What is more important: Local or organic?

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

What is more important: Local or organic?

Related tags Organic food

Whether food is locally sourced is more important to consumers than whether it organic or not, according to new research conducted on organic and non-organic consumers in Germany. 

The study, published in Appetite​, investigated the differences in attitudes and willingness-to-pay (WTP) values between consumers who consider the organic production of food important and those who consider it less important – finding that organic-minded consumers have a stronger preference and estimated WTP for local as well as organic produce. 

Indeed, the study found that locally produced food, as opposed to food from neighbouring countries or non-EU countries, is preferred over organically produced food by both consumer groups – “which demonstrates that organic-minded consumers do not only consider organic food production as important, but also value local food production in a purchase situation,”​ said the team behind the study.

They added that while organic-minded consumers (OMC) view organic as the most important attribute, they also prefers locally produced food over food from far away and that ‘local’ complements organic in purchase decisions of OMC.

“In some cases OMC prefer locally produced food even more than organically produced food, indicating that both attributes complement each other for this consumer group,”​ wrote the researchers.

“Thus, retailers of organic food products should also focus on sourcing food locally and clearly communicate that these products are local,”​ they added.

Study details 

The research team tested German consumers’ attitudes towards organic food and local food, their food purchase behaviour and their personal characteristics.  

Consumers were divided into two groups according to their own assessment of the importance of purchasing organically produced food – either organic-minded consumers (OMC) or non-organic-minded consumers (NOMC). Computer-assisted surveys were then carried out in eight supermarkets across Germany in which both consumer groups were tested in a variety of choice experiments – all of which included a no-choice option and binding purchase decision. 

“This study combines a consumer survey with an in-store, discrete choice experiment,”​ explained the authors – who found that organic-minded consumers (i.e. those who regarded organic food production as important in the survey) had stronger preferences and estimated willingness-to-pay values for organic as well as local products.

“Hence, it can be assumed that local food production complements organic food production for the group of organic-minded consumers,”​ they suggested.

 “Compared to NOMC, OMC are more likely to perceive organic food as healthier and tastier than non-organic food, confirming two important reasons for these consumers to favour organic food,”​ added the team.

“Nevertheless, OMC also have a higher preference for food produced as close to one’s home as possible compared to NOMC,”​ they reported – adding that the finding is similarly reflected in the analysis of the question regarding consumers’ confidence in products from different origins.

Indeed, the German team found that OMC are not willing to pay more for locally produced food as opposed to organically produced food when the alternative is a product coming from Germany (with the exception of butter), “but they are willing to pay more for a local product than for organically produced apples, butter, flour or steaks, if the alternative is a product from a neighbouring or a non-EU country.”

“This indicates that OMC take both product attributes into consideration and trade them off against each other, depending on the particular purchase situation, especially on the origin and production method of all available product alternatives.”

Source: Appetite
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.036 
“How important is local food to organic-minded consumers?”​ 
Authors: Corinna Hempel, Ulrich Hamm 

Related topics Science Organics

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