Consumer interest in purchasing locally grown and certified organic produce has remained strong. Market data support this, with sales for local food predicted to rise from $4 billion in 2002 to $7 billion by 2011 [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2009a], whereas sales of organic produce reached $9.5 billion in 2009 (Supermarket News, 2010). This suggests that current demand for local and organic food still comprises less than 2% of total U.S. food sales, with estimates based on total food expenditures in the United States in 2009 approaching $1.2 trillion (USDA, 2010). Consumers have also expressed a willingness to pay a premium for locally grown (Bond et al., 2006; Darby et al., 2006) and certified organic products (Bean, 2008; Bernard and Bernard, 2010; ScienceDaily, 2009; USDA, 2009b). Consumers have shown a willingness to pay a premium for locally grown produce because they desired to improve their health and that of their families, the environment, and their local economies (The Hartman Group, 2007; USDA, 2009b). In addition, common reasons for purchasing and/or paying a premium for certified organic foods included animal welfare concerns (USDA, 2009b) as well as food safety, taste, and interest in new foods (Dettmann and Dimitri, 2010). Finally, those seeking produce that is locally grown, certified organic, or both did so to gain an authentic, high-quality, and unique food experience (The Hartman Group, 2008).
To improve marketing strategies of locally grown and/or certified organic produce, and to promote local farmers and food businesses, researchers and those in the produce industry have expressed interest in quantifying consumer purchasing behavior and attitudes toward locally grown and certified organic food products (Berlin et al., 2009; Rutberg, 2008; ScienceDaily, 2009). There have been several studies conducted that show consumers prefer locally produced foods over those that are certified organic. In one study, 48% of consumers gave a favorable response to locally grown, whereas 26% gave the same response to certified organic (Supermarket News, 2008). This relative stated preference for locally grown over certified organic was also found in research conducted in New England (Berlin et al., 2009), Colorado (Loureiro and Hine, 2002), and Minnesota (ScienceDaily, 2009).
Other studies indicated that consumers equally preferred local and organic. In the Minnesota study described earlier, although consumers exhibited a stated preference for locally grown over certified organic products, their willingness to pay for organic produce was about the same as for locally grown produce. In addition, a national survey indicated that 44% of consumers reported being equally attracted to locally grown and organic products (Rutberg, 2008). Another national survey indicated that those consumers who had a stated preference were equally split between locally grown and certified organic (Progressive Grocer, 2007). A regional survey also showed that Ohio and Kentucky consumers’ likelihood of purchasing a value-added processed product, if it was certified organic, was relatively equal to that of purchasing the same product if it was produced within the state (Batte et al., 2010).
Research also indicates that these stated preferences may vary between demographic groups. Studies examining these stated preferences separately found that older consumers were most likely to prefer and/or purchase locally grown products (Bean, 2008), as well as females and individuals with higher household income levels (Jekanowski et al., 2000). In addition, consumers with families (Organic Trade Association, 2009); Black/African American, Asian and Hispanic Americans (Dettmann and Dimitri, 2010; The Hartman Group, 2006); consumers with higher income levels (Dimitri and Oberholtzer, 2009; House et al., 2010); and younger consumers (Dimitri and Oberholtzer, 2009) were most likely to select and/or purchase organic products. However, the study by Bean (2008) showed that older consumers, not younger, were the most supportive of certified organic food, and also that female consumers were not the most supportive. In another study conducted on consumers from four states in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region, a higher mean age, lower education, higher income, presence of children in the household, and being male had a positive effect on willingness to pay for products with organic attributes (Bernard and Bernard, 2010). In addition, other research shows that race, presence of children in the household, and income level do not have a consistent effect on the likelihood of buying organic food products (Dimitri and Oberholtzer, 2009).
The current literature reveals comparisons of locally grown produce or products, or both, to those that are certified organic, but none compare consumer stated preferences for produce that are certified organic, locally grown, or both, or have neither of these attributes. This creates four groups of produce types to compare: both locally grown and certified organic, neither locally grown nor certified organic, locally grown only, and certified organic only. Information detailing relative stated preferences for locally grown and certified organic produce among consumers in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region would benefit produce industry members in this region who grow, source, or sell locally grown produce, certified organic produce, or both. Determining if consumers differ on stated preferences based on demographic groups would also be helpful in developing strategies for marketing these types of produce to specific segments.
The objective of this study was to determine if locally grown and certified organic are decision factors for purchasing produce and to compare stated preferences for produce that is either 1) locally grown or 2) certified organic, 3) both locally grown and certified organic, or 4) neither locally grown nor certified organic. The study also seeks to determine if consumer demographics are a factor in explaining these stated preferences.
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