Australian Agribusiness Review - Vol. 6 - 1998
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Consumer Attitudes To Hydroponic Produce in Western Australia.
Peter J. Batt and Allen M S Lim1
Consumers prefer produce grown without chemicals. While it is apparent that many consumers are confused between the benefits of hydroponic and organic produce, the majority of consumers are able to differentiate between the use and application of chemical fertilisers and the use of chemical pesticides. Consumers believe hydroponic produce is cleaner, fresher and tastes better than conventionally grown produce. To maintain consumer sovereignty, hydroponic growers should make every effort to restrict the use of chemical pesticides.
Concurrently, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety, security, sustainability, sufficiency and nutritional value of their food (Tansey and Worsley 1996). Consumers are demanding produce which is fresh and nutritious, safe to eat and safe for the environment. Ottman (1992) indicates that more consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the production processes used to cultivate the fresh food they consume. Consumers are worried by the increased application of chemicals and pesticides, biotechnology and genetic engineering (Smith 1996). Consequently, consumers may actively seek out produce that has minimal impact on the environment (Ottman 1992) and may even change their buying behaviour, believing that they are benefiting the environment (Pastore and Bruhn 1991).
However, consumers attitudes towards the health benefits of the food that they consume has been influenced by the growing skepticism towards nutritional, experts, cynicism about manufacturers' claims, confusion over labelling issues and terms, and, confusion about conflicting nutritional advice and health claims (Salkeld 1995). Many so-called healthy products are perceived to be expensive, unnatural and lacking in taste. For these nutritional products to succeed in the market, the product must capitalise on the consumers concerns and awareness; avoid cynical responses; deliver taste and value; and, be distinctive and relevant. Rahman (1996) suggests that hydroponics sounds rather new and high tech and is perceived positively by much of the urban population. Consumers believe hydroponic produce to be free from soil contamination and the produce to be grown with fewer pesticides. But, regrettably, little literature is available on the consumers perceptions and attitudes towards hydroponic produce (Hanger 1993).
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many consumers purchasing fresh produce from retail stores in Western Australia are unable to correctly differentiate between hydroponically grown produce and organically grown produce. The objective of this research was to assess the attitudes and choice behaviour of consumers towards hydroponic produce.
The data was processed using the SPSS program. The rank order of importance was tested for significance using Scheffes Test, with any correlation in the data analysed using factor analysis with varimax rotation.
Results and Discussion
Most consumers were able to identify that the produce was hydroponic from the label that was attached to the produce (Table 2).
WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.
However, other indicators that the produce was hydroponic included the root plug and in-store signage indicating that the product was grown hydroponically. Some 9% of consumers believed they could tell the difference between hydroponic produce and soil grown produce on the basis of its appearance.
The majority of consumers believed that the term hydroponically grown meant that the produce was grown without soil (Table 3).
WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.
While only 9% of consumers were unable to define what hydroponically grown meant, it would appear that more than 25% of consumers were somewhat confused between what constitutes hydroponic produce and organic produce. Some 20% of respondents believed that hydroponic produce was cultivated without the use of artificial chemicals and fertilisers and a further 6% suggested that hydroponically grown implied that the produce was naturally cultivated.
Furthermore, when consumers were asked about what they most liked about hydroponically grown produce, the most important reason given was the consumers perception that the produce had been grown with fewer pesticides (Table 4).
WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.
where 1 is the most important, 5 is least important
where a, b, c indicates a significant difference at 0.05 TOP
Given that most consumers considered hydroponically grown produce to be free from soil contamination and cleaner overall, hydroponically grown produce seems able to cash-in on consumers concerns that the produce is safe for them to consume and safe for the environment. Furthermore, a number of consumers suggested that hydroponically grown produce was fresher and crisper than conventionally grown produce, with a superior taste, fewer blemishes and better colour. Recognition by consumers of these perceived differences between conventionally grown produce and hydroponic produce could potentially provide a means of differentiating the produce in the market.
Factor analysis (with varimax rotation) confirms that the most important attributes influencing the demand for hydroponically grown produce are freshness, fewer pesticides and superior taste (Table 5). Collectively, these three attributes accounted for almost 36% of the variation in the data. TOP
Factor Analysis. WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.
Factor Two, suggests that the physical appearance of the produce is important in the consumers decision to purchase. Hydroponic produce must appear at least as good as conventionally grown produce if it is to appeal to the majority of consumers. Given that most hydroponic produce is grown under some form of protected structure, the quality of the produce harvested should be better than that obtained from crops cultivated in the open ground. Particularly for leaf crops such as lettuce, hydroponic produce is more likely to be substantially free of contamination from sand particles and soil. However, whether Factor Two is able to provide a means of differentiating between hydroponically grown and conventionally grown produce, will depend upon the quality of the produce offered for sale.
Factor Three suggests that price is a consideration. Cost conscious consumers are more likely to suggest that hydroponic produce is more expensive and not good value. However, Yuen et al (1994) suggest that only a small proportion of consumers are concerned about price. Most consumers, it seems, are prepared to pay more for quality, but how much more was not the objective of this research project.
Marketing implications and
Labelling produce as hydroponic will continue to provide a means of differentiating produce in the market, given that there is some confusion in the consumers mind between hydroponic and organically grown produce. Produce can be clearly labelled as hydroponic and the benefits of producing in this manner can be clearly communicated to the public. If hydroponic producers make every effort to restrict the use of chemical pesticides, they may maintain consumer favour.
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