Shopping is an important aspect to all people and the economy. While purchasing is a normal behavior, challenges emerge when people overindulge in it without paying attention to its consequences. On April 1900, Paris held a world trade fair, which brought people from different consumer markets together to celebrate past technological achievements with the view of gaining an insight on potential technological developments of the future.
The trade fair portrayed the potential of the then and future civilizations to deploy technology, creativity, and innovation to create more consumables to better the life of future generations. It set the foundation for availing more products and services in the marketplace. Products are availed in the markets for consumers to buy.
The buying behaviors are influenced by various factors. In many situations, consumers do not understand their reasons for purchasing certain products. However, when making purchase, a buying decision is necessary, although it may vary depending on the product on offer. This paper restricts its discussion to consumer decision-making when buying organic foods.
As time progresses, more organic foods will become commonplace in food stores. They are not just available in health stores. The increasing availability of organic foods in supermarkets’ shelves and other consumer product outlets raises a dilemma on products aisle, especially concerning when to buy or why it is necessary to acquire them, as opposed to relying on conventionally grown foods. For example, in one shelf, an apple grown in a conventional way is displayed.
On the other, an organic apple is displayed. A thorough scrutiny of the two reveals they are both shinny, rich in fiber and vitamins, and void of cholesterol, sodium, and fats. The question that arises is, ‘what influences the consumer decisions while choosing a product?’ While making a buying decision, it is important to make product distinctions so that one purchases goods depending on the desired product utilities. Therefore, differentiation of organic and conventionally grown foods is necessary.
The term organic foods imply the manner in which agricultural products, including meat, vegetables, some daily products, and fruits are grown and processed. Organic agricultural products reduce pollution while boosting water and soil conservation (Blair 81). Such products are not grown in conventional ways so that chemicals are not deployed in weed control and/or fertilized using inorganic manure.
Rather, organic farming involves the use of natural fertilizers, techniques such as crop rotation, and employment of approaches such as mulching in controlling weeds. How can consumers identify foods that are grown organically and those grown conventionally? They can recognize them by checking the product labels.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed a program for certifying organic products. Therefore, all producers using the term ‘organic’ in their product labels must comply with thorough and strict standards and regulations provided by the government. The certification program aims at regulating the manner in which farmers grow, handle, and process agricultural produce.
A general requirement is that the USDA must certify all products that deploy the term ‘organic’. However, producers who sell less than $5,000 annually are exempted from the USDA certification (Krieger 572). Nevertheless, this provision does not comprise an exception from compliance with the USDA standards applicable to organic foods. Therefore, the term ‘organic’ in a product label indicates that the packaged food complies precisely with standards established by the USDA for organic foods.
Some products, such as breakfast cereals have more than one ingredient. They are not forbidden from using the USDA seal. However, they need to use it in combination with either ‘100 percent organic’ or ‘Organic’ phrases. The phrase ‘100 percent organic’ means that all ingredients in a product are organic or made from organic ingredients. The term organic is deployed where a product’s ingredients are not less than 95% organic.
In case products have more than 70% organic ingredients, the terms ‘made with organic ingredients’ may be deployed on the products’ label. However, they cannot use the USDA seal. In case products are made from less than 70% organic ingredients, they are not permitted to use the term organic or use the USDA seal in the label (Blair 97). Nevertheless, the listing of various organic ingredients on the product package is allowed.
Irrespective of the percentage of organic ingredients in products, buyers make decisions on whether to purchase organic products or conventional products. Hence, the question on what influences these buying decisions is important for organic product marketers and promoters. The next section addresses this issue.
Decision-making processes when buying organic foods
Food markets are experiencing a myriad of changes in their operational environments, especially by noting the increasing emphasis on the need for changing eating behaviors to avoid the dangers of health risks that are associated with eating unhealthy foods. In fact, health specialists classify foods that contain high calories such as fast foods, which form the menus of many fast-food retailers as unhealthy.
Campaigns incepted by health organizations against such products results in the emergence of demand for foods, which are fiber-rich. This situation has shaped the perception of many buyers that organic foods are healthy and that they reduce the risks of illnesses, which are associated with fast foods (Dangour 203). Hence, through the creation of awareness on healthy eating habits, media may influence buyers’ decision to buy organic foods.
The increasing attention of consumers on healthy eating habits has led to creativity and innovation of new products that meet the emerging need of the customers. These needs are based on the perception of the value of the organic foods. The effort relates to the marketing concerns, which encompass “the process of developing and implementing a plan to identify, anticipate, and satisfy customer demand in such a way to make a profit” (Simon 124).
Consequently, farmers’ markets and agricultural product producers focus on various mechanisms for ensuring they provide organic foods to meet the needs of consumers when it comes to delivering healthy foods. Therefore, buyers’ purchasing decisions for organic foods are made based on their perceived levels of product capacity to meet their healthy eating habits.
Consumerist cultures have significant effects on the buying decisions made by consumers. Such decisions may also apply in the purchasing of organic foods. In the article, State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability, Assadourian sees the failure of people to save environmental collapse as an issue that relates to culture, as opposed to their stupidity, destructiveness, or ignorance (Assadourian 3).
He compares culture to requesting people to stop breathing forever, not knowing they will only do it for seconds before inhaling again without necessarily requesting them to do so. To him, this analogy explains the difficulties encountered in telling people to curb their consumerist cultures to save the environment (Assadourian 3).
However, people are now becoming increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability (Dangour 209). Consequently, any product that enhances environmental sustainability is likely to appear in their (buyers) top list of must purchase. Organic products are designed and marketed as a way of promoting environmental sustainability.
In the light of Assadourian’s argument on the innateness of consumerist culture in human beings, civilization defines societal norms and values, which are hard to smash when they are normalized. Owning big houses, several cars, air conditioners, and other equipment constitute the norm for the American culture, which is now rapidly becoming a global culture. Assadourian criticizes this emerging culture by claiming that although it appears natural to many people, the culture is unsustainable and an inaccurate manifestation of the nature of people (3).
He maintains that the escalated consumption pattern does not increase the wellbeing of people (Assadourian 9). When a new culture emerges, the existing cultural values are eroded. Assadourian criticizes the consumerist culture by claiming that it has created the belief that possessing more wealth and material capability defines good life (10).
Similarly, opposed to this criticism, many people regard the increased consumption of organic products as promoting better health and reducing risks of illnesses, especially those that are associated with fast foods and other processed foods. These perceptions have implications to the purchasing decisions for organic products.
From the above arguments, it is evident that people may purchase organic products due to negative emotions towards inorganic or conventional foods, depending on the perceptions they have induced from the environment.
Several factors may contribute to these emotional responses. Such factors constitute the thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions that affect people’s emotional responses to the specific stimulus. Physiological behavioralism links emotions demonstrated by individuals with responses to the biological and environmental stimuli.
These emotions can be negative or positive toward different stimuli. For example, a positive pulse to a food stimulus or a negative emotion in response to the stimuli causes a dislike and an unwanted feeling. This claim suggests that microtonal responses can help in increasing the purchasing behavior of a given product. Once a buying behavior for organic foods has been developed, the subsequent purchasing decision may be influenced by compulsive purchasing behavior.
Li, Unger, and Bi define compulsive buying behavior as a chronic tenancy for purchasing products and services in response to negative conditions and feelings (238). Literature documents no successful attempts to stimulate this behavior through any mechanism, including classical conditioning.
The behaviors encompass an unconditioned response towards the desires of goods or services and feeling of depression due to anxiety. Hence, the desire to purchase specific types of services or goods leads to the development of compulsive behavior. The absence of these products or services induces stress or anxiety, which in turn induces the compulsive buying behavior.
White and Duram assert that organic foods have better tastes, have more nutrients than conventional foods, and that they are safe (180). This belief drives consumers’ demand for them. Although price constitutes an important factor that influences the purchasing decisions for any products, it is not significant for organic foods.
Dangour confirms this assertion by claiming that the demand for organic foods remains high, despite the escalating prices for organic foods and the difficulties in confirming safety, nutritional value, and taste differences for organic and conventional foods (203).
Dangour asserts that the research conducted in China in 2012 found that 41% of the Chinese population considers food safety an important concern that guides their purchasing decisions (205). This finding shows the increasing health safety concerns up from 12% in China in 2008. This rise has been accompanied by increased purchasing of organic foods (Dangour 206).
Nutritional differences between organic and conventional products are not supported by significant scientific studies. The 2012 survey of various scientific studies identified few and inconsistent differences in vitamin components of conventional, and organic foods claiming that the results depended on particularities of each study (White and Duram 180).
For example, the 2011 review of literature on organic foods conducted by Johansson revealed that organic food possesses higher levels of micronutrient compared to conventional products (3871). Hunter, Foster, and McArthur do not find any protein content differences between organic and conventional chicken (52).
However, organic chickens contain more Omega-3 fatty acids when compared to conventional chickens (Hunter, Foster, and McArthur 52). This finding suggests that the understanding or proven nutritional value difference between them and conventional foods products does not influence buying decisions for organic foods.
The growing perception that organic foods are safer compelled Johansson to conduct a literature review for scientific evidence on health and safety benefits for organic foods in 2014. The review found little scientifically-backed evidence on the harms or benefits of consuming conventionally produced agricultural products compared to organic products.
Johansson concluded that only few humanistic researchers have studied “the effects of consumption of organic food on health, disease risks and health-promoting compounds, and the development of reliable biomarkers to be used in such studies are still in its infancy” (3873).
Therefore, although consumers may arrive at purchasing decisions for organic foods based on perceptions of nutritional value and safety concerns, only limited scientific studies find limited evidence of such perceptions. Indeed, such evidence is also inconsistent and lacks consensus.
Despite the scanty scientific evidence that supports the health, safety, taste, and nutritional value differences of conventional and organic foods, the demand for organic foods has been increasing on global platforms. Hence, more buyers are making purchasing decisions for organic foods.
As from 2002, the global sales for various organic foods have increased by above 170% to account for excess of $63 billion by 2011 (Hunter, Foster, and McArthur 523). Opposed to the law of demand, which suggests that demand and price have an inverse relationship, the price for organic food prices lies between 10% and 40% or even several times higher than the price of conventional products (Johansson 3875).
The supply of organic products is limited. Organic food production only accounts for only 1% to 2% of the total global food production. In the US market, organic foods now account for 5% to 10% of market share (Dangour 208).
Due to the inadequacy of scientific evidence backing the nutritional, safety, and taste differences between conventional and organic foods products, the increasing demand for the organic foods is influenced by consumers’ perception of value and health. Such perceptions may be contributed by the promotion and marketing of organic foods as having better health, safety, nutritional, and taste benefits compared to conventional foods.
Organic foods sales have been increasing on the global platforms. The paper has argued that the scanty scientific evidence has backed the growth of the product value in terms of nutritional, taste differences, safety, and health benefits. It proposes that consumer-purchasing decisions are influenced by the compulsive buying of the products or unsubstantiated perceived value of the products.
Assadourian, Erik. State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability, W.W Norton: The World Watch Institute, 2010. Print.
Blair, Robert. Organic Production and Food Quality: A Down to Earth Analysis, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 2012. Print.
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Hunter, Duncan, Meika Foster, and Jennifer McArthur. “Evaluation of the Micronutrient Composition of Plant Foods Produced by Organic and Conventional Agricultural Methods.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 51.6 (2011):571–582. Print.
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Li, Stephen, Arthur Unger, and Charlse Bi. “Different Facets of Compulsive Buying Among Chinese Students.” Journal of Behavioral Addiction 3.4(2014): 238-245. Print.
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White, Kennedy, and Leslie Duram. America Goes Green: An Encyclopedia of Eco-friendly Culture in the United States, California: ABC-CLIO, 2013. Print.