then compared across the two countries – hence, the triangulation had several layers. Results The analyses of both in-store interviews and focus groups revealed both similarities and differences between the two countries in how COO played a role for the consumers’ buying intention, when it came to organic products. In both countries, organic consumers underlined the importance of trust in the organic certification; whether the certification was correct and lived up to stated standards. This was more important than the COO per se. There was a very strong orientation among both Thai and Chinese organic consumers towards organic products from more mature markets (for instance Australia, New Zealand and Europe), since the organic production here was perceived as better established and with better and more in-dependent control- and certification authorities than in Thailand and China. The distrust in domestic organic certification was most pronounced in China, where most consumers stated they did not trust the Chinese organic labelling and the control system. Even if the labelling was foreign (such as USDA), but written with Chinese letters, they did not trust it. A certification in English was perceived more trustworthy. Also in Thailand, there was more trust in products labelled with international certifications (such as the American organic label, USDA). There was not much trust in domestic organic products, but there were some participants, who preferred organic products from Thailand – especially if they were a part of the ”Thai Royal Project”. In both Thailand and China many of the consumers perceived products’ COO as important, but price, brands and familiarity with the product also influenced their decision. COO was especially considered when evaluating the quality and safety of the products. There were different reasons for buying imported organic products. The most pronounced reason in both countries were due to the sake of their family (especially children) and their individual health. Especially in China, consumers referred to different food scandals that had jeopardized health, and imported organic products were perceived as more safe and clean and a mean to avoid such jeopardizing of health. The mentioning of scandals were not as pronounced in Thailand, and a number of Thai consumers stated that choosing imported organic products depended on whether the product could not in other ways be bought on the Thai market. Thai participants preferred organic products from Japan, Australia and New Zealand due to food safety and quality control. This were also the main reasons for Chinese consumers to choose organic products from Australia, New Zealand and Europe, but also environmental concern played a role. The degree of animal welfare and pollution also influenced Chinese consumers’ attitudes towards organic products from different COOs. Discussion The results imply that there is a growing awareness among Chinese and Thai consumers towards organic products – especially the imported ones, since these are associated with food safety and quality control in both countries. The study also provides evidence of the array of variables influencing consumer preferences for foreign COOs. These findings expand the scarce research on COO effects in the context of organic food. In particular, this study offers exporting countries insights into how imported organic products are perceived in emerging markets such as China and Thailand. Hence, there is a potential for organic exporters from especially the more mature markets (Europe, Australia, New Zealand) to export organic products to these two different emerging markets. The results suggest that the focus should be on promoting organic food products as safe, with high quality and controlled by trustworthy authorities. 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Original languageEnglish
Publication yearMay 2017
StatePublished - May 2017
EventInternational Food Marketing Research Symposium - Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Duration: 14 Jun 201716 Jun 2017
Conference number: 6

Conference

ConferenceInternational Food Marketing Research Symposium
Number6
LocationDubrovnik
CountryCroatia
CityDubrovnik
Period14/06/201716/06/2017

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