Farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses are seeking to respond to consumer demand for cage-free egg production and slow-growth broiler chickens, and there is a need by food retailers to better understand consumer knowledge, beliefs and "willingness to pay" for these attributes.
A $50,000 grant awarded by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) -- a nonprofit established in the 2014 farm bill with bipartisan congressional support -- to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation and Animal Agriculture Alliance (Alliance) will explore this topic by studying consumer understanding and willingness-to-pay for alternative production practices in animal agriculture. The FFAR grant was also matched with funding from the FMI Foundation and the Alliance, for a total investment of $100,000.
According to the groups, agricultural producers, businesses and retailers turned to cage-free eggs and slow-growth broilers for this consumer research, because fresh eggs and chicken are some of the best sources of protein in the American diet. In addition, they said increasing transition to cage-free production practices by farmers and commitments by businesses to adopt alternative production practices for broilers have begun to affect the supply/demand paradigm. As such, they believe gaining knowledge of consumers’ preferences and beliefs will help guide choices in research, production and retail sales.
FFAR executive director Dr. Sally Rockey said the Foundation "is pleased to partner with food retailers, farmers and agricultural business to better understand how animal production practices influence consumer decision-making in the retail setting.”
While several studies have estimated consumer willingness to pay for fresh agricultural products, few have linked these estimates to consumer knowledge and beliefs and to information treatments that will help determine future demand for attributes. This research employs state-of-the-art choice modeling techniques -- including choice experiments and latent class modeling -- to estimate diversity in consumer preferences and willingness to pay for cage-free eggs and slow-growth broilers now and in the future.
Led by Dr. Jayson Lusk, a food and agricultural economist at Purdue University, the research team will custom build consumer surveys distributed to at least 3,000 respondents that mimic decision-making in the retail environment. Respondents will make a series of choices between products that vary in price and other attributes, such as production practices (cage-free, pasture-raised, slow growth, conventionally raised), labeling claims, packaging, product color and appearance.
“Shoppers suffering from data fatigue are turning to their food retailers for trusted and curated information about their food purchases,” said Susan Borra, executive director of the FMI Foundation. “The FMI Foundation believes that funding research on emerging health and social concerns affecting consumer confidence in the food and consumer goods industry will impact the public conversation and build consumer trust.”
Kay Johnson Smith, Alliance president and chief executive officer, added, “Consumers are key stakeholders in the food system. It is critical to develop a firmer understanding of shoppers’ values and priorities when making choices about the food they purchase and feed their families. Our mission at the Alliance is to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork, and this research will help us do just that more effectively.”
The grant is funded through the FFAR Protein Challenge, a suite of research programs that support producers’ efforts to improve plant and animal production efficiency to meet the growing global protein demand while conserving natural resources. With various parts of the food industry working to meet cage-free pledges and some beginning to commit to alternative production practices for broiler hens, using a consumer research base approach to help inform plans is increasingly relevant to the entire food sector.