Consumer Concerns about Animal Welfare and the Impact on Food Choice

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3.3Animal products

While husbandry practices are directly relevant to animal welfare, beliefs, attitudes and images about animal products are potentially more relevant to purchases. This is suggested by the compatibility principle (AJZEN, 1988 and AJZEN, FISHBEIN, 1977). Purchase behaviour in turn is a major determinant of husbandry practices.

This chapter looks at how animal products are perceived or evaluated and what role aspects related to animal welfare play. Is there evidence for links between perceived animal welfare and criteria used to evaluate and purchase products? A direct and an indirect role of perceived animal welfare will be distinguished. Products discussed include beef, pork, meat in general, eggs and milk. The available evidence for these products varies considerably. Due to lack of data some products are left out, like meat of sheep and horses or fish16.

Product image, attitudes, trust and quality17 are supposed to be important purchase predictors (BALLING, 1991). These constructs are used in sections 2.3.1 to 2.3.5. In addition, section 2.3.5 directly inquires into peoples motives for purchasing food products.

3.3.1Deterioration of meat image

While strong negative associations with modern husbandry practices are documented to persist since nearly twenty years, this is different for the image of meat and other animal products: In 1982 more than 70% of interviewed women spontaneously came up with positive associations for meat, like “tasty”, “healthy” and “easy to prepare” (MTC, 1982, survey of meat consuming women aged 25 - 55). Only 10% mentioned negative aspects, among which bad husbandry practices were second after price. Veal, pork and poultry were the most negatively affected types of meat.18

In a follow-up study in 1983 MTC asked housewives aged 25 - 69 to mark those positive and negative statements about meat, which they could agree with. High prices (74%), residues (65%), unattractive packaging (51%), the adverse affects of unnatural husbandry practices on meat quality (49%) and shrinkage during preparation (49%) were criticised most.

The positive picture for meat in the early eighties dramatically changed by the nineties: SCHMITZ (1993) reports on a survey in which people at Aachen were directly asked about their image of meat and sausages. 54% agreed to ”negative” and only 18% felt it was ”positive”. About 80% of people explained their opinions. Reasons stated most for scepticism towards meat were „current trend to healthier nutrition“ (40%), „uneasiness about meat processing practices and related insecurity“ (31%), „scandals in the area of rearing and slaughtering animals“ (most notably those related to hormones) and „diseases“ (29%).

NIELSEN (1994, p. 3)19 like MTC in 1982 reports on spontaneous associations with meat: 63% of the interviewees mentioned meat scandals like BSE and swine fever (multiple associations possible). Positive aspects like “healthy” and “important” were ranked only fourth (14%, 11% respectively). Less than 10% of respondents mentioned “expensive”, “poor animals, factory farming”, “slaughter, blood” and “tasty” respectively.

Findings from a survey of Kiel in 1994 are displayed in Fig. 2.3.1: Again overwhelmingly negative associations for meat were found. Of primary importance were issues like BSE, swine fever and factory farming, which then were extensively discussed in the media.

Associations with “meat” in Kiel, 1994

Source: ALVENSLEBEN, 1994, p. 148, n = 388

To get an idea on how the meat image will develop in future, BBE (Die Fleischerei, 1997) asked experts, retailers and butchers20 about their believes (Fig. 2.3.1 (b)): “Will the meat image deteriorate further due to reasons related to ethics and animal welfare?”. Butchers agreed more on this statement than ordinary retailers. 56% of butchers as opposed to 44% of retailers saw a noticeable impact. A third of the butchers saw either a strong or very strong impact. The different perceptions are probably due to each serving distinct market segments. While a majority of experts perceived an impact, expectations differed as to impact strength. A majority expects less than a strong impact.

Meat image to deteriorate further

due to consumer concerns about animal welfare?

Source: Die Fleischerei 4 / 1997, p.18

To summarise, the image of meat clearly deteriorated during the past twenty years. In the eighties price dominated among negative attributes and husbandry practices already played a role. By the nineties the importance of price had diminished, scandals and health worries were at the fore of people’s concern, followed by and connected with issues related to animal welfare and farming practices.

3.3.2Distrust of meat

The deteriorated image of meat is accompanied by increasing consumer distrust of meat: In a survey by KÜNZNER (1989) 75,4% of interviewees admitted to distrust certain food products, especially those like meat, fish and poultry. Hormones used in the production of meat and especially veal were seen to be the most important contributing factors. People were afraid of detrimental health effects arising from e.g. chemical residues. Inappropriate husbandry was a reason for distrust in animal food.

Confirmation of these results are found in HALK (1990, 1993). She conducts focus group discussions and concludes that distrust is not so much expressed of individual products than of unnatural production and processing. This is indicated by support for appropriate husbandry in the groups. HALK further suggests people’s lack of knowledge about husbandry practices and meat origin to contribute more to consumer’s distrust than negative publicity.

3.3.3Purchase criteria

This section is complementary both to section 2.3.1 and 2.3.4: to the latter since we look at individual quality criteria used for purchase decisions, to the former since quality and image are very similar concepts (BROCKHOFF; 1993). The question to be explored is, whether perceived animal welfare and husbandry practices have an impact on the evaluation of purchase criteria. Considered are „perceived health impact of meat“, „taste“ and „German origin“, i.e. aspects both belonging to product and process quality (to be further discussed in section 2.3.4).

87% of women in 1982 believed husbandry practices to affect meat quality (MTC, 1982). The impact was seen to be primarily negative and to result in inferior taste and unhealthy residues. With respect to the health aspect this was less clear for a sample drawn in both a rural and urban area in Lower Saxony in 1984 (ALTMANN/ALVENSLEBEN, 1986, p. 66). An interpretation is, that women see the impact more strongly. Subsequent unpublished findings of LEHRSTUHL FÜR AGRARMARKETING KIEL in surveys of the same areas as ALTMANN/ALVENSLEBEN confirm an impact:21 On average respondents in 1989 and 1994 agree with the statement “consumption of meat is detrimental to health due to chemicals used in fattening”. WIRTHGEN/ALTMANN (1988, p. 19) report on a regional sample in 1986, which showed that criticism and distrust of modern methods of meat production are much more prevalent with those very conscious about health and food.

A relationship between taste and type of keeping system was already discovered by ALVENSLEBEN ea. (1973, p. 23) for a sample of Göttingen. 79% of respondents (n = 88) agreed to the statement „Eggs taste better from farmers who still keep chickens naturally“. A very similar statement22 received less support in 1980 (59%) than in 1985 (68%) for samples drawn at Hannover (ALVENSLEBEN / VIERHEILIG, 1985). WILL/BALLING (1987) found 77% of people in a sample drawn at Freising (n = 100) to agree to a certain extend with the statement that “One gets most tasty meat from free-range animals”. Unpublished results of LEHRSTUHL FÜR AGRARMARKETING KIEL (1996) show that more than 80% of people agree with the statements “Free-range eggs taste good” and ”Free-range eggs have good quality”.

The lesson to be drawn from these findings is, that the impact of consumer concerns about husbandry practices on the image of animal products is partly mediated by beliefs and attitudes relating to health-impact, taste and other product attributes. Strength and nature of this mediating relationship seem to vary over time and are partly documented since the early seventies. As health impact and taste are solely defined by its relevance to the individual consumer, non-altruistic motives appear to play a role in consumer concerns about animal welfare.

There might also be a connection between consumer concerns about animal welfare and purchase criteria related to production processes. This has been looked at for consumer preferences for products of the own country.23 HOFMANN/SOMMERER (1997) asked people in 1995 why they preferred German origin. People mentioned “trust”, “severe German legislation and controls”, “better keeping conditions for animals”, “better quality assurance” and “reports on the bad state of international animal transports and BSE”.

3.3.4Product quality

Products consist of bundles of properties and should therefore be evaluated considering multiple dimensions. Yet, the construct of quality reduces multiple characteristics into one and therefore allows uni-dimensional evaluations. Bundles of product properties might either be objective or subjective. Accordingly objective and subjective quality are distinguished. The construct of objective quality is generally rejected in economics and marketing. The construct of subjective quality on the other hand is closely related, or even equated with attitudes and images (Brockhoff, 1993, pp. 42-50). It is used in this section: food quality and the role of animal welfare is evaluated, by asking people, rather than by measuring objective characteristics of the product or the production process.

Product and process quality of food (especially meat) are the two main constructs discussed in this section. Process quality is related to production, transport and processing of food and animals, it cannot be evaluated by e.g. inspecting or tasting the product. The distinction between product and process quality is of interest, since issues of animal welfare are part of processes and at the same time have objective links with the product. So, how are these objective relationships between processes and products (which we do not evaluate here) reflected in consumer perceptions of quality?

We will discuss studies of BALLING (1991) and BECKER ea. (1996). Both employed closed-end survey questions in supermarkets and butcheries. BALLING asked people to select the most important items from a set of six product and process characteristics. From all criteria those of the production process were chosen most. They received the following ranks: 1. “Basically no drugging”, 2. “natural feeding”, 4. “controlled rearing and fattening”, 5. “free-range”, 7. “slow growth”, 10. “German production”. The most highly rated production characteristic was “hung” at rank three.

BALLING accordingly draws the conclusion that people value production process quality more than product quality. But is this really so? A distinction between quality and measures of quality should be made. Also one should take into account that processes and products are connected, since products are outcomes of processes.

People might for pure pity or altruism be interested in “happy” hens, even if this had no or adverse consequences for the animal product. But if there is a (perceived) connection, people might simply be interested in process quality as an indicator of product quality. So, if people are asked, how important they perceive a certain process for food quality, will they refer to an indicator or to an end in itself? The indicator would surely not be valued in itself, while the end is.

While the distinction seems academic at first sight, it could be useful for explaining and predicting people’s demand and shopping behaviour, which is a major reason for employing the construct of “quality”. If e.g. animal welfare related criteria were primarily used as indicators of product quality, people would stop using it once a better indicator was at hand. Alternatively people would still buy the product, if the production function changed to require less animal welfare as an input. If animal welfare was an end in itself (due to e.g. altruistic reasons) demand changes could be expected to be due more to availability, changes in people’s resources or preferences.

Are there any process criteria used as indicators or safeguards in Balling´s list? This is probably the case for those three most important process criteria. They relate in same way to the product criterion “without residues”, which has been operationalised as “controlled for residues” by ALVENSLEBEN (1990)24.

Balling´s conclusion then should be modified: There are certain properties of beef which are more important than purely sensory beef characteristics. If they cannot be easily evaluated by consumers, people might use criteria of the production process as an indicator or safeguard, these in turn can be more important than traditional main beef characteristics. Product quality25 is more important than process quality.

Central assumptions underlying even this modified conclusion are first, that Balling considered the most relevant criteria to consumers and second, that consumers judgement was undistorted. Distortion is likely due to people’s artificially drawn attention towards the criteria and possible social responses. The answers would then, as in earlier examples, not reflect people’s choices in shopping.

Lessons we see to be drawn with regard to consumers concerns for animal welfare are firstly, that they are probably not as important as other process criteria for beef. Secondly, animal welfare aspects are not clearly isolated by BALLING. Thirdly, altruistic motives are at least not most important. Fourthly, animal welfare criteria are likely to become important to consumers if they serve in some way as indicators or safeguards for important product characteristics.

In contrast to BALLING (1991) BECKER ea. (1996) included aspects of animal welfare in their list quality criteria for interviews in Hamburg, 1994. More than half the interviewees were customers of butcheries selling „Neuland“-meat and more than a quarter of all customers bought „Neuland“ meat. Since “Neuland” is a special brand assuring high standards of animal welfare, the sample can be expected to be distorted accordingly. Results are presented in Fig.2.3.4. Interpretation and methodological critique are left to the reader.

Fig. 2.3.4: Importance of meat quality criteria

Source: BECKER ea. (1996), p. 272

3.3.5Conjoint Analysis

This section presents results obtained for eggs by conjoint analysis. A connection to section 2.3.4 is that the concept of utility is employed in conjoint analysis.

In a conjoint-analysis of n = 44 VOLLBEHR (1990) finds the keeping system to be most important to people, followed by the price. Battery eggs were very much negatively perceived and barn eggs very positively. RENKEN (1997) also finds the keeping system to be most important. Price and colour are clearly less important. Free-range eggs are ceteris paribus preferred by 85% of people, barn eggs by 12% and battery eggs by only 3%.

3.3.6Reasons for food purchase

A final approach used in the German literature to assess consumer concerns about animal welfare, inquires into peoples motives for purchasing food products. This has been done both in ordinary surveys or at point of purchase, either as an open question or with given answer categories. Motivation as revealed through such in depth interviews, is cognitive and can therefore largely be equated with the attitude construct used in means-end-analysis (KROEBER-RIEL / WEINBERG, 1996, 141 - 152).

HARIS (1986) interviewed customers who bought free-range or deep-litter eggs in 1982, 1983 at point of purchase. He inquired into state reasons for choices (open question).26 Most important to people who consciously bought battery eggs was the lower price. Compared to 1982, price was even more important in 1983. “Good quality” played almost no role. Perceived lower quality of battery eggs might be reflected in their preferred use for backing and cooking. Most important to people who consciously decided to buy deep-litter eggs was, that they perceived barn hens to be “kept more appropriately”. Like “price” for battery eggs, “appropriate keeping” was more important in 1983 than in 1982 - which suggests a certain polarisation of consumers. A quarter of deep-litter egg purchasers stated to buy these due to their better quality. Again husbandry practices are associated with food quality.

Tab. 2.3.6: Reasons for purchasing eggs (percent of people)

Battery eggs



Barn eggs






more appropriately kept



for baking, cooking etc.



better quality



on trial



on trial



good quality



barn egg wanted



no difference perceived between battery and barn eggs



freshness wanted






more natural






Source: HARIS, 1986, p. 153

EMNID (1998) asked interviewees “What would you say is the most important factor you take into account when buying eggs?”. A list of possible answers was presented. The three criteria perceived as most important were “quality of the eggs” (21.8%), “price of the eggs” (21.5%), “only buy free-range eggs/the conditions under which the eggs are produced/hens are kept (18.1%).

These two studies do not necessarily reveal the importance of criteria in the actual shopping situation. Then the systems of poultry keeping might not be highlighted as much as in the experimental situation set up by HARIS (1986). Also closed ended questions might be a problem as seen from the study presented next.

In March 1989 HESS (1991) conducted consumer interviews at a retailer. Two brands of pork were on sale in the shop: brand A was marketed as from controlled rearing with special feeding and good sensory qualities. Its price per kilo was up to DM 2.50 above that of brand B. Brand B was marketed as “high quality pork” with valuable nutrients and vitamins.

People who bought either of the brands were asked, whether they had any reasons for their choice. About two third answered in the affirmative. Respondents who bought brand A referred very much to product characteristics like general quality, taste, tenderness etc.. Only 7% mentioned “controlled rearing” (six criteria were mentioned more often). 49% of purchasers of brand B mentioned low price as a factor (11% referred to appearance, 8% to low fat contents and 5% to better quality). Hence, even among people who consciously bought brand A, “controlled rearing” and further aspects of the production process were rather unimportant.

This is in striking contrast to results obtained with closed-end questions (multiple answered allowed). “Controlled rearing” then was considered crucial by 63% of people. It was even more important than “more tender”, “more succulent” and “better taste” chosen by 50% to 57% of interviewees. 47% of people saw “from animals who get better food” as crucial, 40% “from animals reared without medical drugs or artificial fatteners”, 27% “from animals which are more appropriately kept”, 23% “from animals which are more carefully slaughtered”.

Thus the type of question, open-ended or close-ended, makes all the difference. HESS (1990) suggests two explanations. Social answering might be at work when answer categories are given, since people could state what is socially desirable. Alternatively criteria like “controlled rearing” might simply be less conscious motivations which only surface with some help. KROEBER-RIEL / WEINBERG (1996, p.151) very much agree, that important motivations are subconscious, but generally do not see standardised interviews as an appropriate means to get to grips with the subconscious. They instead recommend projective and non-verbal methods.27

Fig. 2.3.6(a): Motives for purchasing meat in 1990



Source: ALVENSLEBEN (1990), p. 101, consumer survey in Kiel (n = 249) and Rostock (n = 151) in 1990; „appropriate“ stands for „appropriate husbandry“.

Shortly after German reunification ALVENSLEBEN (1990) conducted consumer surveys in Kiel (situated in old counties) and Rostock (situated in new counties). People were asked to prioritise given motives for purchasing foodstuffs. Fig. 2.3.6(a) shows the different weights given to price, residues and appropriate husbandry (in short „appropriate“) in Kiel and Rostock. For the purchase of meat, top priority was given to price by people in the East (Rostock), whereas people in the West (Kiel) were most concerned about possible residues. “Appropriate husbandry” ranked fifth in Kiel and sixth in Rostock (with seven criteria given) and was thus not very important when seen by itself. Factor analysis, however, revealed that “appropriate husbandry” and “controlled for residues” were two very akin motives, very much interchangeable in peoples consciousness. This again shows issues of animal welfare to be indirectly of interest to consumers, even if it might not be primarily due to altruism.

ALVENSLEBEN (1990) also conducted a similar analysis for milk. Factor analysis again reveals a close relationship between the criteria “appropriate keeping, environmentally friendly” and “controlled for residues”. Since “appropriate keeping” was amalgamated with “environmentally friendly” results are not directly comparable with the case of “meat”. Compared to milk meat received a lower rank by one for “appropriate keeping” in both Kiel and Rostock. “Controlled for residues” received the same rank for both milk and meat in Rostock but not at Kiel (lower for milk than for meat).

One of the best known certified-meat programs emphasising aspects of animal welfare in Germany is that of “Neuland”-meat. BECKER ea. (1996) asked customers of “Neuland”-meat why they bought it (results see Fig. 2.3.6(b)). He chose an open-ended question to qualify his results obtained for product quality with a close-ended question (presented in Fig. 2.3.4, p. 17) and to get findings closer to purchasing behaviour. No surprise for this brand is that “appropriate keeping and feeding” is most often mentioned (24%). But compared to results presented on page 17, it is surprising that “good quality” (20%) and “health reasons” (18%) are so close up with it for these special customers. Again this shows, how important the type of question is.

Fig.: 2.3.6 (b):Reasons for buying “Neuland”-meat

Source: BECKER ea., 1996; sample: n = 806, 1994, drawn at butcheries in Hamburg

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