University of Tasmania
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Unpacking consumer purchase of organic food : how consumers perceive organic food and what factors drive their purchases

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posted on 2023-05-28, 10:03 authored by Maria MasseyMaria Massey
Growth in the organic food market has led to changes in the way organic food is marketed and purchased. Organic food is now widely available from supermarkets, and consumer interest in organic food has risen steadily over the past two decades. While the literature on the subject provides insights into organic food purchasing behaviour, there is a lack of clarity around the factors that contribute to the formation of consumers' perceptions and their purchasing decisions. This thesis examines the factors that trigger purchases of organic food, the extent to which consumers understand the meaning of the term 'organic', and the product-level factors that affect choice of an organic brand. To examine the factors that drive the purchase of organic food, three independent but related studies were conducted. First, data were collected from a systematic review of literature that included both qualitative and quantitative methods; then, an experimental study was used to collect data from Australian consumers. This thesis employs the 'thesis by publications' format and consists of the following papers. Paper One, 'Lost in translation: distinctions in policymakers' definitions and consumers' understanding of organic‚ÄövÑvp', is under review for the International Journal of Consumer Studies. In order to gain empirical clarity around the level of consumer knowledge about organic food, this study examined the extent to which consumer interpretation of the term 'organic' matches the definition as specified in organic certification standards. Drawing on data from previous academic studies exploring the consumer definition of 'organic' and regulatory definitions from intergovernmental, national, and industry levels, the findings provide insights about the gaps in consumer understanding of the term 'organic'. Further, this study shows the extent to which consumers' interpretations both overlap and differ from the policy-intended definitions of 'organic'. Although there is a modest overlap in consumers' and policymakers' interpretations of the term in areas concerning health and the environment, there are considerable gaps in consumers' understanding of production practices that are discernible to policymakers only, and not to the general public. Paper Two, 'A meta-analytic study of the factors driving the purchase of organic food', has been published in Appetite. To facilitate empirical clarity around the prevailing factors contributing to the purchase of organic food, this study systematically aggregated and analysed the comparative importance of factors identified in the literature as influencing the purchase of organic food. Drawing on previous studies from the last 25 years, the findings show a list of factors that drive purchasing, including consumers' positive attitudes to organic food, ranked in order of their importance to consumers. This study contributes to the literature by advancing the application of the theory of reasoned action, which indicates that consumer attitudes towards a behaviour are important predictors of behavioural intention. Furthermore, utilising the concepts of information economics theory, the findings of this study demonstrate the higher importance of the credence attributes of organic food‚ÄövÑvÆthat is, the perceived benefits of organic over conventionally produced food‚ÄövÑvÆover the search and experience attributes that consumers use to evaluate a product prior to and after consumption. Paper Three, 'What drives consumers' choice of branded organic food products in retail stores?', is being prepared for submission to the Journal of Retailing. Through the lens of cue utilisation theory, this study examines the relationship between organic product attributes and the purchase of organic brands. Drawing on data from a discrete choice experiment among Australian consumers, the findings bring attention to product attributes that increase the probability of consumers choosing organic brands. The findings show that consumers' choice of organic brands is most influenced by the local origin of the product. Overall, this thesis contributes to the literature by examining specific factors related to consumers' choice of organic food products and brands. Using the theory of reasoned action, information economics theory, and cue utilisation theory, the findings of this thesis enrich the literature and support the contention that consumers' positive attitudes towards organic food are an important predictor of purchase behaviour. From a practical perspective, the contributions are three-fold. First, through the identification of gaps in communication regarding the essence of the term 'organic', this thesis indicates areas for improvement in communication and alignment of vocabularies that may aid effective market functioning. Second, the categorisation and evaluation of the comparative importance of factors driving the purchase of organic food can help retailers shape the advertising claims of organic food and has broader applications in developing a marketing strategy for organic food. Third, identifying the relative importance of product attributes for consumers can help marketers understand consumer purchase behaviour regarding organic brands and assist with the design of retailer brand strategies. Overall, the findings have significant implications for retailers of organic food by assisting them in identifying factors that stimulate the purchase of organic food.


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Copyright 2019 the author Chapter 5 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Massey, M., O'Cass, A., Otahal, P., 2018. A meta-analytic study of the factors driving the purchase of organic food, Appetite, 125, 418-427

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