Consumers in Spain Don't Appreciate Organic EVOO, Researchers Say

The established position of conventional extra virgin olive oil in Spain leaves little room for its organic version.

By Costas Vasilopoulos
Mar. 12, 2018 09:32 UTC

Researchers from the University of Jaén con­ducted a sur­vey among Spanish con­sumers in an attempt to explain the low lev­els of organic extra vir­gin olive oil con­sump­tion in the coun­try. They exam­ined the fac­tors that affect con­sumers choices and they sug­gested that exist­ing bar­ri­ers in the mar­ket are not by them­selves suf­fi­cient to jus­tify the sit­u­a­tion, but low con­sump­tion also has to do with how con­sumers value the prod­uct.

We con­clude that this group of con­sumers sim­ply does not value the organic’ attribute highly enough and there­fore has no desire for, or inter­est in, organic EVOO.- Manuela Vega Zamora, University of Jaén

In a coun­try which is a global leader when it comes to land ded­i­cated to organic olive farm­ing, it is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing that con­sumers spend a mere 0.007 per­cent of their annual food bud­get (trans­lat­ing to an aver­age of $0.16) on organic extra vir­gin olive oil, the researchers noted. On top of that, most of the locally pro­duced OEVOO is shipped to mar­kets abroad.

To get some answers, the researchers first exam­ined the known mar­ket bar­ri­ers for con­sumers in buy­ing organic EVOO — price dif­fer­ence, the lack of aware­ness of organic foods, and the faulty dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem — and then they con­ducted a sur­vey by hand­ing out ques­tion­naires to col­lect data.

The dif­fer­ence in price between con­ven­tional and organic prod­ucts seems to be the biggest obsta­cle of all, not only in Spain but also in many other coun­tries. The lack of aware­ness pre­vents con­sumers from dis­tin­guish­ing the spe­cial attrib­utes of organic foods, while faulty dis­tri­b­u­tion means that organic food prod­ucts are not widely avail­able and easy to locate.

The research pointed out that the mar­ket bar­ri­ers were not the only cul­prits for low con­sump­tion. To get to the bot­tom of the prob­lem, a sur­vey was car­ried out in six dif­fer­ent cities of Spain to achieve geo­graph­i­cal dis­per­sion.

Manuela Vega Zamora, one of the researchers, spoke to Olive Oil Times about their work.

A sur­vey was con­ducted of 800 urban olive oil buy­ers over 25 years of age and liv­ing in Spain. Data were col­lected through a struc­tured ques­tion­naire. The dif­fi­cul­ties or prob­lems that con­sumers face in the pur­chase of organic olive oil were mea­sured. First, we mea­sured the per­ceived dif­fi­cul­ties, and then we eval­u­ated whether these dif­fi­cul­ties really affect pur­chas­ing behav­ior.”

A total of 793 valid ques­tion­naires were col­lected and eval­u­ated. It was found that only 16 per­cent of urban con­sumers use organic EVOO (fre­quently or occa­sion­ally), while 84 per­cent were iden­ti­fied as non-con­sumers. Age, gen­der, and edu­ca­tion level of inter­vie­wees turned out to be of no sig­nif­i­cance.

The data analy­sis showed that both con­sumers and non-con­sumers had a clear per­cep­tion of the mar­ket bar­ri­ers. However, the answers of non-con­sumers did not clearly pin­point the mar­ket bar­ri­ers alone as the rea­son for not buy­ing. The results show that a group of con­sumers does not buy the prod­uct, per­ceives dif­fi­cul­ties or lim­it­ing fac­tors, and yet does not give any clear indi­ca­tion that these dif­fi­cul­ties directly deter­mine the deci­sion not to pur­chase,” Zamora said.

After re-eval­u­at­ing the sur­vey data and focus­ing on spe­cific answers in the ques­tion­naires, the researchers reached a remark­able con­clu­sion: the real rea­son for the non-con­sumers boy­cott is that they sim­ply think that con­ven­tional extra vir­gin is good enough for them and they believe that the organic attribute makes no dif­fer­ence. In other words, the prob­lem is the prod­uct itself, where the term organic’ cre­ates no added value to it.

We con­clude that this group of con­sumers sim­ply does not value the organic’ attribute highly enough and there­fore has no desire for or inter­est in organic EVOO,” Zamora explained. We were very sur­prised because of the impor­tance of organic foods. Nevertheless, we are con­scious that con­ven­tional olive oil is very appre­ci­ated by Spanish con­sumers and we have other papers which show that the high appre­ci­a­tion of con­ven­tional olive oil is a bar­rier in the con­sump­tion of organic olive oil.”

The researchers argued that the low appre­ci­a­tion of organic EVOO is more dif­fi­cult to deal with than the exist­ing mar­ket bar­ri­ers since it is asso­ci­ated with per­sonal val­ues and prod­uct aware­ness.

Moreover, a change in con­sumers behav­ior is not to be seen in the near future, as Zamora noted: We do not expect a change soon. We believe that this change will occur in the long term, as long as com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns are devel­oped to make the organic food more known and that con­sumers know exactly what means to be organic, as well as envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness cam­paigns. It is impor­tant that con­sumers be con­scious about how organic con­sump­tion con­tributes to the preser­va­tion of the envi­ron­ment. Consumers can pre­serve the envi­ron­ment not only through recy­cling but also with what they eat.”

On the other hand, the fact that the major­ity of the Spanish organic EVOO is exported is not really a prob­lem for Spanish pro­duc­ers, Zamora told us. From an eco­nomic per­spec­tive, pro­duc­ers do not sus­tain a loss. In for­eign mar­kets it is a much more val­ued prod­uct than in Spain, there­fore con­sumers are will­ing to pay a much higher price. It is a healthy prod­uct and, in addi­tion, organic.”

The report sus­tained that pub­lic admin­is­tra­tive bod­ies and agents of the olive oil sec­tor want to increase con­sump­tion of organic food in Spain, and organic EVOO is of high pri­or­ity due to the impor­tance of organic olive grow­ing in rural areas of the coun­try.

The results of the sur­vey could be used in the design of dif­fer­ent strate­gies to boost demand of organic EVOO, focus­ing on lim­it­ing the mar­ket bar­ri­ers for its exist­ing con­sumers and on chang­ing social and envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness for non-con­sumers.



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