Towards more sustainable food consumption and production – Consumer preferences and valuation of new breeding techniques, production methods, and health aspects

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

Current food production systems and consumption patterns are, in many ways, unsustainable. Global challenges include how to meet the projected increase in demand, address existing and worsening environmental problems and improve public health through changed food consumption. This phd thesis focuses on the role of consumers choices in addressing these challenges. Its aim is to analyze consumers preferences, willingness to pay (wtp) and purchase decisions regarding new breeding methods, the avoidance of pesticides in food production and healthier food products.
Historical increases in food production have caused increasing environmental stress, to which the use of pesticides is one contributor. More recently, genetic modification (gm) techniques have enabled increased productivity, although these techniques have met with widespread public resistance. Concern about unnaturalness among consumers motivated the introduction of cisgenics. This variant of gm only allows gene transfers between sexually compatible organisms; a restriction that does not hold for the hitherto familiar transgenics. Therefore, the first research question of this thesis concerns consumer preferences and wtp for cisgenics relative to transgenics and traditional breeding. Based on data collected in a choice experiment survey and purchase data, paper i reveals that consumers differentiate between transgenics and cisgenics, although there is much variation between individuals. Moreover, while there is, on average, a negative preference for cisgenics compared to traditional breeding, paper ii reveals that much of this can be attributed to a devoted organic consumer segment. Conventional and occasional organic consumers are less concerned with cisgenics and many of those consumers do not differentiate between cisgenic and traditional breeding. Further, cisgenic breeding may reduce the amount of pesticides used in food production, while maintaining productivity levels. However, such products are not predicted to achieve a very large market share, since consumers who value pesticide-free highly are also, to a large extent, willing to pay a large premium for organic products.
The second research question concerns the conformity of preferences and behavior regarding new food quality attributes. Paper iii explores whether consumers preferences converge because the behavior of peers is interpreted as information about the technology or quality in question; so-called observational learning. To approximate peers behavior, market share is included in a choice experiment. The results provide support for the assertion that market share exhibits informational value, although the effect is small and limited to a small segment of individuals. Therefore, paper iii emphasizes the need for more applied research into the mechanisms behind observational learning.
Diet-related health problems are an increasing and global concern. The third research question addresses how nutritional labels are valued by consumers, and explores the relationship between purchases of nutrition labeled products and the general healthiness of the consumer. Hedonic price analysis in paper iv, which is based on purchase data, reveals a positive implicit price for nutritional labels (keyhole in denmark and choices in the netherlands) on most products included in the study. Further, the share of keyhole purchases within individual product categories is higher for households that purchase healthier food overall.
There is a heavy reliance on self-reported and stated preference data in the literature on new food quality attributes such as breeding methods and nutritional information. This motivated the fourth and final research question, which concerns the consistency between the results inferred from self-reported or stated preference data and preferences revealed on the market. Discrete choice models that combine choice experiment data and purchase data are estimated and pseudo-wtp estimates are obtained by recognizing the greater price sensitivity revealed on the market compared to the choice experiment. These pseudo-wtp estimates reveal much smaller marginal values in absolute terms compared to the wtp estimates derived from the model based on choice experiment data only. Therefore, paper i provides an indication of the problem of hypothetical bias in the existing literature, and emphasizes the usefulness of enriching choice experiment data with purchase data.
This thesis contributes insights into the role of consumers choices in achieving more sustainable food production systems and consumption patterns. Cisgenic breeding can increase productivity and, thereby, address the increasing global food demand. The results suggest that such breeding methods may be accepted by many consumers. However, reducing the use of pesticides in food production, if achieved through cisgenic breeding, is not highly demanded and not predicted to be an important driver of more environmentally friendly food production. Further, diet-related health problems are a growing global challenge, and nutritional labels may be used as a measure to combat these problems. The simplifying message provided by the nutritional labels analyzed in this thesis is valued by consumers, which emphasizes its relevance in guiding consumers towards making healthier food choices. Individuals with self-reported positive preferences and those who purchase the healthiest food are the main purchasers of nutrition labeled products. Since the implementation of simplifying nutritional labels is a relatively easy and cheap way of influencing consumers food choices, the results from this thesis suggest that this measure is worthwhile, although reaching and attracting the less convinced and interested consumers remains a challenge for the future.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment of Food and Resource Economics, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Publication statusPublished - 2018

ID: 213508228