Citation: Vega-Zamora M, Parras-Rosa M, Torres-Ruiz FJ. You Are What You Eat: The Relationship between Values and Organic Food Consumption. Sustainability. 2020;12(9):3900.
Dietitians-Nutritionists interested in shifting client intake toward organic food.
The authors pose that increased intake of organically grown food will help to mitigate climate change.
In this context, they examine the relationship between the number of organic foods consumed in relation to patterns of consumer values. The researchers completed a quantitative analysis from data collected through “face to face” surveys conducted with 776 consumers responsible for food shopping (aged 25-65) in Spain.
Specifically, the authors used bivariate analysis techniques to examine whether patterns of values of non-consumers of organic foods are different from that of consumers. They also examined whether the number and variety of products used by organic food consumers reflects a different pattern of values – considering whether organic consumption is on a gradual sliding scale, or occurs in different stages.
Bottom line for nutrition practice:
The researchers state that the organic consumer group showed a values profile consistent with social projection, altruism and protecting the environment, as well as a greater concern for health and food safety, as compared to the non-consumer group. Results also suggest that the organic group is more willing to spend more money and more time (in shopping and food preparation). Upon closer examination of organic food consumers only, the authors concluded that values didn’t have a clear impact on the quantity and variety of organic foods they consumed.
While concern for the environment for organic consumers was greater than for non-consumers, concern for the environment did not relate to the quantity of foods consumed within the organic group. The authors suggest that this is consistent with other studies. They therefore pose that the promotion of organic foods must be linked to selfish values (e.g., health) in addition to altruistic values.
In current times, the man-made problems affecting our planet (climate change, loss of biodiversity, etc.) are making an urgent case for shifting towards a more sustainable kind of consumption. One of the ways these problems can be addressed is to promote organic agriculture, which means boosting levels of organic food consumption. This study examines the relationship between the number of organic foods consumed and the specific values that consumers look for in foods, in order to deepen the current knowledge regarding the behaviour of the organic food consumer. To this end, data was analysed from a face-to-face survey of 776 people in Spain through bivariate analysis techniques. Results show that organic food consumers have a different pattern of values from non-consumers and a greater level of involvement with food in general. Moreover, within the group of organic consumers, the effect of values on the quantity or variety of foods consumed is not as marked, although there are differences in favour of those that consume more frequently. Lastly, the main implication of the results obtained is that, in order to increase consumption, selfish values should be connected with altruistic ones. For this reason, instilling a specific value based on the term or concept “life” is proposed.
Details of results:
The values of organic food consumers showed higher scores that were significantly different from the values of non-consumers in the following areas: healthy and balanced diet; eating foods to prevent diseases; whether the containers/ leftovers can be recycled; choosing foods with low impact on the environment; choosing “natural… unprocessed” food; food safety; “making special dishes and inviting my friends over”; contribution to rural development; quality; choosing products with few additives; using traditional products; and, knowing where their food comes from. Results also showed that organic consumers showed lower scores on: seeking out special offers and promotions; time spent on food shopping; buying foods that are easy to prepare.
No differences were seen between the organic food consumers and non-consumers in terms of three variables: eating exclusive, special foods; foods to control weight and improve physical appearance, and using products to make dishes according to customs/ family.
In the second part of the study, organic non-consumers were removed from the analysis, and the relationship between the number or variety of organic foods consumed (consumption intensity) and the scores for each value was analyzed. Only 3 areas showed weak significant correlations: concern for diet/ health relationship, and rural development; an inverse relationship regarding price was shown (where seeking out special offers and promotions is slightly associated with low consumption). The authors concluded that within the group of organic food consumers values didn’t have a clear impact on the quantity or variety of organic foods they consumed (their consumption intensity).
The final part of the analysis separated the organic food consumers into two groups (those with low consumption intensity, and those with high consumption intensity). The results showed that while there is no clear relationship between the quantity of foods and values for those with low consumption, for those with higher consumption intensity of organic foods, there is a clear relationship between their values and the quantity or variety of foods they consumed. The significant values included: eating foods to prevent diseases; choosing “natural… unprocessed” food; choosing products with few additives; and eating exclusive, special foods. There was an inverse relationship to inconvenience (i.e., that high consumption organic consumers were not concerned about the convenience of foods). The authors suggest that these results mean that the quantity of organic foods consumed is related to a greater consumer involvement or role of food in their lives. As noted above, while concern for the environment for organic consumers was greater than for non-consumers, concern for the environment did not relate to the quantity of foods consumed within the organic group. The authors suggest that this is consistent with other studies. They therefore pose that the promotion of organic foods must be linked to selfish values (e.g., health) in addition to altruistic values.
Finally, based on their results, the authors pose that organic consumption does not appear to occur on a gradual sliding scale, but rather as a “multi-stage process”.
Of additional interest:
Results may seem slightly confusing, as in the text they refer to itemed numbers on the Tables, yet the Tables do not include numbers. Also, it was interesting that the authors equated “price” to “seeking out special offers and promotions” (referred to under “Details of Results”), even though “cost” was included in two of the other value statements, but was not significant. The authors suggested that “seeking out special offers and promotions” may be related to an “opportunistic type of consumption: more organic foods are consumed if they are on special offer”(p.6).
Open access link to article:
Conflict of interest/ Funding:
Research was funding by the Regional Government of Andalusia in relation to a project on strategies to improve olive oil and organic olive oil marketing.
External relevant links:
Transparency | Diversity | Dynamism | Evidence-based |