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Land and Environment : Agribusiness Assoc. of Australia

Agribusiness Review - Vol. 6 - 1998

Paper 14
ISSN 1442-6951

Consumer Attitudes To Hydroponic Produce in Western Australia.

Peter J. Batt and Allen M S Lim 1
Muresk Institute of Agriculture, Western Australia


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.


Hydroponics is a highly efficient way to provide water and nutrients to plants. By maintaining the desired balance of water, nutrients and oxygen to the plant roots, plants grow faster, plant density can be increased and with faster crop turn-around, yields per unit area can be increased (Cooper 1979) . Hydroponics may also enable crops to be cultivated on soils considered otherwise unsuitable for intensive horticultural production. More recently, however, as concern for the contamination of ground water from the leaching of agricultural fertilisers and soil fumigants has increased, hydroponic production is increasing in popularity (Rahman 1996) .

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. 


A survey of some 270 consumers was undertaken by interviewing a total of 30 respondents in each of nine shopping centres selected at random in the Perth metropolitan area. Using a structured questionnaire, consumers were asked firstly to describe their shopping habits and whether they could recall any difference between hydroponically grown and conventionally cultivated produce. Consumers were then asked how they were able to differentiate between hydroponically grown produce and conventionally grown produce and what they perceived to be the major advantages and disadvantages of hydroponic produce. From previous studies undertaken by Pastore and Bruhn (1991) , Roddy (1994) and Yuen et al (1994) , consumers were then asked to rank what they most liked and disliked about hydroponic produce on a scale of 1 (most important) to 5 (least important). Demographic variables (gender, age, number of people in the household, place of residence, occupation, education and household income) were collected as a means of testing the validity of the sample against previous studies and the ABS census results.

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

The majority of respondents were female (76%). Most respondents (51%) purchased fresh fruit and vegetables one time per week, primarily from supermarkets (79%) (Table 1).

Table 1. Consumer Shopping Habits. WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.

Frequency Percent
Gender of respondents; male 66 24
female 204 76
Frequency of purchase: one time per week 138 51
2-3 times per week 102 38
daily 20 7
less frequently 10 4
Place of purchase: supermarkets 213 79
green grocers 14 38
growers markets 11 4
weekend markets 7 3
wholesale markets 1

Most consumers were able to identify that the produce was hydroponic from the label that was attached to the produce (Table 2).

Table 2. How Consumers' Identified Produce as Hydroponically Grown.

WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.

Frequency Percent
Labelled 77 52
Root plug 28 19
Appearance 14 9
In-store signs 13 9
Been told 11 7
Other 6 4

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).

Table 3. Consumers' Perceptions of Hydroponically Grown Produce.

WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.

Frequency Percent
Grown without soil/in water 216 80
Grown without chemicals/fertilisers 55 20
Grown in an artificial environment 39 14
Natural 17 6
Superior product 8 3
Others 6 2
Don't know 24 9

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).

Table 4. What Consumers' Most Like About Hydroponically Grown Produce.

WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.

Fewer pesticides 1.34a
Freshness/crispness 1.36a
Superior taste 1.39a
Cleanliness 1.62a
No soil contaminants 1.75a
Fewer blemishes 1.75a
Colour 1.90a
Availability 2.02b
Superior appearance 2.10b
Price 2.19b
Grown using artificial fertilisers 2.19b
Size 2.74c

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

Table 5. Most Important Attributes of Hydroponically Grown Produce.

Factor Analysis. WA Hydroponic Study. 1997.

Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
Freshness 0.92
Fewer pesticides 0.80
Superior taste 0.71
Colour 0.71
Superior appearance 0.68
Fewer blemishes 0.56
Size 0.51
Cleanliness 0.40
Price 0.81
Eigenvalue 4.29 1.36 1.04
Percent Variation 35.7 11.30 8.70

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 conclusions.

Consumers generally prefer food grown without chemicals. However, there is evidence that hydroponic produce is perceived as organic. While such is not necessarily true, the artificial environment in which many consumers perceive hydroponic produce to be grown may provide some means to limit the application of chemical pesticides. However, there is little opportunity to reduce the use of artificial fertilisers, especially in the cultivation of plants in NFT systems. Fortunately, the majority of consumers seem able to differentiate between the use and application of artificial fertilisers, which they regard of almost no importance, and the use of chemical pesticides, which they consider to be of most importance.

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.


Bell , M. 1996. A Study of the Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviour of Retail Purchasers of Fresh Plums. Summer Fruit Council Newsletter. No 17.

Cooper , A. 1979. The ABC of NFT. Grower Books. London.

Hanger , B. 1993. Hydroponics: The World, Australian and South Pacific Scene in Commercial Hydroponics in Australasia: A Guide for Growers. Pro-Set Pty Ltd. pp 1-12.

Ottman , J. 1992. Sometimes Consumers Will Pay More to Go Green. Advertising Age. July 6. pp 14.

Pastore , M.A. and C.M. Bruhn. 1991. A Shoppers' Survey: California Nuts and Produce, Food Quality and Food Safety. Californian Agriculture. Vol 45(1). pp 25-27.

Rahman , M.F. 1996. Hydroponics for Urban Societies - The Singapore Experience. Practical Hydroponics and Greenhouses. Vol 29. pp 25-26.

Roddy , G. 1994. The Consumer View of Organic Foods. Farm and Food. Vol 4(1) pp 21-24.

Salkeld , D. 1995. Consumer Beliefs Dictate Market Success. Australian Dairy Foods. Vol 17(1). pp 21-22.

Smith , R. 1996. Agriculture Council Readies "Powerful" Program to Capture Consumer's Heart. Feedstuffs. Vol 68(23). pp 1-2.

Tansey , G. and T. Worsley. 1996. The Food System, A Guide. Earthscan Publication Ltd. London.

Yuen , C.M.C., N. Caffin, C. Hunter, W. Newton and Y. Haynes. 1994. Consumer Consumption Patterns, Purchasing Habits and Attitudes to Fruit and Vegetables. Food Australia. Vol 46(10). pp 455-458.

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