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Social and Environmental Attributes of Food Products in an Emerging Mass Market : Challenges of Signaling and Consumer Perception, With European Illustrations

  • Jean-Marie Codron

    (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique - UMR MOISA - Place Viala - 34060 Montpellier Cedex 1 - FRANCE)

  • Lucie Sirieix

    (Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier - UMR MOISA - Place Viala - 34060 Montpellier Cedex 1 - FRANCE)

  • Thomas Reardon

    (Department of Agricultural Economics - Michigan State University - East Lansing, Michigan - USA)

This paper focuses on the environmental and ethical attributes of food products and their production processes. These two aspects have been recently recognized and are becoming increasingly important, in terms of signaling and of consumer perception. There are two thematic domains: environmental and social. Within each domain there are two movements. Hence the paper first presents the four movements that have brought to the fore new aspects of food product quality, to wit: (1) aspects of environmental ethics (organic agriculture and integrated agriculture) and (2)social ethics (fair trade and ethical trade). Then it describes how the actors in the movements producers, retailers, NGOs, and governments) are organized and how consumers perceive each of the movements. From the perspective of the actors in the movements themselves, the movements are grouped into two 'actors' philosophies' : a “radical” philosophy (the organic production and fair trade movements that arose in radical opposition to conventional agriculture or unfair trade relations) and a “reformist” philosophy (the integrated agriculture and ethical trade movements that arose as efforts to modify but not radically change conventional agriculture). From the point of view of consumers, the classification of the movements is based on perceptions of the 'domain' of the movements. That is, consumers tend to perceive as a grouping the organic production movement and the integrated agricultural movement, as they both deal with the environment. By contrast, consumers tend to group the fair trade movement and the ethical trade movement, as they both deal essentially with social ethics. Recently, key players such as large retailers and agribusinesses have adopted as part of their overall quality assurance programs both the environmental and the ethical attributes. Their involvement in and adoption of the goals of the movements have, however, generated tensions and conflicts, in particular within the radical movements, because of concerns of cooptation. The paper identifies challenges for those promoting food products with environmental and social/ethical attributes to communicate coherent signals to consumers at this crucial moment of an emerging mass market for these products.

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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Industrial Organization with number 0512002.

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Length: 38 pages
Date of creation: 02 Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpio:0512002
Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 38
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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  1. Lucie Sirieix & Ariel Meunier & Burkhard Schaer & Emmanuel Cheyns, 2004. "Les consommateurs et le commerce équitable : scepticisme, confiance accordée et disposition à s'engager," Working Papers 155511, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France.
  2. Roberts, James A. & Bacon, Donald R., 1997. "Exploring the Subtle Relationships between Environmental Concern and Ecologically Conscious Consumer Behavior," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 79-89, September.
  3. Spencer Henson & Bruce Traill, 2000. "Measuring Perceived Performance of the Food System and Consumer Food-Related Welfare," Journal of Agricultural Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(3), pages 388-404.
  4. P. De Pelsmacker & L. Driesen & G. Rayp, 2003. "Are fair trade labels good business ? Ethics and coffee buying intentions," Working Papers of Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium 03/165, Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration.
  5. Darby, Michael R & Karni, Edi, 1973. "Free Competition and the Optimal Amount of Fraud," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 67-88, April.
  6. Giovannucci, Daniele & Koekoek, Freek Jan, 2003. "The State of Sustainable Coffee: A Study of Twelve Major Markets," MPRA Paper 17172, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  7. Blend, Jeffrey R. & van Ravenswaay, Eileen O., 1998. "Consumer Demand For Ecolabeled Apples: Survey Methods And Descriptive Results," Staff Papers 11645, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.
  8. Laura Raynolds, 2000. "Re-embedding global agriculture: The international organic and fair trade movements," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 297-309, September.
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