The previous Norwegian government said it wanted organic food to make up 15% of food consumption by 2020. Between 2003 and 2012 more than 40 million NOK (€4.34m) was spent on development support for production and consumption of organic food. Despite this, the market share of organic food in Norway has increased only marginally and accounts for about 1% of the total food market.
Researchers from the National Institute for Consumer Research in Norway said politics and research had traditionally focused on how consumers could be influenced to develop markets for sustainable food products - casting shoppers as "reflexive actors" with the power to change the present food system.
Yet these latest findings on the Norwegian organic market showed this type of “self-regulatory development” of organic food consumption could only go so far.
Indeed the results of two consumer surveys carried out in 2000 and 2013 found while organic food was considered more available in stores in 2013 than in 2000, trust in the labelling system for, and the quality of, organic food had decreased.
The surveys showed there was a growing number of consumers who saw ‘no benefit’ to buying organic food.
“From a policy perspective it is alarming that more people say that they find no benefits from purchasing organic food. Among many of the respondents there appears to be almost an active resistance against organic food,” they wrote in the Journal of Cleaner Production.
They said it was crucial that explanations for this discrepancy between policy and state investment and consumer perspectives on organic were found.
Although still niche, organic has been held up as something of a symbol for an alternative, sustainable food system and many EU governments have set organic targets as a result.
If the government’s 15% goal is to be reached, interest in organic food must be stimulated considerably and perceived barriers among consumers against buying organic food overcome, they said.
Part of the state budget was allocated to promote the Norwegian organic certification scheme Debio, yet the survey revealed confidence in this label had dropped.
“The reasons for this may be that it is harder today to navigate in the ‘jungle’ of different labelling schemes. Over the last few years there have been more different schemes for food on the Norwegian market, and it may be unclear who is behind these schemes," they wrote.
They said this differed from the Danish eco-label, which is state controlled and therefore commanded more respect and confidence from shoppers.
The paper was funded by the Norwegian Research Council as part of the Programme for Sustainable Production and Consumption.
Source: Journal of Cleaner Production
Vol 92, pp. 91–99, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.12.055
“The role of consumers in transitions towards sustainable food consumption. The case of organic food in Norway”
Authors:G. Vittersø and T. Tangeland