In the study, which surveyed 2,951 UK participants, COOL had less relative importance for a number of processed or composite products such as pizza, ready meals, compared to other attributes, like an organic logo or a premium positioning.
“Our results suggest that consumers do not value very highly country of origin information for many of the food products examined. Therefore, if the associated costs of mandatory country of origin implementation are sufficiently high this raises questions about the inclusion of this information on food labels,” write the authors from the University of Reading.
“Our results [also] raise questions about the blanket introduction of mandatory country of origin labels when there would appear to be significant variation in consumer
preferences by meat and product type.”
A voluntary approach may be more useful, they suggest. "There may be economic reasons to support the development of appropriate rules governing the provision of country of origin on a voluntary basis that will meet the needs of consumers. EU policy makers might therefore focus on facilitating a voluntary approach which is consistent with the operation of the single market."
Participants consistently expressed a preference for British labelled products. There was followed by a preference for an identified EU countries over unidentified EU countries and the latter over unidentified non-EU countries. “Distance, geographically and potentially culturally, has an impact on country of origin willingness to pay,” they write.
British origin was the most important attribute for four types of meat that were either fresh, chilled or frozen but, as the authors write, these products are now covered by mandatory origin labelling under EU law.
There was a strong preference for a label that uses a flag – over 82% said they preferred the format that used either a flag accompanied by text or a flag alone – "however, what is interesting is that the actual difference in willingness to pay with and without a flag is minimal and as such the preferred format does not appear to necessarily influence choice."
COOL has been mandatory in the EU for certain products such as fruit and vegetables, honey, beef, eggs and olive oil, since the 1990s and 2000s. This was extended to include unprocessed meat from pigs, poultry, sheep and goats from 2015. More recently there have been calls for COOL to be extended to processed meat and cheese.
Earlier this year the European Commission gave the green light to France to trial origin labelling for processed dairy and meat products for two years, prompting other member states to request the same.
This has been opposed by many industry players expressing fears of increased costs for producers and reduced competitiveness, particularly for producers located near borders, as well as the break-up of the single market.
A UK-wide representative sample was recruited online, and in total, the researchers collected data from 2,951 respondents, meaning each of the 12 options (discrete choice experiments) yielded more than 8,800 data points.
The researchers picked out 12 products in order to cover a range of processing levels: four fresh (unprocessed) meat products (chicken breast, lamb leg, pork leg and turkey mince), four partially processed meat products (pork sausage, beef burgers, gammon steak and streaky bacon) and four products that contain meat as an ingredient (chicken curry, beef lasagne, chicken pie and pepperoni pizza).
They also included other attributes such as the production methods used (organic or conventional farming); an indicator of quality (basic, choice or premium) and farm assurance (international, freedom choice or none).
The label specified whether the country on the label (the UK, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Italy or Ireland, Thailand, Brazil, the US or New Zealand) referred to the meat origin or the country where the animal was reared and slaughtered.
Each participant completed one DCE for one text-only origin label and one that had both text and a flag.
Future research could focus on determining how much consumers value information for processed products where meat has been sourced from several countries, write the authors.
Source: Food Policy
“Consumer preferences regarding country of origin for multiple meat products”
Available online ahead of print, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2016.09.008
Authors: Kelvin Balcombe, Dylan Bradley, Iain Fraser and Mohamud Hussein