Have you considered lifestyle as a reason for organic consumption?

Typically, there are a few concepts that people feel strongly reflect the organic buying habits of consumers. Most agree that: women buy more organic foods; people in higher economic classes buy more organic foods; and higher educated people buy more organic foods. This is the reason that you will find more organic food stores or stores that sell organic food items, located near highly affluent neighborhoods versus lower income neighborhoods.

These are accepted facts, but recently I was sent a 2022 research article published in Heliyon, which is an open-source journal available on Science Direct, that has challenged those facts. In this article, the authors look at the impacts of social class as well as lifestyle surrounding the consumption of organic foods in South Korea. They specifically are comparing income-level and education to a “lifestyle” for the decisions related to organic purchases and consumption. Lifestyle is defined as the relationship between the individual’s personality and the person’s living environment (not your education or wealth). Even though it is research in South Korea, they still closely align with what we would expect in the United States.

The premise or hypothesis for this research is that an individual’s lifestyle is likely to be associated with consumer behavior for organic food consumption and that those elements reflecting a person’s lifestyle can influence organic food consumption substantially or in research terms, be statistically significant.

For this research on lifestyle and how it influences purchases they looked at these variables – interests, opinions and activities. They utilized variables like this: an individual’s interest in organic foods, awareness of the health and environmental impacts of organic food consumption, and willingness to consume organic food at higher prices.

In layman’s terms, they found that experiences like attendance at food-related educational events; an interest in organic foods; an awareness of the impact of organic foods; and a willingness to purchase organic foods, all had a greater influence on the consumption of organic foods than did social status i.e., wealth and education. To put it simply, price may be the first reason given for not buying organic, but these other experiences can easily override price objections. We all know folks that bought something they thought was too expensive but still had reasons to want it beyond price!

Basically, the more organic education we do, the purchase of organic foods and/or the consumption of organic foods will be greater across all socioeconomic classes of people. Organic is not just for the higher income/ higher educated classes of people but instead, if educated, are desired and preferred by all classes!

This is not really in-depth research as much as it is a look at some “research” findings and drawing some conclusions. They are of course open to interpretation, but for me, I think we in organic agriculture do need to educate the consumer more than has been done. We also don’t need to ever say that low-income or even lower middle-income consumers are not going to purchase organic because of the price. With education, this research article would say, they are just as likely if not more likely to buy organic than the higher income-higher educated consumer!

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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