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Qu, R.; Chen, J.; Li, W.; Jin, S.; Jones, G.D.; Frewer, L.J. Consumers’ Preferences for Apple Production Attributes. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/44887 (accessed on 16 June 2024).
Qu R, Chen J, Li W, Jin S, Jones GD, Frewer LJ. Consumers’ Preferences for Apple Production Attributes. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/44887. Accessed June 16, 2024.
Qu, Ruopin, Jing Chen, Wenjing Li, Shan Jin, Glyn D. Jones, Lynn J. Frewer. "Consumers’ Preferences for Apple Production Attributes" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/44887 (accessed June 16, 2024).
Qu, R., Chen, J., Li, W., Jin, S., Jones, G.D., & Frewer, L.J. (2023, May 26). Consumers’ Preferences for Apple Production Attributes. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/44887
Qu, Ruopin, et al. "Consumers’ Preferences for Apple Production Attributes." Encyclopedia. Web. 26 May, 2023.
Consumers’ Preferences for Apple Production Attributes
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Various food safety and environmental problems in China have raised consumer awareness of food safety issues and negative environmental impacts in various supply chains. This research assessed consumer preferences and willingness to pay (WTP) for food safety and ecosystem delivery attributes associated with apples, demonstrated through the application of different traceability systems.

choice experiment food traceability apples

1. Introduction

The quality of food, environmental pollution, and ecological health are becoming increasing societal priorities. In line with this, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of chemicals in the production of foods [1]. China represents a country with a large agricultural sector, with small farmers representing the largest group of primary producers [2]. There was evidence that farmers usually relied on their own experience to judge the use of pesticides and fertilizers in agricultural production. They did not strictly enforce pesticide and fertilizer application standards, and often aimed to maximize yields in the short term, ignoring the risks to the quality of agricultural products and the environment, which led to the widespread problem of excessive chemical inputs [3] and reduced pesticide resistance in target species [4] . Theoretically, if government subsidies or market premiums can compensate for revenue lost through reduction in yield resulting from reduced input use, farmers would have an incentive to reduce chemical inputs such as pesticides [5]. A reduction in inputs through more precise assessment of agronomic requirements would result in higher farmer incomes (through reduced purchase of chemicals and higher market process for products. Consumers would also have access to better-quality food products in line with (some) consumer references, and the negative environmental impacts of excessive pesticide use in agriculture would be reduced, representing a multi-benefit initiative [5].
Apple is China’s largest cash fruit, primarily produced by smallholder farmers [6]. A common problem associated with apple production in China is the overuse of fertilizer and pesticides [7]. Despite being the largest apple producer globally in terms of quantity, China has made a limited contribution to the international market due to failure to meet international food safety standards because of excess chemical residues (data from FAO, 2019). A previous study examined Chinese consumer preferences and willingness to pay (WTP) for improved food safety [8][9][10], where the primary research focus was on understanding consumer preferences for certificates and brands [11]. To date, there has been less consideration of consumer preferences regarding production inputs and ecosystem protection. The excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers may impact the quality and safety of agricultural products, with detrimental impacts on the farmland environment from an ecological perspective [12][13]. Agricultural environmental pollution would further threaten the quality and safety of agricultural products [14][15]. A reduction in the negative impacts of apple (and other supply chain) production may be facilitated by consumer demand for “pro-environment” (“Pro-environment agricultural products” refer to products that are produced using sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. This can include organic farming, agroforestry, regenerative agriculture, and other methods that prioritize soil health, biodiversity, and conservation of natural resources [16] (Octavia et al., 2018)) products.
Traceability systems for agricultural products are an effective means of communicating to consumers about the use of pesticides in the agricultural production process, as well as other production information. China established the first national information platform for the traceability management of agricultural quality and safety in 2017 (https://zycpzs.mofcom.gov.cn/html/moveSY/index.html (accessed on 10 February 2023)), with apples being one of the first traced food products in the country. Included among the production attributes being traced are types of fertilizer applied (organic or inorganic (Organic fertilizer refers to natural materials that are used to improve soil fertility and plant growth, without the use of synthetic chemicals or additives. Inorganic fertilizer refers to synthetic or human-made fertilizers that are typically formulated to provide specific ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Inorganic fertilizers are often produced using nonrenewable resources, such as fossil fuels, and can be harmful to the environment if overused or applied improperly [17])), the picking date of the fruit, and other production details (such as the “bagging” (Farmers use plastic or paper bags to cover apples during their growth to help with appearance. Bagging is also used because farmers perceive it will prevent apples from absorbing too much pesticide. However, even with bags, systemic pesticides or fungicides will still be transported to the fruit tissues) of apples) Other factors related to the supply chain, such as transport, distribution, or storage periods, can also be traced, including in relation to production practices related to environmental impacts. If consumers are willing to pay a premium for apples that use fewer pesticides, use organic fertilizers, and were produced without the use of bags, this would promote environmental protection and ecosystems, and farmers would be willing to reduce the use of pesticides on their apples to meet consumer and environmental health requirements and international food export standards. Increased consumer demand could motivate apple growers to choose safer, environmentally friendly apple-growing methods, which can potentially be sold at higher prices [18].

2. Guiding Principles of Willingness to Pay

Willingness to pay is a concept related to consumer behavior studies. According to the theory of planned behavior [19], consumer behavior is mainly influenced by a series of behavioral attitudes, subjective consciousness, and behavioral control. Behavioral attitude represents an individual’s belief in the desirability of behaviors, subjective consciousness is an individual’s perceived opinion of what is essential, and behavioral control is an individual’s sense of control over behavior. For Chinese consumers, their willingness to pay for apple production attributes reflects their attitudes toward fresh fruit inputs.

3. Factors Influencing Consumer Preference

There are a series of factors that can influence consumer preferences; country of origin or region of origin are considered important attributes associated with perceived food quality [20][21][22][23]. This information notifies the consumer about the geographical region or location of production. It is an “experience attribute”, which has emotional meaning to consumers [24] and may not reflect food safety concerns [21][25][26].
There is evidence that consumers value food traceability within supply chains [27][28][29][30][31], but they may have different preferences for what information is traced [32][33]. Attributes included as traceability preferences are “pesticide/veterinary use”, “production date”, and “fertilizer/feed use” [34].
There is evidence that consumers show WTP more for labeled foods such as organic and “green” or pro-environment foods, which may be more sustainable in terms of production practices (e.g., [35][36][37]). Consumers in both resource-rich and low/middle-income countries (LMICs) have reported positive consumer preferences and willingness to pay for pro-environment and organic foods. At the same time, consumers’ willingness to pay more for pro-environment products may vary by product category, with some evidence that they have higher willingness to pay for traditional food categories that are frequently purchased [38] . According to one study, Chinese consumers were willing to pay 47% and 40% more for pro-environment vegetables and pork, respectively [39]. Therefore, there is evidence that Chinese consumers would be willing to pay more for agricultural products produced using more ecofriendly inputs or other pro-environment characteristics.

4. Certification, Traceability, and Their Functions in Chinese Agrifood Supply Chain

Certification and traceability are the main attributes used to communicate to the public about food safety [29][40]. Certificates can be provided to authenticate food safety for consumers. There are two types of certificates distinguishing agricultural safety level in China, i.e., green certificate and organic certificate, with the latter being stricter on chemical inputs (From the website of the Ministry of Agriculture of PRC, http://www.scs.moa.gov.cn/zcjd/201006/t20100606_1532928.htm (accessed on 12 February 2023)). The national traceability platform sets basic indicators for agricultural product traceability to promote full traceability, including but not limited to production entity (slaughtering and processing), production base, product type, quantity unit, harvest (slaughtering and processing) time, and quality inspection status, as well as the automatically generated product traceability code. The national traceability platform generates two types of certificates, i.e., agricultural product traceability labels with QR codes and edible agricultural product qualification certificates, for agricultural product producers and operators to choose independently (From the website of the Ministry of Agriculture of PRC, http://www.moa.gov.cn/nybgb/2021/202108/202111/t20211104_6381383.htm (accessed on 12 February 2023)).
Even though different consumer segments exist in consumer WTP for traceability and certificates, consumers are willing to pay more for some certificated meat products, of which WTP for government and “green” certificates are the highest [37][41][42]. For agricultural products, studies have indicated higher WTP for certificated food, where the “organic” certificate was highly valued by Chinese consumers [30][43]. Research into traceability preferences for fresh fruit suggested that consumers tended to prefer traceability systems that include production, processing, and distribution information [9].

5. Growing Fruits and Their Field Requirements

The degree of specialization in apple production is relatively high, and the horticultural process of apple production is more complex. Moreover, the stickiness of labor input during the complete production season is high. A large amount of labor is required for pollination, flower and fruit thinning, bagging, picking, spraying, fertilization, and pruning [44]. In addition to the need for labor, apple plantations require 4–10 pesticide applications and a proper amount of fertilizer to help the apples achieve certain size and color [44]. In addition to the planting experience, personal and family characteristics of apple growers, factors such as financial support and technical training [45], as well as the environmental impact perception of technology [46], could affect the planting management decisions of apple growers.

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