Factors influencing consumers’ perception of the environmental and health benefits of organic vegetables
Although one’s health is the prime concern of human beings, the environment should also be a matter of equal importance as conventional agriculture which uses chemical inputs could also affect in one way or other, the health of the environment. Nonetheless, when the awareness of people of the effects of conventional agriculture on the environment is enhanced, they would be convinced to express their increasing concern on the need to protect the environment (Hemmerling et al. 2015; Falguera et al. 2012; Hjelmar 2011; Haghiri et al. 2009). Many people now consider the environment as gift of nature with an inherent right to remain healthy, but since the environment itself cannot express such right, human beings have the duty to respect this right as it would also benefit them in return. Consumers with such altruistic vision are aware of agricultural produce that are beneficial or harmful to the environment, and are also able to see the connection between the environment and human health. The findings of this study clearly indicate that consumers in Bangkok, in general, very strongly consider organic agriculture as environment-friendly. Similarly, they also strongly believe that organic vegetables are beneficial to their health. Such perception is directly attributed to their frequent access to information on organic agriculture and organic vegetables through popular sources such as the internet and television (Table 9). As most people in Bangkok have their own personal computers and smart phones, they could easily access the information on any topics of their interest including those on organic agriculture.
The increasing perception of consumers of the environmental effects of organic agriculture and health benefits of organic vegetables correctly, with their increasing household income, is consistent with the findings of Altarawneh (2013), Briz and Ward (2009), and Haghiri et al. (2009). This could be attributed to the consumers’ education and their habit of seeking information which had been enhanced with increased income that also raised their correct perception of the health benefits of organic vegetables and the environmental effects of organic agriculture. Furthermore, findings from this study which indicate that female respondents are more aware of the environmental and health benefits associated with organic agriculture and organic vegetables, respectively than their male counterparts is valid because in Thailand, women normally have the greater responsibility of buying and cooking food for their families. They also have greater responsibility in taking care of their children and the elderly as well as the sick household members. Obviously, they are always seeking information related to health and the effects of different kinds of foods including organic vegetables. However, this does not conform to results of other studies which showed that gender insignificantly influence the consumers’ perception of the environmental and health benefits of organic produce (Altarawneh 2013; Kumar and Ali 2011).
The significant positive effect of respondents’ age on their correct perception of the environmental and health benefits of organic vegetables is sensible. With gradual increase in age, consumers become more increasingly concerned about their health, and are keen in collecting information on the effects of different kinds of foods on their health. This is however, inconsistent with the findings of the study by Altarawneh (2013), which indicated that age had no relationship with consumers’ perception on this aspect. The presence in a household of a sick person was also found in this study to have an influence on the consumers’ correct perception of both the environmental and health benefits of organic vegetables, which is natural because most people in Thailand are concerned about the health of their sick household members and thus, would always seek information on the health and environmental effects of organic produce and become aware of the positive and negative effects of organic and conventional vegetables, respectively. Interestingly, the result of the analysis revealed that consumers who are living in suburban areas are more aware of the health effects of organic vegetables than the consumers living in the core part of the city, which could be explained by the fact that normally high- and medium-income consumers are inclined to live in the suburbs.
Factors influencing the consumption of organic vegetables
The results indicating that significant consumption of organic vegetables is positively influenced by consumers’ perception of environmental benefits of organic agriculture and health benefits of organic vegetables (Table 6) support the proposition of this study, and is consistent with the findings of earlier studies conducted in Thailand (Sangkumchaliang and Huang 2012; Roiner-Schobesberger et al. 2008). The increasing concern of people about the environment also has direct bearing on their consumption of organic food (Hsu and Chen 2014; Bravo et al. 2013; Ozguven 2012; Aertsens et al. 2010). Consumers who are well aware of the environmental effects of organic agriculture and the health benefits of organic vegetables and vis-à-vis those of conventional vegetables, recognize that their household members, including the children, the sick and elderly, would benefit more by consuming organic vegetables and that such produce would also contribute to the conservation of the environment, which in turn would also be beneficial to themselves. In so doing, they satisfy their altruistic vision about keeping the precious gift of nature safe and clean. Therefore, the consumers who are concerned about environmental conservation and healthy life have a tendency towards purchasing organic foods (Hemmerling et al. 2015; Goetzke et al. 2014; Hsu and Chen 2014; Mohamad et al. 2014; Bravo et al. 2013; Ozguven 2012; Sangkumchaliang and Huang 2012; Hjelmar 2011; Haghiri et al. 2009).
Normally prices of organic vegetables are considerably higher than that of conventional vegetables because of the health and environmental benefits of the former (Hemmerling et al. 2015; Bravo et al. 2013). In Bangkok, the prices of some organic vegetables could be more than double the prices of conventional vegetables. For example, the average price of conventional Chinese kale and Chinese cabbage was 116 Baht/kg during the time of the survey for this study, whereas the prices of the organic variant of these vegetables at the supermarkets were 250 Baht and 150 Baht/kg, respectively (Srinieng 2017). Consistent with this, past studies on organic produce showed that organic vegetables in Bangkok could command prices that are 88–170% higher than that of conventional vegetables (Sriwaranun et al. 2015; Roiner-Schobesberger et al. 2008). Obviously, even the medium-income consumers not to mention the low-income consumers, would not be able to purchase organic vegetables regularly despite their perception that organic vegetables are beneficial for their health and that organic agriculture is beneficial for the environment. As also implied through this study, the capacity of the respondents to buy organic vegetables is significantly and positively associated with the household income of consumers. Such findings are reinforced by the overwhelming concern of majority of both conventional and organic vegetable consumers who mentioned that they could not consume organic vegetables due to their very high prices (Table 8). For such reason, most of the so-called organic vegetable consumers in Bangkok are consuming both types of vegetables. Our findings are in conformity with several other studies (Hemmerling et al. 2015; Mohamad et al. 2014; Nie and Zepeda 2011; Onyango et al. 2006; Magnusson et al. 2001).
Another reason given by respondents for not consuming organic vegetables only is the unavailability of the vegetables of their choice. There are very limited varieties of organic vegetables available in the market, and some of them are consumed as salad only. Cauliflowers, cabbage, and different varieties of leafy vegetables and gourds, which are consumed daily by the Thais with their staple food rice, are mostly inorganic and are much cheaper than organic vegetables. Moreover, only few stores are selling organic produce in Bangkok and, more so, these stores are not easily accessible to most people. Consumers, therefore, have no other alternative except to consume both organic and conventional vegetables.
As shown in Table 6, the consumers’ perception of the health benefits of organic vegetables rises as their age increases. However, the respondents indicated that their consumption of organic vegetables is reduced as they get older. This contradicts with the findings of other studies, which revealed a tendency towards increasing consumption of organic food with increasing age of consumers (Mohamad et al. 2014; Bravo et al. 2013; Nie and Zepeda 2011). In the case of Bangkok, such findings of this study could be attributed to two factors. Firstly, it is possible that the annual household incomes of older people are lower than that of the young generation of consumers for being more economically versatile than the older people. Another reason could be due to the fact that even with lower income, older people’s household expenses could be higher than that of the younger generation. This is because in Thai society, parents normally support their children’s education up to the university level while their health-related expenses gradually increase as they get older. Since the prices of organic vegetables are much higher than that of conventional vegetables, a decrease in income or increase in household expenses would be detrimental to the people’s desire to buy and consume organic vegetables.
A study carried out in Denmark showed that households with children buy more organic food (Hjelmar 2011) because most people are more concerned about the effect of food, firstly on their children’s health and secondly, on older people’s health. Normally, the children and older people are more vulnerable to all sorts of health problems due to their weak immune systems. Logically, households with children are supposed to consume organic vegetables. Nevertheless, findings of this study do not support this supposition as the results of the regression analysis showed a negative association between organic vegetables consumption and households with children. This might be partly explained by the fact that normally, households with children incur higher expenses than households without children, as substantial portion of family’s income is usually expended on raising and educating the children, thereby making it difficult for most families to buy and consume organic vegetables.
Consumption of organic vegetables is positively influenced by the consumers’ satisfaction with the accessibility of green stores and the prices of green produce (Table 7). Consumers in Bangkok are usually confronted with the inaccessibility of organic vegetable stores as only few stores are selling such vegetables. Obviously, consumers who are living relatively close to organic stores are buying organic vegetables, but vice-versa in the case of non-consumers. Better distribution of organic stores therefore improves consumers’ access to organic produce, eventually increasing the consumption of such products (Bravo et al. 2013; Zanoli and Naspetti 2002). Likewise, consumers’ satisfaction with the price has positive influence on the consumption of organic vegetables, implying that people who can afford organic vegetables, despite their high prices, are the ones satisfied with the price. Affordability, as revealed by the findings of the logistic regression analysis in this study, is directly related to the consumers’ household incomes.
Additionally, this study revealed that two-thirds of consumers of conventional vegetables do not see any difference between organic and conventional vegetables (Table 8), which could partly explain the reasons for consuming both organic and conventional vegetables. Such findings however, somewhat contradict with the results of the analysis of consumers’ perception of health benefit of organic vegetables, which revealed very high positive perception of health benefits of organic vegetables. Nonetheless, the respondents seemed to be still confused about the advantages and disadvantages of conventional and organic vegetables. This intimates that the efforts made by both government and non-government organizations to create public awareness of the advantages of organic and conventional agricultural products are not very effective.