The Importance of Consumer Trust for the Emergence of a Market for Organic Food: The Case of Thailand
Posted: 15 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 15, 2015
The organic food market in Thailand is still at an early stage of development, only about 0.1% of the domestic food market. In Bangkok and a few other big cities, organic food is now available in specialty stores and in upscale supermarket chains, at about twice the price of conventional mass-produced agricultural products. Hence, only urban, well-educated, better-off families have access to and can afford organic food. Many consumers fear being cheated when buying “green” products, but there is a lack of research on the role of trust for the adoption of new “green” products. In Thai culture, there is a strong aversion against losing face, which might be an impediment for introducing new premium-priced products with credence attributes. A related norm is to be kreng-jai (not causing inconvenience or discomfort) to others, especially respectable persons. Most Thai people would disregard lack of firm evidence in order to achieve smooth relationships. In this paper, the cultural influence of trust on consumer adoption of organic food in Thailand is explored by means of a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. Data were collected by means of two focus groups with consumers, ten depth interviews (minimum one hour long) with key stakeholders and a mall-intercept survey outside four supermarkets in Bangkok that sell organic food. Participants were screened for basic knowledge and awareness of organic food. The interviews and the survey study revealed that although most participants were aware of organic food, most of them could not explain the details of its qualifying characteristics or differentiate it from the other “safe” options. Thai consumers’ attitudes towards buying organic food primarily depend on how healthy and environmentally friendly they believe organic food is. In the qualitative interviews, many people referred to cancer prevention and a common statement was that we are surrounded by toxic influences in everyday life. Hence, they would like to find better alternatives, if possible. The intention to buy organic food depends mostly on personal preferences, but with a considerable influence from perceived social expectations as well. Consistent with the latter, many participants in the qualitative interviews made reference to the need to take good care of one’s family or being looked after by one’s parents who prefer the healthier food options. Regression analysis shows a strong relationship between behavioral intention and buying behavior regarding organic food. After controlling for buying intentions, mistrust in the authenticity of food sold as organic food has a significant negative impact on self-reported buying behavior. This is consistent with many non-buyers who participated in the qualitative interviews and expressed positive attitudes towards organic food refusing to pay a “stupidity fee” for an illusory premium.
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