Consumer beliefs and perceptions of organic fruit and vegetables: understanding aspects of influence and purchasing practice
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Introduction: The study provides insight into consumer attitudes towards organic fruit and vegetables, attempting to understand aspects of influence on purchasing practices. While ‘organic’ may be a familiar term for some, very few understand the actual meaning. Several supermarkets and fresh food markets are now selling organically produced food items and consequently provide consumers with an alternative to conventionally grown food. To date limited research has been conducted locally regarding consumer awareness pertaining to organic fruit and vegetables and how consumer perceptions affect their purchasing practices. Aim: This study aims to explore the perceived reasons influencing purchasing practices for organic fruit and vegetables. Method: The Fishbein and Aizen Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) is used in the study. The Theory of Reasoned Action defines the link between the beliefs, attitudes, norms, intentions and behaviours of individuals. According to the model, a person’s behaviour is determined by his/her behavioural intention to perform and this intention is determined by the person’s attitudes and subjective norms towards the behaviour. The study was conducted at three food and craft markets around the Durban area. The food focus at these markets is fresh fruit and vegetable products which are locally and sustainably produced, seasonal, farm-fresh and occasionally organic. The three markets that were used to conduct the surveys were the Shongweni Farmers and Craft Market, Pietermaritzburg Farmers market and the Litchi Orchard market. The markets are held outdoors on a weekly basis, usually running on Saturday mornings. The Shongweni Farmers and Craft Market is situated thirty-eight kilometres out of Durban in the upper Highway area and attracts crowds from as far away as Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Results: The regularity of organic fruit and vegetable purchases is relatively high, with the respondents making purchases either monthly (35%) or weekly (33%). This figure could be dramatically increased if the availability of organic fruit and vegetable options improved, which is confirmed by a majority of respondents (83%) agreeing to purchase more organic fruit and vegetables if it was available at their regular stores. The high levels of agreement (77%) imply that respondents are knowledgeable about the concept of organic fruit and vegetables, as well as the total organic food concept. The decision to buy organic requires that consumers prefer organic over conventional food and that the price of organic food must be within the consumer’s reservation price; organic product familiarity is therefore crucial to help shape and form positive perspectives, to assist in purchase decisions. Conclusion: The results of the study revealed that consumers do not have proper information pertaining to organic fruit and vegetables. The subjects in this study gained knowledge from various sources namely other organic customers, their own research and family members. The highest response indicated product labels as the go-to source. The importance of consumer information and ultimately how consumers relate knowledge regarding product traits and values in order to assess a product and make their preferences is explored. Higher levels of quantitative and personal knowledge regarding organic food are positively associated to a more certain attitude towards organic food; a better understanding of it; and a more regular use of information. The study highlighted the increased interest in organically produced fruit and vegetables in the South African market. It was discovered that the actual availability (or lack thereof) of organic produce in the local market was the main obstacle to purchasing organic fruit and vegetables. Recommendations: There is great need for a structure to be put in place that would help and guide South African consumers when making any organic purchase. South Africa has no regulatory association and farmers producing organically grown or raised products for the local market and export are certified by international standards and accreditation systems. Major local retailers have developed specific certification schemes products under their brands and subject farms to thorough inspections and audits. However, because there are no governmental requirements for certification the selection is dependent on the policy of the retailer. The focus of a government-led policy would be to protect consumers against false, misleading and unfounded claims.