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Social and environmental attributes of food products in an emerging mass market: Challenges of signaling and consumer perception, with European illustrations

Jean-Marie Codron (), Lucie Siriex and Thomas Reardon

Agriculture and Human Values, 2006, vol. 23, issue 3, 283-297

Abstract: This paper focuses on the environmental and ethical attributes of food products and their production processes. These two aspects have been recently recognized and are becoming increasingly important in terms of signaling and of consumer perception. There are two relevant thematic domains: environmental and social. Within each domain there are two movements. Hence the paper first presents the four movements that have brought to the fore new aspects of food product quality, to wit: (1) aspects of environmental ethics (organic agriculture and integrated agriculture), and (2) social ethics (fair trade and ethical trade). Next, it describes how the actors in the movements (producers, retailers, NGOs, and governments) are organized and how consumers perceive each of the movements. From the perspective of the actors in the movements themselves, the movements are grouped into two “actors’ philosophies.” The first is a “radical” philosophy (the organic production and fair trade movements that arose in radical opposition to conventional agriculture or unfair trade relations), and the second is a “reformist” philosophy (the integrated agriculture and ethical trade movements that arose as efforts to modify but not radically change conventional agriculture). From the point of view of consumers, the classification of the movements is based on perceptions of the “domain” of the movements. That is, consumers tend to perceive the organic production movement and the integrated agricultural movement as a single group because they both deal with the environment. By contrast, consumers tend to group the fair trade movement and the ethical trade movement together because they both deal essentially with social ethics. Recently, key players such as large retailers and agribusinesses have adopted as part of their overall quality assurance programs both environmental and ethical attributes. Their involvement in and adoption of the goals of the movements have, however, generated tensions and conflicts. This is particularly true within the radical movements, because of concerns of cooptation. Finally, the paper identifies challenges faced by those promoting food products with environmental and social/ethical attributes as they attempt to communicate coherent signals to consumers at this crucial moment in the emergence of a mass market for these products. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Keywords: Commodity markets; Consumer perception; Ethical trade; Europe; Fair trade; Integrated agriculture; Niche markets; Organic agriculture; Supermarkets; Quality signals (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2006
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DOI: 10.1007/s10460-006-9000-x

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