The quality of animal-derived foods can be discerned in different ways. According to the review authors from Università della Basilicata in Potenza, Italy, food scientists tend to measure aspects like pH, colour and chemical composition, whereas consumers look at sensory aspects like taste, odour, appearance and texture.
However consumers are increasingly basing their views on so-called credence factors which are based on perceptions or marketing claims, but which are not evident at the moment of consumption. Credence factors include nutritional values, and welfare standards adhered to during the production process.
The reviewers found evidence that consumers are relying more and more on extrinsic clues and credence factors, and that animal welfare is becoming increasingly important in the hierarchy of societal issues.
They found evidence that “if expectations are negatively disconfirmed, the hedonic ratings and consumer willingness to pay move towards the expectations induced by information on animal welfare according to the sensitivity of different groups of consumers”.
They also suggest that labelling, together with scientifically validating monitoring schemes that cover the whole production process from farming to slaughter, could help promote higher incomes for farmers and enterprises specialising in welfare foods, as consumers are prepared to pay more for such products.
Legislation, on the other hand, can set minimum welfare standards but cannot provide that price advantage.
“Further studies are needed to verify whether the premium consumers place on animal welfare friendly products in terms of willingness to pay is at least as large as the price premium needed to cover the extra costs linked to increased animal welfare standards,” they wrote.
Ideas for Europe
Last year the European Commission outlined a number of labelling options to help consumers’ identify animal welfare-friendly products and incentivise producers to improve welfare.
Voluntary animal welfare schemes in the EU do exist, but there is no harmonised scheme and there is confusion amongst consumers about the standards they represent. Schemes in use include organic labelling, schemes run by various animal charities like the RSPCA’s Freedom Food, retailer’s schemes, and other marks like the Red Tractor, which may only refer to minimum legal requirements.
EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou drew attention to the benefits for the food industry, saying better labelling would be a “win-win” for consumers and producers.
“Producers applying higher standards can market their products more effectively,” she said.
It is also suggesting that a European Network for Reference Centres be established.
Two recent surveys indicate that animal welfare is playing a greater role in food purchasing decisions in the UK, beating food additives as the most worrying issue in consumers’ minds.
Market researcher Mintel has found that as many as 4 in 10 UK shoppers say they are concerned about animal welfare overall - 46 per cent of women and 34 per cent of men. The other big concerns were British origin (a priority for 37 per cent), and food additives (36 per cent), and desire for locally produced foods (35 per cent).
Meanwhile, data analysis by charity Compassion in World Farming from the 12 months up to 22 March 2010 showed an increase in sales of free range, barn and organic eggs compared to the previous year – from 62.2 per cent to 66.4 per cent.
Sales of higher welfare fresh chicken meat were also seen to have absorbed more of the growth in the chicken market. They increased 22 per cent in the last year, while standard chicken say only 0.1 per cent year on year growth.
Trends in Food Science & Technology (accepted for publication)
Consumer liking and willingness to pay high welfare animal-based products
Fabio Napolitano, Antonio Girolami and Ada Braghieri