Consumer perception of production process attributes variable

Consumers' values and beliefs influence their perceptions of important product attributes and potentially their purchasing behavior.

Livestock producers are facing a changing marketplace as consumers are increasingly focused on the practices used to produce their food and the treatment of livestock in general, said Purdue University researchers at JAM 2013. 

M.G.S. McKendree, N.J.O. Widmar, and C. Croney of Purdue reported on an online survey of 798 U.S. consumers conducted in June 2012 aimed at determining consumer purchasing patterns of meat and dairy products as well as perceptions of hog rearing and livestock product attributes. The survey found that 14% of respondents had reduced overall pork consumption due to animal welfare/handling concerns in the past three years.

Concern for pig rearing practices was highest for intensive housing practices; fewest respondents were concerned about castration and ear notching, the researchers said.

Interestingly, they also found that although concern for livestock animals is often discussed, consumers’ actual shopping decisions focus on individual products.  In the case of lunchmeat purchasing and preferences for lunchmeat attributes, they found inconsistencies between which lunchmeat attributes consumers associated with high quality and which attributes they actually considered during purchase. Over 73% of respondents agreed that “produced on farms with animal welfare and handling standards in place” and “produced by farmers certified in animal welfare techniques” were associated with higher quality lunchmeats.

Of those purchasing lunchmeat, only 47% and 45% of respondents, respectively, reported considering these attributes during purchase. When asked about concern for animal welfare and food safety, the majority of products studied elicited concern from more respondents for food safety.

Staple products (milk, eggs and ground beef) generated concern for the largest number of respondents. Numbers of respondents indicating concern varied across products, even when they were produced by the same animal species (i.e., steak versus roast beef lunchmeat), the researchers said.

This work suggests that consumers’ values and beliefs influence their perceptions of important product attributes (such as food safety and animal welfare/handling) and potentially their purchasing behavior. However, high variation exists in concerns as a function of the product type and attribute, they said.

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