ABSTRACT

A substantial number of studies has already investigated differences within the consumer market with regard to attitudes and perceptions in relation to farm animal welfare. Likewise, several studies focused on the gap that exists between positive attitudes and reported consumption or purchase intentions for sustainable food products in general and higher welfare products more specific, and on the factors influencing this attitude–behavior gap. Little or no studies, however, have started from reported pro-welfare behavior to distinguish between consumer groups and to explore the motivations of the respective behavior. With this study, we aim to group consumers according to their reported buying frequency of higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken meat. Similarities and dissimilarities between these groups are mapped in terms of individual characteristics, product attribute importance, perceived consumer effectiveness, perception of higher welfare products, and attitude toward a welfare label. The research methodology applied was a quantitative study with cross-sectional consumer survey data collected in Flanders in spring 2007 (n = 469). Pro-welfare behavior was unevenly distributed across different consumer segments, despite a general interest and concern for bird welfare. A consistent choice for standard (no welfare premium) poultry products was related to strong perceived price and availability barriers, to a low importance attached to ethical issues as product attributes, and to a low perceived consumer effectiveness. A consistent choice for products with higher welfare standards to the contrast associated with a high importance attached to ethical issues; a low effect of price and availability perception; a strong association of higher welfare products with product attributes like health, taste, and quality; and a high perceived consumer effectiveness. The identification of market segments with common characteristics is essential for positioning higher welfare products and developing effective communication strategies. Finally, a welfare label emerged as an appropriate communication vehicle for consumers who engage in pro-welfare behavior and who experienced the label as a solution to lower the search costs for higher welfare products.

INTRODUCTION

State of the Art

The present affluent Western society is increasingly interested in and concerned about the welfare standards of food producing animals (Harper and Henson, 2001; European Commission, 2005; Boogaard et al., 2006; Vanhonacker et al., 2009). However, market shares for animal products with a welfare provenance remain rather marginal (FAWC, 2006). This inconsistency with the theory of Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) of reasoned action, in which marketplace behavior is assumed to follow an attitude, is often referred to as the citizen-consumer duality of an individual (Te Velde et al., 2002; Casimir and Dutilh, 2003). This duality has already been explicitly discussed in the field of green consumerism (e.g., Laskova, 2007) and sustainable food consumption (e.g., Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006) but has never been the specific scope of research in relation to the consumption or purchase, or both, of higher welfare poultry products.

Available data on determinants of the attitude-behavior gap pertain to the specificity of the food buying process (Von Alvensleben, 1997; Freedom Food, 2007), the general dominating importance of other product attributes (Verbeke and Viaene, 1999), the inadequacy of information provision (Harper and Henson, 2001; Korthals, 2001; Delezie et al., 2006), and the fact that consumers are a heterogeneous group of individuals (Verbeke, 2005). Besides a substantial consumer segment that hardly considers animal welfare when purchasing animal products, there is a segment that does buy higher welfare products very frequently (Ingenbleek et al., 2004; Freedom Food, 2007; Vanhonacker et al., 2007). In literature, a smaller gap between attitude and behavior (or behavioral intention) has been reported for consumers with a higher involvement, with a lower uncertainty in relation to information and knowledge, with a higher behavioral control in terms of availability and higher perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE; Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006), and with a higher importance attached to animal welfare (Verbeke and Vackier, 2004).

Rationale and Scope

This study concentrates on profiling consumer segments that differ in their buying frequency of higher welfare eggs and chicken meat (further termed as pro-welfare behavior). The specific focus on the poultry sector is motivated by the significance of the sector in the study area, which is Flanders (northern region of Belgium); by significant consumption rates of eggs and chicken meat among Flemish consumers; and by the fact that welfare standards for laying hens and broilers are perceived worse as compared with the other main production animals in Flanders (pigs and cattle). As a consequence, eggs and chicken meat are considered as welfare-sensitive products and improvements in bird welfare have been identified as outspoken strong expectations by European consumers (Castellini et al., 2008). As such, the purchase of higher welfare animal products is thought to be concentrated in the poultry sector (FAWC, 2006; Freedom Food, 2007).

Although most studies have started from attitudes that relate to the concern and interest in animal welfare, we will offset this study with distinguishing consumer segments based on their reported purchase frequency of eggs from hens that are kept under higher welfare standards (higher welfare eggs) and of meat from broilers that are raised under higher welfare standards (higher welfare chicken meat). The specific goal is to investigate the role that different personal characteristics play in guiding the level of pro-welfare buying behavior of eggs and chicken meat. Given the scarcity of information about pro-welfare behavior, we mainly formulate the study hypotheses based on findings from green and sustainable or ethical consumerism and seek to what extent they apply to pro-welfare behavior.

Vermeir and Verbeke (2006) defined the ethical consumer—a concept related to higher welfare consumer—as a middle-aged person with a higher income, who has an above average education, with a prestigious occupation. No sex differences were reported. We verify the interest and concern in animal welfare in general and in bird welfare more specifically and the extent to what it translates in pro-welfare behavior. Hypotheses are that a higher translation of positive interest and concern in pro-welfare behavior is positively associated with a higher importance of animal welfare both as a social theme and as a product attribute, a higher PCE, a stronger association of higher welfare products with positive product attributes, and lower perceived barriers (price and availability) for purchasing pro-welfare products. A final hypothesis relates to an expected higher need for a welfare label and higher willingness to pay for products with a welfare provenance among consumers who already engage more in pro-welfare behavior. Establishing consumer profiles is relevant because it can provide a guide as to how and who to target, and how to position higher welfare products or communicate welfare efforts effectively to consumers.

As a secondary objective of this study, we are also interested in comparing the results for higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken meat, given some different characteristics of both products: eggs do not really have a substitute, hence being more price inelastic as compared with chicken meat; eggs are a derivate of the bird, whereas chicken meat concerns the consumption of the bird itself after slaughter; and eggs, more than chicken meat, have been subject to initiatives that are believed to associate with better animal welfare among consumers (e.g., free range, outdoor access, lower density, more space).

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study Design and Subjects

Cross-sectional survey data were collected through self-administered Web-based questionnaires in Flanders during a 5-wk period in March and April 2007. Questionnaires were pretested. Consumers were selected using a nonprobability snowball sampling procedure, with the aim to obtain a sample that matches with the age distribution of the adult population and that includes a high degree of variation in other demographic variables. To account for sample deviations from the age distribution of the population, weighing coefficients were applied during analyses. In total, the sample comprised 469 valid consumer questionnaires. Sample characteristics are presented in Table 1. The age of the participants ranged from 18 to 79 yr, with a mean age of 40.7 (SD = 13.5), which corresponds with the population mean (40.2 yr). Compared with census data, the data set consists of a higher share of females (+10%); a small overrepresentation of people from urban areas (±5%); an oversampling of the provinces West and East Flanders (+18 and +4.7%, respectively) at the expense of Antwerp, Flemish Brabant, and Limburg (−3.2, −8.7, and −10.8%, respectively); and a higher share of highly educated people. The study complied with standard ethics procedures in market research. All participants in the study were adult volunteers who were informed about the scope of the study. The study did not involve the collection of sensitive personal information. Data collection was fully anonymous and all data were stored in a nonidentifiable format.

Selected sociodemographic characteristics of the sample (n = 469)

Table 1
Selected sociodemographic characteristics of the sample (n = 469)
Item Sample Census1 
Sex (%)   
 Male 39.6 50.0 
 Female 60.4 50.0 
Age   
 Mean 40.7 40.2 
 SD 13.5  
Province (%)   
 Flemish Brabant 8.3 17.0 
 Antwerp 24.5 27.7 
 Limburg 2.5 13.3 
 West Flanders 37.0 19.0 
 East Flanders 27.7 23.0 
Living environment (%)   
 Urban 39.6 35.0 
 Rural 60.4 65.0 
Past living environment (%)   
 Urban 41.4  
 Rural 58.6  
Education (%)   
 ≤18 yr 29.7  
 >18 yr 70.3  
Vegetarian (%)   
 Yes 14.6  
 No 85.4  
Item Sample Census1 
Sex (%)   
 Male 39.6 50.0 
 Female 60.4 50.0 
Age   
 Mean 40.7 40.2 
 SD 13.5  
Province (%)   
 Flemish Brabant 8.3 17.0 
 Antwerp 24.5 27.7 
 Limburg 2.5 13.3 
 West Flanders 37.0 19.0 
 East Flanders 27.7 23.0 
Living environment (%)   
 Urban 39.6 35.0 
 Rural 60.4 65.0 
Past living environment (%)   
 Urban 41.4  
 Rural 58.6  
Education (%)   
 ≤18 yr 29.7  
 >18 yr 70.3  
Vegetarian (%)   
 Yes 14.6  
 No 85.4  

1Source: FOD Economie—Algemene Directie Statistiek en Economische Informatie, Dienst Demografie.

In addition, the number and percentage of vegetarians in the study is reported. Strictly speaking, vegetarianism is the practice of following a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products; fish, shellfish, and other sea animals; and poultry). However, vegetarianism has several variants, some of which are more relaxed and include fish (pesco-vegetarianism or pescetarianism) or stricter and exclude eggs and dairy products on top of the meat (veganism). Vegetarians as referred to in this study are mainly pesco-vegetarians (i.e., consumers who eat fish, eggs, and dairy products but no meat). Given the study purpose, it will be important to consider this group separately, especially for analyses concerning the consumption of chicken meat.

Questionnaire and Scales

Attitude Toward Animal Welfare and Pro-Welfare Behavior.

Two survey questions were included to account for the interest in, and concern for, animal welfare. First, the extent to which the respondent agreed with the statement that he or she judges animal welfare an important issue was measured on a 5-point Likert agreement scale with extreme values of “totally disagree” (1) and “totally agree” (5). Second, the respondent was asked to evaluate the current condition of the welfare of laying hens and broilers in Flemish livestock production. Evaluations were registered on a 7-point scale that ranged from “very bad” (1) to “very good” (7).

The pro-welfare behavior measure is assessed as the buying frequency of higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken and was formulated as the following question: “Out of 10 times that you buy eggs (chicken meat), how often do you buy eggs (chicken meat) that have been produced with extra care for the animal’s welfare?” Answers were registered on a ratio scale, ranging from 0 to 10. Because no normal distribution in the buying frequency is expected, the response scale will be divided in 5 sections for further analysis, corresponding with 5 groups with a different level of pro-welfare behavior: consumers who never buy higher welfare eggs (chicken meat) [response grade 0; no welfare eggs (chicken meat)], consumers who rarely buy higher welfare products [grades 1, 2, and 3; little welfare eggs (chicken meat)], consumers who buy higher welfare products to some degree [grades 4, 5, and 6; some welfare eggs (chicken meat)], consumers who regularly buy higher welfare products [grades 7, 8, and 9; regular welfare eggs (chicken meat)], and consumers who always buy higher welfare eggs (chicken meat) [grade 10; all welfare eggs (chicken meat)]. Vegetarians will be considered a separate group, irrespective of their response grade.

Profiling Variables: Demographics and Meat Consumption.

The different consumer groups will be described and compared in terms of sociodemographic characteristics (sex, age, and education) and meat consumption. Self-reported meat consumption is measured on a 6-point frequency scale, ranging from “never” (1) to “daily” (6) for different animal products (beef, pork, chicken meat, eggs, fish), as well as for meat substitutes.

Role of Attribute Perceptions, PCE, and Consumption Motives and Barriers

First respondents were asked about the importance of a list of food product attributes in their decision to buy animal products (importance score). The importance was measured on a 5-point scale, anchored by “totally unimportant” (1) and “very important” (5). Product attributes were health, taste, price, safety, trustworthiness, quality, availability, and ethical aspect. For the latter, explicit reference to animal welfare and environment was given between parentheses. Second, PCE [i.e., the extent to which individuals believe that their actions make a difference in solving a problem (Ellen et al., 1991)] was probed through 4 statements focusing on the theme of animal welfare: “One person alone can do very little for the animal’s welfare,” “Efforts concerning animal welfare by one person are useless as long as other people do not want to do something,” “Refusing products that do harm to the animal’s welfare is a good way to change the production system and the production offer,” and “An individual person can make a difference for the animal’s welfare by carefully selecting the products.” Responses were measured on 5-point Likert agreement scales. Finally, questions were provided specifically in relation to eggs and chicken meat and its production. Respondents were probed for their beliefs regarding higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken meat in terms of the health, taste, price, acceptability, safety, trustworthiness, quality, and availability of the product. The discussion will make distinction between product attributes that can be considered a motive (health, taste, acceptability, safety, trustworthiness, and quality) and product attributes that rather function as a barrier for purchase of higher welfare products (price and availability). The 8 product attributes considered are similar to the ones that were probed for their importance in the general decision process of animal food products for the respondent. As a result, both scores can be combined into 1 measure that is a possible predictor value for the level of pro-welfare behavior. To this end, the 8 belief scores are rescaled from variables ranging from 1 to 5 into variables ranging from −2 to +2 (i.e., original variables minus 3). For each respondent, a predictor value for the level of pro-welfare behavior is calculated from the 8 product attributes:

 
formula

The predictor value can range from −16 to +80. A higher score corresponds with a higher likelihood of engagement in pro-welfare behavior. The interpretation of the value involves some assumptions and as a consequence it is a relative measure rather than absolute. Assumptions are that respondents answer consistently, that the 8 product attributes cover the most important product attributes, and that the choice for higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken meat is determined by product attribute beliefs. Conversely, a strong match between the predictor value and the reported pro-welfare behavior coincides with consistent answering behavior, a high importance of the product attribute, and a strong effect of product attribute beliefs on the choice for higher welfare eggs and chicken meat.

Outcome Variables: Interest in Welfare Labeling.

Respondent agreement on the statement “I use label info when I make a food choice” was registered on a 5-point Likert agreement scale. Next, respondents were asked more specific questions to indicate their need for a label that refers to the welfare provenance for both eggs and chicken meat as a food product category. Answers were registered on a 5-point scale, ranging from “I have no need at all” (1) to “I have a strong need” (5). In addition, they were probed for the willingness of buying eggs or chicken meat with such a label for 6 different price premiums (equal price, +5%, +10%, +20%, +50%, and +100%), using a 5-point Likert scale that ranged from “very unlikely” (1) to “very likely” (5).

Statistical Analyses

Data were analyzed using SPSS 15.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). Means with SD are presented in table format. Frequencies are provided in table format or histogram presentation. A Kolmogorov-Smirnov test is performed to verify whether the buying frequency of both higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken is normally distributed. A construct reliability test with Cronbach’s α statistic is performed to check for the reliability of the PCE scales. Bivariate analyses including cross-tabulation with χ2 statisitics and 1-way ANOVA comparison of means with Bonferroni post hoc tests were used to profile the segments with different levels of pro-welfare behavior in terms of the sociodemographic, attitudinal, and behavioral variables that are included in the study.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Attitude Toward Animal Welfare and Pro-Welfare Behavior

A pronounced interest and concern for animal welfare is shared among our sample. The importance of the concept of animal welfare corresponded with a mean score of 4.29 ± 0.75 on the 5-point scale, and both the welfare of laying hens and broilers was negatively evaluated (2.91 ± 1.59 and 2.73 ± 1.58 on the 7-point scale, respectively).

A nonnormal frequency distribution is found for the consumption frequency of both eggs and chicken meat of the sample (Kolmogorov-Smirnov, P < 0.01), allowing us to convert the original scale into 5 groups with a different level of pro-welfare behavior (see Material and Methods section). The distribution of the sample over the groups yielded a different pattern for the 2 food products (Figure 1). For the purchase of higher welfare eggs, a U-shaped distribution was found, meaning that the highest numbers of respondents were found in the 2 extreme positions (i.e., either never or always buying higher welfare eggs). Both categories together correspond with more than half of the sample. The mean value of the sample (without vegetarians; mean = 5.36) indicates that on 10 purchasing occasions, consumers on average buy higher welfare eggs in somewhat more than half of the occasions. From the vegetarian subsample, more than 3 out of 4 individuals always buy higher welfare eggs and another 20% regularly buy them. For the purchase of higher welfare chicken meat, no distinct pattern appeared (Figure 1). About one-third of the sample was categorized in the no welfare group, and even half of the sample in the 2 categories with the lowest engagement in pro-welfare behavior. The mean value coincides with higher welfare chicken meat being bought in 4 out of 10 purchasing occasions (mean = 4.12).

Figure 1

Buying behavior of higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken meat (%, nonvegetarians: n = 400).

Figure 1

Buying behavior of higher welfare eggs and higher welfare chicken meat (%, nonvegetarians: n = 400).

The higher mean value for the frequency of purchasing higher welfare eggs as compared with higher welfare chicken meat is in correspondence with the higher familiarity or awareness of consumers with initiatives related with better animal welfare. Consequently, consumers are able to make a better informed and more rational choice when it concerns higher welfare eggs, resulting in a U-shape distribution. The distribution of buying higher welfare chicken meat reflects the higher unawareness and higher uncertainty toward these products.

These findings confirm that reported concern and interest in the issue of animal welfare in general and the welfare for laying hens and broilers more specifically do not translate equally in consumer buying behavior (Shrum, 1995; Harper and Henson, 2001; Korthals, 2001; FAWC, 2006; Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006; Freedom Food, 2007; Castellini et al., 2008). The attitude-behavior inconsistency is mainly situated in the 3 groups with the lowest engagement in pro-welfare behavior, suggesting a low significance of interest and concern in the buying decision process of higher welfare eggs and chicken meat (Table 2). In contrast, both the strong importance for animal welfare and the poor evaluation of the current poultry welfare status among the regular welfare and the all welfare group (Table 2) seem to translate into consistent buying behavior.

Attitude toward animal welfare in terms of welfare importance and welfare evaluation for consumer groups with different levels of pro-welfare behavior as a reflection of an eventual attitude-behavior gap

Table 2
Attitude toward animal welfare in terms of welfare importance and welfare evaluation for consumer groups with different levels of pro-welfare behavior as a reflection of an eventual attitude-behavior gap
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 Animal welfare is important to me1 3.73D 4.11CD 3.95BC 4.37AB 4.61A 4.91 
 Evaluation welfare laying hens2 3.63A 3.19AB 3.55A 2.70BC 2.14C 1.38 
Chicken meat       
 Animal welfare is important to me1 3.82C 3.97C 4.37B 4.32B 4.76A NA3 
 Evaluation welfare broilers2 3.88A 3.11BC 3.36AB 2.59CD 2.24D NA 
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 Animal welfare is important to me1 3.73D 4.11CD 3.95BC 4.37AB 4.61A 4.91 
 Evaluation welfare laying hens2 3.63A 3.19AB 3.55A 2.70BC 2.14C 1.38 
Chicken meat       
 Animal welfare is important to me1 3.82C 3.97C 4.37B 4.32B 4.76A NA3 
 Evaluation welfare broilers2 3.88A 3.11BC 3.36AB 2.59CD 2.24D NA 

A–DScores in a row with different superscripts are significantly different at P < 0.01 (1-way ANOVA and post hoc Bonferroni multiple comparison test).

1Five-point scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (5).

2Seven-point scale, ranging from “very bad” (1) to “very good” (7).

3NA = not applicable.

Sociodemographic Characteristics and Meat Consumption

For eggs as well as for chicken meat, the all welfare group was most strongly represented by the middle-aged groups, and corroborates the study hypothesis (Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006). The oldest age category was strongly present in the some welfare groups. Engagement in pro-welfare behavior is negatively associated with being male and higher education in our sample (Table 3), disconfirming our study hypothesis of no sex effect and a positive association with higher education (Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006). Possible explanations for this finding are, first, that ethical consumerism (from which the study hypothesis was derived) is a much broader concept than pro-welfare consumerism; hence, different characteristics can emerge. Second and more importantly, the role of traditional demographic characteristics is strongly debated, especially because ethical (and by extension animal welfare) concerns and awareness have become a widespread issue (Roberts, 1995; Diamantopoulos et al., 2003).

Sociodemographic profile of segments with different levels of pro-welfare behavior (n = 400)

Table 3
Sociodemographic profile of segments with different levels of pro-welfare behavior (n = 400)
Item Sample No Little Some Regular All χ2 P-value 
Sex (%)         
 Eggs         
  Male 41.7 53.5 49.0 51.8 42.2 21.2 27.18 <0.01 
 Chicken meat         
  Male 41.7 54.3 50.0 31.6 37.1 23.6 21.40 <0.01 
Age (yr)         
 Eggs         
  Mean 41.7 39.8 41.4 44.7 44.2 40.1  0.07 
 Chicken meat         
  Mean 41.7 40.5 40.6 42.9 43.2 42.8  0.54 
Age (%)         
 Eggs         
  18–24 44.3 17.2 14.3 17.9 13.1 10.6 30.40 <0.01 
  25–34 17.3 19.2 16.3 12.5 11.9 23.1   
  35–49 35.7 38.4 32.7 17.9 33.3 46.2   
  50+ 32.7 25.3 36.7 51.8 41.7 20.2   
 Chicken meat         
  18–24 14.3 15.7 16.2 18.7 11.6 7.1 32.75 <0.01 
  25–34 17.3 18.9 17.6 16.0 11.6 21.4   
  35–49 32.7 40.9 32.4 13.3 43.5 46.4   
  50+ 35.7 24.4 33.8 52.0 33.3 25.0   
Education (%)         
 Eggs         
  Higher 69.8 69.7 85.1 53.6 77.4 65.7 15.34 <0.01 
 Chicken meat         
  Higher 69.8 74.0 87.7 62.7 67.1 56.6 17.51 <0.01 
Item Sample No Little Some Regular All χ2 P-value 
Sex (%)         
 Eggs         
  Male 41.7 53.5 49.0 51.8 42.2 21.2 27.18 <0.01 
 Chicken meat         
  Male 41.7 54.3 50.0 31.6 37.1 23.6 21.40 <0.01 
Age (yr)         
 Eggs         
  Mean 41.7 39.8 41.4 44.7 44.2 40.1  0.07 
 Chicken meat         
  Mean 41.7 40.5 40.6 42.9 43.2 42.8  0.54 
Age (%)         
 Eggs         
  18–24 44.3 17.2 14.3 17.9 13.1 10.6 30.40 <0.01 
  25–34 17.3 19.2 16.3 12.5 11.9 23.1   
  35–49 35.7 38.4 32.7 17.9 33.3 46.2   
  50+ 32.7 25.3 36.7 51.8 41.7 20.2   
 Chicken meat         
  18–24 14.3 15.7 16.2 18.7 11.6 7.1 32.75 <0.01 
  25–34 17.3 18.9 17.6 16.0 11.6 21.4   
  35–49 32.7 40.9 32.4 13.3 43.5 46.4   
  50+ 35.7 24.4 33.8 52.0 33.3 25.0   
Education (%)         
 Eggs         
  Higher 69.8 69.7 85.1 53.6 77.4 65.7 15.34 <0.01 
 Chicken meat         
  Higher 69.8 74.0 87.7 62.7 67.1 56.6 17.51 <0.01 

Higher meat consumption frequency associates with lower levels of pro-welfare buying behavior (Table 4). Despite the lowest (absolute) meat consumption frequency among the all welfare group, they still do consume meat, which differentiates them from the vegetarians. The lower meat consumption is compensated by a higher consumption frequency of meat substitutes, corresponding with literature findings, in which the consumption of food products with a welfare provenance was associated with a lower meat consumption, mainly as a compensation for the price premium they pay for higher welfare products (McEachern and Schröder, 2002; Freedom Food, 2007). Total consumption frequency of eggs did not differ between groups (P > 0.05), corresponding with the fact that there are no direct substitutes for eggs (Table 4). Regarding the vegetarian group (results not shown), the egg consumption frequency was slightly lower, which could be due to a share of the vegetarians being also vegan.

Meat consumption frequency of segments with different levels of pro-welfare behavior (n = 400)1

Table 4
Meat consumption frequency of segments with different levels of pro-welfare behavior (n = 400)1
Item Sample mean Pro-welfare behavior group P-value 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs        
 Beef 2.89 4.30A 4.46AB 4.35AB 3.93BC 3.83C <0.01 
 Pork 2.94 4.33A 4.38A 4.11AB 3.97AB 3.72B <0.01 
 Chicken meat 2.88 4.11AB 4.37A 4.27AB 4.09AB 3.93B <0.01 
 Eggs 3.11 3.84 4.00 3.74 3.96 3.90 0.36 
 Vegetarian 4.68 1.75C 2.08BC 1.94BC 2.60AB 2.89A <0.01 
Chicken meat        
 Beef 2.89 4.23AB 4.42A 3.96BC 4.13ABC 3.84C <0.01 
 Pork 2.94 4.29A 4.33A 3.80B 4.01AB 3.80B <0.01 
 Chicken meat 2.88 4.12AB 4.28A 4.30A 4.14A 3.76B <0.01 
 Eggs 3.11 3.89 3.92 3.81 3.88 4.07 0.39 
 Vegetarian 4.68 1.92C 2.16BC 2.28ABC 2.68AB 2.88A <0.01 
Item Sample mean Pro-welfare behavior group P-value 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs        
 Beef 2.89 4.30A 4.46AB 4.35AB 3.93BC 3.83C <0.01 
 Pork 2.94 4.33A 4.38A 4.11AB 3.97AB 3.72B <0.01 
 Chicken meat 2.88 4.11AB 4.37A 4.27AB 4.09AB 3.93B <0.01 
 Eggs 3.11 3.84 4.00 3.74 3.96 3.90 0.36 
 Vegetarian 4.68 1.75C 2.08BC 1.94BC 2.60AB 2.89A <0.01 
Chicken meat        
 Beef 2.89 4.23AB 4.42A 3.96BC 4.13ABC 3.84C <0.01 
 Pork 2.94 4.29A 4.33A 3.80B 4.01AB 3.80B <0.01 
 Chicken meat 2.88 4.12AB 4.28A 4.30A 4.14A 3.76B <0.01 
 Eggs 3.11 3.89 3.92 3.81 3.88 4.07 0.39 
 Vegetarian 4.68 1.92C 2.16BC 2.28ABC 2.68AB 2.88A <0.01 

A–CScores in a row with different superscripts are significantly different at P < 0.01 (1-way ANOVA and post hoc Bonferroni multiple comparison test).

1Consumption frequency is measured on a 6-point frequency scale ranging from “never” (1) to “daily” (6).

Role of Product Attribute Perceptions

In general, consumers want a healthy, tasteful, safe, trustworthy, and high-quality food product (Table 5). Product availability was commonly indicated as the least important attribute. Between-group differences are mainly situated on the issue of price and the ethical aspect. The higher the engagement in pro-welfare behavior, the higher the importance of the ethical aspect and the lower the relative importance of price (also availability for the vegetarians).

Drivers in choosing animal products1,2

Table 5
Drivers in choosing animal products1,2
Item Pro-welfare behavior groups Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 Health 4.29 (2) 4.22 (3) 4.50 (1) 4.51 (1) 4.46 (2) 4.17 (2) 
 Taste 4.49 (1) 4.23 (2) 4.15 (5) 4.24 (5) 4.41 (3) 3.94 (5) 
 Price 3.80 (6) 3.57 (6) 3.66 (7) 3.74 (7) 3.37 (8) 3.05 (8) 
 Safety 4.15 (5) 3.85 (5) 4.31 (4) 4.36 (4) 4.31 (6) 3.94 (5) 
 Trustworthiness 4.16 (4) 3.93 (4) 4.37 (3) 4.40 (3) 4.41 (5) 4.08 (3) 
 Quality 4.29 (3) 4.28 (1) 4.39 (2) 4.47 (2) 4.54 (1) 3.93 (6) 
 Availability 3.57 (7) 3.41 (8) 3.50 (8) 3.56 (8) 3.47 (7) 3.08 (7) 
 Ethical aspect 3.23 (8) 3.46 (7) 3.70 (6) 4.22 (6) 4.41 (4) 4.75 (1) 
Chicken meat       
 Health 4.32 (3) 4.35 (1) 4.55 (1) 4.27 (4) 4.77 (1) NA3 
 Taste 4.34 (2) 4.35 (2) 4.36 (4) 4.27 (3) 4.53 (6)  
 Price 3.80 (6) 3.55 (6) 3.69 (7) 3.43 (7) 3.51 (8)  
 Safety 4.15 (5) 4.02 (5) 4.40 (3) 4.21 (5) 4.56 (5)  
 Trustworthiness 4.18 (4) 4.07 (4) 4.34 (5) 4.38 (2) 4.69 (2)  
 Quality 4.35 (1) 4.34 (3) 4.47 (2) 4.47 (1) 4.64 (5)  
 Availability 3.58 (7) 3.35 (8) 3.68 (8) 3.39 (8) 3.53 (7)  
 Ethical aspect 3.33 (8) 3.50 (7) 4.12 (6) 4.14 (6) 4.65 (3)  
Item Pro-welfare behavior groups Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 Health 4.29 (2) 4.22 (3) 4.50 (1) 4.51 (1) 4.46 (2) 4.17 (2) 
 Taste 4.49 (1) 4.23 (2) 4.15 (5) 4.24 (5) 4.41 (3) 3.94 (5) 
 Price 3.80 (6) 3.57 (6) 3.66 (7) 3.74 (7) 3.37 (8) 3.05 (8) 
 Safety 4.15 (5) 3.85 (5) 4.31 (4) 4.36 (4) 4.31 (6) 3.94 (5) 
 Trustworthiness 4.16 (4) 3.93 (4) 4.37 (3) 4.40 (3) 4.41 (5) 4.08 (3) 
 Quality 4.29 (3) 4.28 (1) 4.39 (2) 4.47 (2) 4.54 (1) 3.93 (6) 
 Availability 3.57 (7) 3.41 (8) 3.50 (8) 3.56 (8) 3.47 (7) 3.08 (7) 
 Ethical aspect 3.23 (8) 3.46 (7) 3.70 (6) 4.22 (6) 4.41 (4) 4.75 (1) 
Chicken meat       
 Health 4.32 (3) 4.35 (1) 4.55 (1) 4.27 (4) 4.77 (1) NA3 
 Taste 4.34 (2) 4.35 (2) 4.36 (4) 4.27 (3) 4.53 (6)  
 Price 3.80 (6) 3.55 (6) 3.69 (7) 3.43 (7) 3.51 (8)  
 Safety 4.15 (5) 4.02 (5) 4.40 (3) 4.21 (5) 4.56 (5)  
 Trustworthiness 4.18 (4) 4.07 (4) 4.34 (5) 4.38 (2) 4.69 (2)  
 Quality 4.35 (1) 4.34 (3) 4.47 (2) 4.47 (1) 4.64 (5)  
 Availability 3.58 (7) 3.35 (8) 3.68 (8) 3.39 (8) 3.53 (7)  
 Ethical aspect 3.33 (8) 3.50 (7) 4.12 (6) 4.14 (6) 4.65 (3)  

1Attributes are ranked with descending mean (in parentheses) per column (n = 400).

2Figures reflect attribute importance in the choice of animal food products and are measured on a 5-point Likert scale that ranges from “not important at all” (1) to “very important” (5).

3NA = not applicable.

Consumers generally agreed upon higher welfare products being more expensive and less available products, 2 product characteristics that were defined as possible barriers for translating attitudes in consistent behavior (Harper and Henson, 2001; Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006; Table 6). Additionally, increasing perception scores related to possible motives of engagement in pro-welfare behavior are found with increasing levels of pro-welfare behavior (Table 6). Between-group differences are stronger for eggs as compared with chicken meat. For eggs, the highest between-group differences (highest F-values) are found for “more acceptable,” and further for “healthier,” “tastier,” and “better quality.” Differences for chicken meat were less pronounced and only very clear for “more acceptable” and to a lesser extent “tastier.” Facing the 2 groups with the highest levels of pro-welfare behavior, the main perceived benefit seemed to correspond to the higher acceptability of the production method. Hence, although acceptability acts as a motive for consumers who engage in pro-welfare behavior, the findings suggest that no welfare consumers ignore the issue to avoid feelings of guilt (Harper and Henson, 2001). For the no welfare eggs group, none of the attributes were attributed a positive association (all mean scores below 3 on a 5-point scale), indicating that barriers clearly outweigh any possible benefit among this consumer segment.

Possible barriers and drivers for engagement in pro-welfare behavior1

Table 6
Possible barriers and drivers for engagement in pro-welfare behavior1
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarian 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 Cheaper 1.88 2.05 2.03 2.31 2.01 2.46 
 Better available 2.00B 2.40AB 2.40AB 2.61A 2.65A 3.04 
 Healthier 2.87D 3.21CD 3.42BC 3.88AB 4.01A 4.01 
 Tastier 3.00C 3.42BC 3.49BC 3.84AB 4.15A 4.06 
 More acceptable 2.91C 3.55B 3.61B 4.26A 4.64A 4.71 
 Safer 2.86B 2.88B 3.33AB 3.53A 3.64A 3.81 
 More trustworthy 2.90C 3.15BC 3.44AB 3.60AB 3.75A 4.08 
 Better quality 3.11C 3.20C 3.50BC 3.94AB 4.15A 4.32 
Chicken meat       
 Cheaper 1.93 2.09 2.25 2.28 2.17 NA2 
 Better available 2.20B 2.42AB 2.57AB 2.40AB 2.80A  
 Healthier 3.04B 3.40AB 3.45AB 3.79A 3.58A  
 Tastier 3.44C 3.64BC 3.98AB 4.20A 4.38A  
 More acceptable 3.28C 3.62C 4.07B 4.22B 4.65A  
 Safer 3.19B 3.24B 3.67AB 3.75A 3.87A  
 More trustworthy 3.11C 3.40AB 3.67BC 3.77BC 3.89C  
 Better quality 3.55C 3.78BC 3.97ABC 4.15AB 4.32A  
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarian 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 Cheaper 1.88 2.05 2.03 2.31 2.01 2.46 
 Better available 2.00B 2.40AB 2.40AB 2.61A 2.65A 3.04 
 Healthier 2.87D 3.21CD 3.42BC 3.88AB 4.01A 4.01 
 Tastier 3.00C 3.42BC 3.49BC 3.84AB 4.15A 4.06 
 More acceptable 2.91C 3.55B 3.61B 4.26A 4.64A 4.71 
 Safer 2.86B 2.88B 3.33AB 3.53A 3.64A 3.81 
 More trustworthy 2.90C 3.15BC 3.44AB 3.60AB 3.75A 4.08 
 Better quality 3.11C 3.20C 3.50BC 3.94AB 4.15A 4.32 
Chicken meat       
 Cheaper 1.93 2.09 2.25 2.28 2.17 NA2 
 Better available 2.20B 2.42AB 2.57AB 2.40AB 2.80A  
 Healthier 3.04B 3.40AB 3.45AB 3.79A 3.58A  
 Tastier 3.44C 3.64BC 3.98AB 4.20A 4.38A  
 More acceptable 3.28C 3.62C 4.07B 4.22B 4.65A  
 Safer 3.19B 3.24B 3.67AB 3.75A 3.87A  
 More trustworthy 3.11C 3.40AB 3.67BC 3.77BC 3.89C  
 Better quality 3.55C 3.78BC 3.97ABC 4.15AB 4.32A  

A–DScores in a row with different superscripts are significantly different at P < 0.01 (1-way ANOVA and post hoc Bonferroni multiple comparison test).

1Figures represent the perceived association of better welfare with different product attributes and are measured on 5-point Likert agreement scales.

2NA = not applicable.

Predictor values are in correspondence with the level of pro-welfare behavior, for eggs as well as for chicken meat (Table 7). Especially in the case of eggs, between-group differences were pronounced, suggesting a high importance of product attribute perceptions and their association with higher welfare eggs in the purchase decision. In the case of chicken meat, differentiation was less pronounced, in which no significant differences in predictor value appeared between the 3 groups with the highest level of pro-welfare behavior. The higher predictor scores for chicken meat as compared with eggs within the same group indicate that consumers are more convinced about the positive effect of higher welfare standards in chicken meat production on resulting product attributes. This probably relates to the fact that chicken meat consumption concerns the consumption of the bird itself, whereas eggs are a derivate from the bird.

Predictor values for the level of pro-welfare behavior1

Table 7
Predictor values for the level of pro-welfare behavior1
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarian 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs −9.25B −0.49B 0.17A 15.53A 22.20A 26.57 
Chicken meat −3.54C 4.72BC 13.04AB 20.42A 25.37A NA2 
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarian 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs −9.25B −0.49B 0.17A 15.53A 22.20A 26.57 
Chicken meat −3.54C 4.72BC 13.04AB 20.42A 25.37A NA2 

A−CScores in a row with different superscripts are significantly different at P < 0.01 (1-way ANOVA and post hoc Bonferroni multiple comparison test).

1Figures are relative measures, where a higher score corresponds with a higher likelihood of engagement in pro-welfare behavior.

2NA = not applicable.

Role of PCE

A satisfactory Cronbach’s α of 0.72 allows us to consider the 4 different items as 1 construct representing PCE. The issue of PCE is frequently issued as a meaningful moderator within the literature of green and sustainable consumerism (Ellen, 1991; Shrum, 1995; Vermeir and Verbeke, 2006; Laskova, 2007). Perceived consumer effectiveness is especially relevant for food choice, given that consumers often have limited knowledge and awareness of agriculture and its production processes and consequently lack insights into the implications of their food purchase decisions on the food supply chain (Dickson, 2001; Verbeke, 2005). Our study results confirm the moderating role of PCE in the translation of positive attitudes toward animal welfare in pro-welfare behavior, with a higher PCE among groups with higher levels of pro-welfare behavior (Table 8). In the case of eggs, the 3 groups with the lowest engagement in pro-welfare behavior did not have a positive PCE (i.e., mean score lower or not significantly different from the scale’s midpoint). In the vegetarian subsample, a very strong belief in the positive effect of their own behavior on animal welfare is seen. Regarding chicken meat, only the no welfare and the little welfare group did not express a positive PCE. The all welfare group to the contrast indicated a significantly higher PCE as compared with all other groups.

Pro-welfare behavior and perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE)1

Table 8
Pro-welfare behavior and perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE)1
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs 2.95C 2.99C 3.12BC 3.46AB 3.81A 4.51 
Chicken meat 3.04B 3.07B 3.33B 3.49B 3.96A NA2 
Item Pro-welfare behavior group Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs 2.95C 2.99C 3.12BC 3.46AB 3.81A 4.51 
Chicken meat 3.04B 3.07B 3.33B 3.49B 3.96A NA2 

A−CScores in a row with different superscripts are significantly different at P < 0.01 (1-way ANOVA and post hoc Bonferroni multiple comparison test).

1Perceived consumer effectiveness was measured on a 5-point Likert scale, where a higher score corresponds with a higher PCE.

2NA = not applicable.

Outcome Variables: Interest in Welfare Labeling

A higher label use in the food buying decision process is reported by consumers with higher levels of pro-welfare behavior (Table 9). A higher label use is often related to a higher consumer involvement (Verbeke and Vackier, 2004; Verbeke et al., 2007).

Pro-welfare behavior and perception on welfare label issues1

Table 9
Pro-welfare behavior and perception on welfare label issues1
Item Pro-welfare behavior groups Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 I take a label into account when buying food 2.99C 3.56BC 3.71AB 4.07AB 4.27A 4.74 
 There is a need for an animal welfare label for eggs 3.17C 3.75B 3.67B 4.20A 4.58A 4.89 
Chicken meat       
 I take a label into account when buying food 3.11C 3.63BC 4.10AB 4.01AB 4.37A NA2 
 There is a need for an animal welfare label for chicken meat 3.36D 3.85C 4.12BC 4.28B 4.84A  
Item Pro-welfare behavior groups Vegetarians 
No Little Some Regular All 
Eggs       
 I take a label into account when buying food 2.99C 3.56BC 3.71AB 4.07AB 4.27A 4.74 
 There is a need for an animal welfare label for eggs 3.17C 3.75B 3.67B 4.20A 4.58A 4.89 
Chicken meat       
 I take a label into account when buying food 3.11C 3.63BC 4.10AB 4.01AB 4.37A NA2 
 There is a need for an animal welfare label for chicken meat 3.36D 3.85C 4.12BC 4.28B 4.84A  

A−DScores in a row with different superscripts are significantly different at P < 0.01 (1-way ANOVA and post hoc Bonferroni multiple comparison test).

1Scores are measured on 5-point Likert agreement scales.

2NA = not applicable.

Consumer segments with higher levels of pro-welfare behavior indicate a higher willingness to buy eggs or chicken meat with a welfare provenance, irrespective of the price premium, confirming our research hypothesis (Figure 2 and 3). In addition to the higher purchase willingness, we also witness a lower drop in willingness with increasing price premiums. For an equal price, a high purchase willingness of the labeled eggs and chicken meat was expressed in all groups. However, a price premium of 5% already yields a strong drop in the purchase willingness of the no welfare group. A further price increase even yields a negative purchase willingness. Hence for this consumer group, a price premium seems to be an insurmountable burden. Only among the groups with the 2 highest levels of engagement in pro-welfare behavior, considerable monetary sacrifices are witnessed to attain the perceived benefits of higher welfare products. These results support the consistent translation of attitude into behavior among the groups with higher pro-welfare behavior.

Figure 2

Self-reported willingness to pay for higher welfare eggs, registered on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “very unlikely” (1) to “very likely” (5). Percentages represent price premiums.

Figure 2

Self-reported willingness to pay for higher welfare eggs, registered on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “very unlikely” (1) to “very likely” (5). Percentages represent price premiums.

Figure 3

Self-reported willingness to pay for higher welfare chicken meat, registered on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “very unlikely” (1) to “very likely” (5). Percentages represent price premiums.

Figure 3

Self-reported willingness to pay for higher welfare chicken meat, registered on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “very unlikely” (1) to “very likely” (5). Percentages represent price premiums.

It can be concluded that the gap between attitude—which is characterized by a high interest and concern for bird welfare in general—and actual engagement in pro-welfare behavior is associated with some specific consumer characteristics. Consumers who engage strongly in pro-welfare behavior attach a high importance to ethical issues when buying animal food products, whereas price and availability were of minor importance. Further, they strongly associate higher welfare poultry products with important product attributes like health, taste, and quality and believe that they can contribute to the welfare problems through their choice for higher welfare products. A wide gap between attitude and pro-welfare behavior to the contrast is related to strong perceived price and availability barriers, to a low importance of ethical issues as product attributes, and to a low PCE. These low involved consumers do not invest extra efforts (e.g., in information search or label use) and want good quality standards to be set and monitored by retailers, consumer organizations, and governmental institutions (McEachern and Schröder, 2002). Segmenting consumers based on behavioral characteristics and gaining insights into common characteristics of consumers within a segment is essential for positioning higher welfare products and developing effective communication strategies.

Consumer groups in between were less clear cut to define. Especially for such less clearly profiled consumer groups, who are likely to be uncertain, marketing efforts could be highly influential. Vermeir and Verbeke (2006) already demonstrated that involvement, PCE, and perceived product availability—proven to be key factors as motives or barriers for the purchase of pro-welfare behavior in our study—can be successfully manipulated through communication efforts and information provision. In addition, we want to stress the importance of the product attribute perception of higher welfare food products, especially in the case of eggs. It is important to create positive consumer expectations in terms of attribute evaluation, but it is even more important that these expectations are confirmed. A confirmation will yield satisfaction and stimulate repurchase, whereas disconfirmation will make consumers pull out (Oliver, 1980). This holds particularly for the case of higher welfare food. First of all, food purchase is a process that is strongly influenced by habit; hence, buying higher welfare food involves changing habits for the majority of consumers. Second, uncertain consumers might face an additional barrier in terms of the price premium. Finally, a welfare label seems an appropriate communication and marketing tool for consumers who engage in pro-welfare behavior and who experience the label as a solution to lower the search costs for higher welfare products.

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