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Extrinsic Factors Affecting Consumer Purchasing Decisions for Pork

Published on: 10/5/2010
Author/s : Jon Ratcliff (F.A.C.S. Ltd. UK)

There is increasing interest among both consumers and policy makers towards food safety, food quality, food related health issues and food production methods and their associated effects on the environment. Key drivers for this increasing interest are consumers' income growth, urbanisation, intensification of food production methods, growth of retail sector and highly publicised food scares, such as dioxins and melamine. These drivers are also responsible for the growth in extrinsic cues aimed at the consumer decision making process for meat which include branding, label information, origin, quality marks and other information about the products value to the consumer. This paper will assess the various extrinsic cues and their increasingly important role in the perception of quality and purchasing decisions for pork.
Food Quality

There have been various attempts to define pork quality. A suitable definition for pork quality must encompass all the different factors involved from the producer to the final consumer. Pork quality can thus be defined as "the totality of all properties and characteristics of pork that are important to its nutritional value, acceptability, human health and the processing of pork" (European Organisation for Quality Control, 1976). Hofmann (1987) classified pork quality characteristics into four main quality groups (technological, nutritional, hygienic and organoleptic). Technological characteristics include those factors that determine the suitability of pork for preparation and packaging for distribution, as well as for cooking and processing into various products and for storage. Hygienic characteristics are concerned with the presence or absence of microorganisms, drugs and pesticides. Nutritional characteristics deal with the chemical composition and nutritional properties of the pork. Organoleptic characteristics include the appearance (colour, marbling, external fat and exudate) and the sensory quality (aroma, tenderness, juiciness, and flavour). Whilst technological, nutritional, hygienic characteristics of pork are very important, the organoleptic characteristics such as the sensory quality of the product are the main factors that influence the consumer to repurchase that pork product.

Food quality can range from conforming to technical specification and being objective and measurable (Zeithaml, 1988) to the perception from the viewpoint of the consumer that transcends measurement and makes quality a subjective assessment dependent on perceptions, needs and goals of individuals (Northern 2000). These can be further categorized as "must haves" (have to be present in order for the product or service to be assessed as acceptable), and "wants" (depend on the wishes or expectations that influence choices). In the past, quality was mainly a question of "must haves" where as now it also includes a large proportion of "wants".

Food Quality Attributes

Depending at which point the consumer can determine the quality attribute, dimensions of quality are commonly categorized into search, experience and credence characteristics (Darby & Karni, 1973). A search quality such as appearance can be evaluated before the meat is purchased, an experience quality such as taste is usually first evaluated after the purchase and a credence quality such as animal welfare, is often not evaluated but is based upon trust in the information provided (Table I). Food products usually rely on a limited number of search characteristics because in most cases, experience is not possible before purchase. Exceptions would be the tasting of a cheese or processed meat prior to purchase. In order to make a choice therefore, consumers will develop expectations about quality that can only be realized after consumption, although this is often limited in the case of credence characteristics.

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Quality Cues

Before purchase, quality expectations are mainly based upon search attributes known as quality cues (Steenkamp, 1989). Bredahl et al. (1998) showed that, in the case of fresh meat, end consumers demand attributes such as tenderness, taste and juiciness, i.e. criteria which can be experienced during consumption. However, the same consumers use quality cues such as colour, fat levels, cut, trim and meat juice to predict these attributes. Consumers therefore use quality cues to predict the attributes they desire in a product and quality attributes to predict what they want. Caswell et al. (1998) grouped these attributes according to whether they are process attributes or product attributes. Norman (2000) has adapted this further to indicate the types of attribute sub-sets which exist and examples of attributes within each sub-set (Table II). This list is by no means exhaustive but helps to identify those attributes which are affected by quality policies and assurance initiatives. Sustainability would now increasingly feature under process attributes and a product attribute that should also be considered within the list is water holding capacity which in turn affects drip loss which is a sensory attribute. The water holding capacity will also impact tenderness, juiciness and flavor as well as functional properties such as the products ability to hold water during curing.

Product attributes may be split into sub-sets, including food safety, nutrition, sensory, functional and image attributes. Process attributes form part of the production process, for example, animal welfare and organic attributes. In some instances process attributes affect the physical product, but in other cases they do not. For example, it is unlikely that animal welfare will alter the physical product to the extent it can be detected by the consumer but they may purchase the product to ``consume'' these process attributes and create a feeling of wellbeing. Likewise, consumers cannot detect the presence of growth hormone residues in meat but reduce purchase after having the information about their presence in meat or milk disclosed. (Grobe and Houthitt, 1995).

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Intrinsic and Extrinsic Cues

There is a significant distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues (Steenkamp, 1998), (Ophuis and van Trijp, 1996). Intrinsic cues are part of the physical product. They cannot be changed without also changing the physical product itself, in contrast with extrinsic cues, which are predominantly marketing related. In the case of food, intrinsic cues include visual cues such as colour, fat trim and marbling, in addition to non-visual cues such as smell. Extrinsic cues include price, brands, labels, shop, country-of-origin, and information. Northern (2000) stated that extrinsic cues have the capacity to communicate both experience and credence attributes. In contrast, intrinsic cues are not able to communicate credence attributes; hence, the only way of successfully predicting credence attributes will be through the use of extrinsic cues. However, intrinsic cues will be more successful in predicting experience attributes (Marreiros and Ness 2009). Table III presents the two quality cue categories and gives examples of cues likely to be found in each category, for fresh meat.

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Figure 1 demonstrates the suggested relationships between attributes and the two types of cues. Extrinsic attributes can thus be modified with marketing efforts, without changing the product itself, and influence how the intrinsic attributes are perceived. The credence attributes category therefore includes all the characteristics related to places and methods of production, use of certain substances and, in a broad sense, the level of safety associated with the product.
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Credence Attributes: Production, Environment and Marketing

Production characteristics refer to the way a food product is manufactured. In meat production this can encompass a wide range of different welfare systems (intensive, free range, organic etc).as well as feed related issues such as the use of antibiotics, genetically modified organisms and animal by-products. Environmental aspects reflect the increasing concerns associated with environmental pollution and climate change. Pollution controls are evident in many countries, restricting the level of excretion of minerals and nitrogen. Climate change concerns have impacted not only waste management (packaging and water recycling etc) but distance products travel and the carbon and nitrogen footprints for various animal production systems.

Marketing is a complex process communicated through branding, labeling and price. These are the drivers for consumer perception and the expectation associated with the extrinsic quality attributes. Of all the cues consumers are exposed to, only those, which are perceived, will have an influence on expected quality. The cues consumers are exposed to and those they perceive are affected by the shopping situation: the amount of information in the shop, whether purchases are planned or spontaneous, the pressure of time while shopping, etc (Gunter 2003). In many cases the cue cannot be assessed until after eating which is referred to as experience quality attribute (EQA). Other cues such as system of production are referred to as credence quality attributes (CQA) and trust has to substitute for personal experience (Becker 2002).

The evaluation of meat quality plays a major role for consumers in determining meat purchases. Several studies show that in many countries aside from intrinsic characteristics referring to those of the physical product, extrinsic meat characteristics, such as the origin or environmental aspects, are becoming increasingly important to consumers. Whether cues or attributes the information content can be categorized according to the three decision frames. In a study by Glitsch (2000), it was demonstrated that the place of purchase is regarded by consumers as a primary indicator of both food safety and eating quality. Consumers from six different EU countries were asked to rate the ``quality in the shop'' characteristics represented in Figure 2 in respect to their helpfulness in assessing meat quality while shopping for beef, pork and chicken.

There were some notable differences between the countries, however for both beef and pork, the place of purchase and country of origin extrinsic characteristics were found to be among the most helpful. Price was generally regarded as the least helpful quality indicator. Visual intrinsic characteristics such as colour and fat content are the most significant cues, however for most consumers these do not provide a reliable prediction of the eating quality of the meat. 

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Ngapo et al., 2005 conducted one of the few global preference studies specific to fresh pork. Digital photographs of pork chops were presented to 12,590 consumers from 23 different countries around the world and they were asked to express their preference based on varying degrees of fat cover, colour, marbling and drip. Across all countries, colour was the most consistently chosen attribute followed by marbling, fat cover and drip. However, as expected the consistency of choice for colour showed the largest variation among countries compared with the other characteristics.

Grunert (2002) refers to quality uncertainty, which consumers appear to experience while purchasing meat. Consumers would rather trust an expert (the butcher or supermarket) than forming a quality expectation on their own. By implication therefore there is potential to exploit the point of sale information to enhance sale opportunities by means of branding.

For credence quality attributes (CQA) the consumer substitutes trust for experience. Brand name therefore is a special cue for the quality of foods since it allows consumers to make use of their previous experience (Grunert), 2001). In the absence of branding or labeling the only way consumers would be able to identify an improvement in the eating quality of a meat product is by its visual appearance and this has already been shown not to be a reliable cue. Unbranded products therefore, such as fresh meat, make it much more difficult for the consumer to form quality expectations.

The consumer decision making process involves a series of related and sequential stages of activities. In the case of meat products, the process begins with the recognition of the need to satisfy a want for meat of a perceived quality . It becomes a drive from which the consumer begins a search for information. This search gives rise to various alternatives until the end purchase decision is made. Finally the consumer will then evaluate the level of satisfaction in what is termed post purchase behaviour. This behaviour of the consumer is very important for the marketer because the consumer displays brand preference only when that brand lives up to their expectation. Brand preference naturally leads to repeat sales. But, if the used brand does not yield the desired satisfaction, negative feeling will occur and that will lead to the formation of negative attitude towards the brand. Marketers try to use this phenomenon to attract user of other brands to their own brands. The branding of pork products in Europe has undoubtedly been over-shadowed by the rapid growth in retailer private labels. As a result, it has become extremely difficult for any one company to create a successful branded pork product at a national level. The rise of private label brands by the retailers has been relatively unchallenged in the meat sector due to the lack of competition -compared to certain other grocery sectors where companies such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble dominate. Within the private label category there will usually be a choice of products associated with price (value) and quality (premium price), thus allowing consumers to make a choice within the same store. This has been an extremely important factor during the current economic climate. A recent study in the UK, (BPEX 2009) has found that despite the current economic downturn, red meat sales have remained robust and pork is performing well above the average. There has, however, been a switch in consumer retailer brand choice based upon price and perceived value for money such that where pork may have been regarded in the past as ‘the cheap alternative', it is increasingly being regarded as the value for money meat of choice.

Brand awareness is a prerequisite to strong brands. The other dimensions are loyalty, perceived quality and associations. Brand awareness is reflected in the consumers ability to identify the brand under different circumstances and is considered to be of particular importance in low involvement product categories such as groceries (Anselmsson et al 2006). In the case of private label the brand is often the stores own name and therefore brand awareness is very high.

Price premium is considered to be the most useful measure of brand equity (Aaker, 1996), with the motivation that each dimension of the brand equity should have an impact on the price consumers are willing to pay for the brand. Different retailers target different socio-economic groups of consumers and hence the margins will vary according to brand (store) reputation and whether the products are value or premium range. The price premium does not necessarily fully correlate with actual consumer prices, since numerous other factors influence the prices consumers have to pay in the store (Anselmsson et al 2006). Therefore actual consumer prices are not a satisfactory measure of brand equity. At the farm level it is a common complaint from pork producers that they are unable to capture higher margins based upon the systems of production and type of products they are supplying because private label purchasing erodes the need to pay a premium if there is more than one supplier of the same perceived quality and standard. However, private labels are a double edged sword, as they have helped lead to an increase in demand for pork and enable some suppliers to build an open relationship with the retailer which in certain cases has led to higher premiums. One UK pork company tried to implement a more transparent payment system for their producers on the back of a campaign by pig farmers aimed at the consumer and supported by celebrity chefs called "pigs are worth it". However, the initiative was short lived because the company was subsequently sold and the payment system reverted to the standard format.

Although national competition for branded pork products is very limited in Europe, there has been a significant growth in regional branding within the retail stores. In the UK this is partly a result of a desire for consumers to source products more locally as well as a successful campaign by UK pig farmers to fight back against what they perceive as unfair competition from imported pork meat.

Certain retail stores now even sell branded local products alongside their own private label range, to off-set the relative success of small independent butchers, farmer markets and farm shops. In Latin America, company branded pork products such as Perdigao and Sadia in Brazil and Agrosuper in Chile, are still very successful due to their dominance of the market and the relatively immature nature of the retail sector in comparison with Europe. However, the majority of pork sold is cured or processed not fresh.

Product Differentiation - Credence Quality Attributes

Perceived Quality

It is clear there are market opportunities for national or regional branded pork products of reliable and consistent quality but the challenge for the industry is to overcome the perceived variability in eating quality. Numerous private and national quality marks are employed globally in attempt to provide reliable eating quality of meat to the consumer to varying degrees of success. Consumer perceptions meat quality are complex and difficult to measure however the meat industry must continually respond to consumer and market-led quality cues in order to remain competitive and sustainable (Troy & Kerry, 2010).

Food Safety

The global food industry has been beset by serious food alerts ranging from BSE to melamine which have significantly increased consumer awareness of food safety issues. More recently the pork industry in Europe suffered a major crisis with the discovery of dioxin tainted pork in Ireland. Approximately 10% of Irish pork was affected and led to the withdrawal of pork products from more than 25 countries around the world at an estimated cost of EUR 100 million. For these reasons, food safety could be considered as an extrinsic cue for pork products. Using the credence "quality in the shop" represented in figure 3, Becker (1999) explored the most significant cues for food safety. For the purpose of the study consumers were asked how helpful or otherwise were various cues in assessing the safety of beef, pork and chicken. The intrinsic cue "freshness" was found to be of most important for all meats and all countries, inferring that freshness is perceived as a measure of safety. Feed comes next in the case of beef and feed and origin in the case of pork. Price is not important at all as a safety factor. Although food safety is clearly an important credence quality attribute, consumers like to assume that food is safe and trying to introduce food safety cues would have negative effects for the category as a whole. An added complexity of food safety cues against the backdrop of global pork trade is the variation in risk perception internationally, highlighted by the differences between EU and the USA regarding porcine somatatrophin and ractopamine. This in turn leads to a greater reliance on labeling and partly explains why many consumers express a preference for foods from their own countries. (Buzby, 2001).

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A more positive attribute associated with food safety is the marketing of the health attributes of meat products. Concerns about health and obesity are widespread in developed countries and EU consumers in the studies referred to earlier have a clear negative perception of fat in meat, which they regard as a sign of poor quality and potentially bad health. There has been an on-going trend in various countries towards lower fat content given the importance of this as an inspection quality attribute (IQA). Likewise the pig and poultry meat sectors have sought to highlight the differences compared to red meat in terms of total fat content and ratio of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and associated health attributes. The focus on fat content overlooks the fact some of the most important micronutrients are best available from meat e.g., iron, selenium, vitamins A, B12 and folic acid, either because they do not exist in plant-derived food or because they have poor bioavailability. Furthermore, meat is rich in proteins and poor in carbohydrates and thus, contributes to a low glycemic index, which is assumed to have positive effects with regard to obesity and the development of diabetes and cancer (Biesalski & Nohr, 2009).

Nutritional manipulation of the feed provided to animals can result in changes in the animal product nutritional profile, providing so called functional foods. Current examples in monogastrics include enhanced levels of omega-3 fats, vitamins and trace minerals and lower levels of total fat and saturated fats. However, one of the major issues in Europe relates to the health benefit claims of functional foods and the legal restrictions impeding the communication of health benefits to the consumer. In effect health claims cannot be made without scientific evidence and therefore claims such as "reduces risk of heart disease" or "enhances health and immune status" must be substantiated.

The vitamin and health supplement industry has come in for severe criticism for its advertising of health benefits resulting in the withdrawal of many products and labels. Consequently most health claims for pork are based on its low fat content (pork tenderloin equivalent to skinless chicken breast) and natural levels of minerals and vitamins. This contrasts with the US where in 1985 the prohibition of diet-disease was relaxed to allow producers to discuss the relationship between diet and disease in advertising and labeling leading to a significant increase in food choices (Grunert, 2005).

Differentiation of product convenience in shopping, meal preparation, eating and disposal of the remains has been of rising importance for the past decades in many markets (Grunert et al 2004). In the fresh meat area, poultry is the sector that has adapted most to the convenience trend, by developing new cuts and various forms of pre-prepared products. This has developed at the same time as the rapid growth in the percent of meat sold through supermarkets in Europe. Poultry meat has gained at the expense of pork in convenience foods due to price. However, there is an opportunity to address the current imbalance in demand for loins and shoulders by channeling the cheaper shoulder cuts into convenience meals. This is being done successfully by a number of UK pork farm shops that make use of the cheaper cuts to produce a range of frozen ready meals which are also sold in the farm shop.

Methods of production

There is growing concern among consumers about how meat is produced both in terms of animal welfare and methods of production. In Europe consumers demand that animals are reared, transported and slaughtered under humane conditions. Differentiation by process characteristics does not necessarily directly impact the quality of the product but caters for the growing numbers of consumers that express concerns about the way food is produced. This has resulted in the growth in alternative systems based upon welfare, specific feed content, e.g. non GMO, and organic production.

Concerns about animal welfare have prompted many industrialized nations to pass laws concerning animal welfare in farming. In most cases these regulations lead to a rise in production costs thus making goods more expensive for domestic consumers. There are implications for global trade flows if imported goods are subjected to similar standards of welfare or in other cases may cause unconcerned consumers to seek cheaper foreign alternatives, potentially leading to trade policy concerns (Mitchell, 2001). Such effects can be observed in the EU currently with the impending ban on egg production in cages leading to the potential rise of imported eggs from non EU countries, particularly for the food service sectors. Likewise, in 2013 the EU will implement a ban on sow stalls across all EU countries, which although creating a more level playing field within Europe will leave the market vulnerable to imports of cheaper lower welfare pork.

A study in Denmark in 2003 set out to understand how consumers judge quality in pork and the results revealed a clear perceptual link between the quality of pork and the applied production method, in which extensive outdoor production was generally perceived to result in higher quality than intensive indoor production. The factors which consumers perceived to influence quality included the transportation of the pigs, how the pigs were kept at the farm, what the pigs were fed, the use of growth enhancers, treatment of the live pigs at the slaughterhouse, the general welfare of the pigs, the use of medicine, the breed of pigs, and the level of veterinary control. Despite the predilection for ‘welfare' pork, meat from extensive production systems was rarely bought. Although generally regarded as desirable, the focus group participants generally rejected the meat because they perceived it to be either too expensive or too difficult to obtain (Scholderer, et al 2004).

In two follow up studies by the same group, consumers were first asked to state their quality expectations for pork from pigs raised in different production systems and secondly to undertake a taste test. Consumers gave substantially higher ratings to pork from outdoor production systems on all dimensions of expected quality and all quality cues apart from price. Likewise pork chops labeled free-range or organic were consistently perceived to have higher eating quality than pork chops labeled conventional or unlabelled ones, independent of the actual meat type consumers had tasted. When label information effects were adjusted for, the organic pork chops used in this particular study were consistently perceived to have slightly lower eating quality than the conventional pork chops (Scholderer, et al 2004).

The UK is generally regarded as at the forefront in terms of animal welfare due to a combination of consumer pressure and demands from retailers. In 1991 the UK went out on its own introducing a law banning dry sow stalls by 1999. High investment in alternative loose housing systems was thus forced on UK breeders years before most of the competition in Europe had to face the EU-wide sow stall ban that doesn't come fully into force before January 2013. Over the last 10 years the UK pig sector has been hit by a profitability squeeze that has been mainly responsible for a halving of the national sow herd resulting in UK self-sufficiency in pig meat plummeting to less than 50 percent It should be noted that the change in welfare conditions was not the only factor contributing to this decline. The BSE crisis in 1996, currency turbulence, outbreaks of swine fever and foot and mouth disease and Post Weaning Multisystemic Wasting Syndrome (PMWS) have all had an adverse effect on production viability. There are still farms on the market applying animal welfare standards much higher than those required by law with, for instance, sows on outdoor systems or straw bedding in feeding units. These can cause higher costs, but the resultant meat can bring a premium. Nor is the welfare approach catering for a niche market: some 40 % of sows in Britain are kept in outdoor systems and the same percentage of feeding pigs is in straw-bedded systems. But production performance is still comparatively poor at 22 weaners per sow and year, although this has improved continually since 2001 when the figure was only 19 (Benecke, 2008).

Retailers have a very strong influence on British pig production. The development of the outdoor and straw-based systems has predominately been driven by the supermarkets and more is paid for the resultant meat. Many supermarkets established a special market segment for added value pig meat from welfare oriented systems ahead of UK regulations on loose housing of sows. This led to a clear differentiation in product range based on the different demands of a broad customer base. The different product ranges are designed to cater for the demands of both the price-conscious consumer as well as the added value consumer prepared to pay a premium for higher welfare standards. It is this premium range which has enjoyed most growth in the past 10 years, and which offers most potential for additional profit throughout the supply chain. However, given that the four largest UK supermarkets sell 70 percent of the total pig meat it is not surprising producers and processors have to fight hard for the premium against the backdrop of overseas competition, not all of which is produced to the same demanding welfare standards, particularly in the value ranges(Ward 2005). The development of private labels, which account for more than 29 percent of UK grocery sales has also added pressure to the premiums available (Thomassen 2008).

To counter the threat of imported pork imports the UK industry has mounted media campaigns with the support of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver to highlight the point of difference that UK welfare standards represent compared to other countries. Other issues such as food security and environmental impact of importing high volumes of pork also feature in the campaign. The central theme of the campaign is farmers must be paid a fair price for the standards they are asked to implement. Most producers say they more than happy to embrace high standards of welfare but they expect the consumer to pay to a realistic premium to cover the higher cost of production.

In the poultry sector there has been a significant shift towards the use of traditional breeds in the extensive systems of broiler meat and egg production. Thus far in the UK this has not been replicated in the pig industry, however it is the belief of some in the industry that this will be used as a further point of differentiation, given that EU welfare regulations will be more comparable from 2013. Traditional breeds such as Hampshire, Old Spot and Tamworth may see a return which could also provide an intrinsic cue to support the welfare standards. For example it is likely such a move would result in higher marbling values which from earlier studies is preferred as a cue due to associated benefits of juiciness and tenderness. This would be consistent with studies in Australia that indicate that the inclusion of Duroc bloodlines in predominantly ‘white' European breeds can also result in improvements in pork eating quality (D'Souza and Mullan, 2001).

Origin Labeling

It was discussed earlier how the origin of meat is an important extrinsic cue for perceived product quality. In another study in the US ( Grebitus et al 2006)) over one-third of the respondents drew the linkage between the country of origin of pork meat and intention to buy and a similar amount drew the link between country of origin and the butcher. Country of origin or region of origin is an important tool for differentiating products and explains attempts to build up a national or regional marketing brand. In some cases the importance of country of origin would appear to be more due to health concerns associated with imported meat, for example BSE concerns regarding imported beef. Becker (1999) identified that country of origin is objectively no predictor of eating quality and consumers will often associate issues with this quality cue that are of no relevance for eating quality.

Country image effects are noted strongly in many food choices. Consumer research on country image effects reveals that domestic consumers, especially those in developed countries, prefer foods from their own countries. In some countries the reported attitudes to imported foods are very striking. A survey of Swedish consumers, found they have very negative opinions of all types of imported foods, particularly meat (Ekulund et al, 2004). A study by Dransfield et al., 2005 tried to evaluate what consumers in France, Denmark, Sweden and UK were prepared to pay for both fresh and cooked pork when labeled with country of origin for both indoor and outdoor production. In general terms the consumers willingness to pay varied widely and was higher for those consumers who found more of the characteristics they sought. On average the consumers surveyed offered about 5% more for home country and outdoor production labels.

Care is needed in interpreting statements survey respondents may make about their practice of buying domestic. Country-of-origin may not be a salient criterion if no difference is perceived between the foods available for sale from different countries or if labeling is inadequate to identify domestic from imported foods (Heslop 2007). One of the major reasons cited for failure in "buy domestic" campaigns is a lack of commitment to product consistency. Generalized "buy domestic" programs have not been successful on any level in the countries for which research results have been reported. In general, "buy domestic" programs have not been successful on any level in the countries for which research results have been reported (Heslop 2007). Regional branding, however, within country, would appear to be more effective. There is growing interest domestically among segments of consumers in "local" food. Such interest has sparked a growth in farmers' markets and farm gate sales. The interest appears to be rooted in a number of underlying desired food outcomes, including control over sourcing, desire for perceived enhanced taste and nutrition outcomes, and also to outcomes related to support of ethical and environmental values, e.g. food miles and fair trade issues.

In the UK there is intense pressure for the EU to review product labeling regulations because "produced in UK" has become a euphemism for "made with imported pork". Research into labeling has shown that more than 80% of meat products failed specifically to indicate the origin of the main meat ingredient (BPEX 2009). The report goes on to say "for those consumers who want to exercise discretionary choice at the point of purchase, clear and unambiguous Country of Origin information is a necessary prerequisite".

There is a distinct difference in marketing country of origin for the domestic market as opposed to using the same extrinsic cue for the global market. The image of a country is largely through stereotyping based on established positive pre-conceptions for example New Zealand enjoys an image of agriculture associated with being "clean and green" and trustworthy. A study of the importance of trust in the Danish bacon sector determined that "there are different types of trust (generalised trust, system trust, process-based trust and personality-based trust) and that each type of trust is a valuable strategic variable" (Lindgreen, 2003). Furthermore, if one type of trust is missing then it may be possible and necessary to draw on other types. When consumers have developed mistrust of the food industry, and/or of their domestic government agencies, then it may become necessary for foreign producers and importing distribution channel members to restore this trust by implementing their own trust-based marketing systems. Danish bacon producers installed their own meat assurance schemes for the UK market instead of relying on the British government (Lindgreen, 2003). Similarly, New Zealand food producers have established very elaborate quality assurance and traceability schemes to provide distribution channel members and end consumers with reason to trust the end product (Knight et al, 2005). In many food markets, particularly food service and further process, country of origin is of much less importance but the requirement for trust and traceability is still paramount as part of the process of due diligence.

It is also important to distinguish between a country brand and a country of origin label. For example in Australia, "Produce of Australia" is only informing the consumer the product originates from Australia where as "Aussie Beef" as a brand is strongly associated with consumer perception of that country together with the quality of the product and the use of a logo to signal past experiences. Using a brand rather than a country-of-origin label allows a product image to be created and conveyed that goes beyond merely representing the origins of the product. However, using a country brand that builds on the collective reputation of a country, its citizens, and other products using the brand makes managing it considerably more challenging than managing a traditional private brand due to difficulties in managing both the product-country image and product quality. A country brand will only be successful facing competition from other countries in the international marketplace if its claims are credible and unique. If the claims made by the brand are not unique, it is likely that other countries will copy the strategy and erode any gains made by branding country's exporters (Innes et al, 2007). In this respect quality assurance programs have an important role to play in maintaining the credibility of any such quality claims and providing proof of authenticity by means of comprehensive traceability.. The role that labels play in the market for food quality is well documented (Caswell, 1997). However, in the case of meat these products are often sold fresh and not pre-packed, hence the reliance and trust placed in the butcher or supermarket.

Regulation and Communication of Extrinsic cues

Table II demonstrates that there is a wide range of information that can be communicated to consumers through effective labeling. The problem for the consumer is that they can quickly become confused with different brands, formal and informal quality marks and a variety of production systems ranging from intensive to organic resulting in a large number of similar products on which they might have little or no information. Some authors have highlighted that the excessive use of labeling based on country or region of origin etc. may erode the value that consumers place on them (Henson and Norman 2000).

The effectiveness of credence quality cues is entirely based upon credibility - how can the consumer trust the information that is being presented. In the UK, the meat industry has succeeded in uniting small quality label and certification schemes under a large national programme offering higher product recognition - Assured British Meats (ABM) which in turn come under one national scheme referred to as Assured Food Standard, the logo for which appears across a wide range of domestically produced food products. The schemes are termed ‘Farm Assurance' meaning assurance applied to products with a farm origin and covering the conditions of their production, up to the point of slaughter for livestock products. A farm assurance scheme is a formal framework to ensure the availability, validity and delivery of that assurance information at each stage from supplier to buyer, and to be carried forward so that the interested final consumer can be informed of the provenance of the final product. Consumer concerns and preferences about the food they eat create a need for information relating back to aspects in the agricultural supply sector (e.g. the type of feed), with on-farm characteristics of the production process (e.g. free range, organic), the method of slaughter, food safety aspects, up to the nature of the final purchased product (e.g. food constituents, nutritional values). It is the role of an assurance scheme to provide that information and so allow consumers to better satisfy their specific preferences when making purchasing choices (Wathes, 2005).

Quality Assurance Schemes / Certification

Quality assurance and certification schemes provide a system for assuring and certifying desired product attributes by establishing production and processing standards that relate to the provision of these attributes, inspecting to ensure that standards are being observed, and providing an indicator of these attributes through a mark, label, or certification. In many cases, specific farm assurance schemes are not targeted at final consumers but at intermediate customers in the supply chain, namely abattoirs (which are the ultimate buyers of livestock) and their customers (such as multiple food retailers, butchers and also export markets). In the US the new PQA-Plus program does now include aspects of animal welfare and requires on farm audits rather than the former requirement for the producer to be "educated" about the scheme rather than changing behaviour. However, in contrast to the UK schemes, it tends to be limited to on-farm quality assurance, rather than providing assurance throughout the supply chain.

The two key features of any assurance scheme are the need for credible standards and the need for a credible system of inspecting those standards. There are a large number of schemes operating in the UK most of which were implemented in the early 1990s in response to growing concerns about animal welfare (Spriggs et al. 1999). Retailers were instrumental in the growth of these schemes due to concerns about the safety and means of production of the products supplied to them. Farm level quality assurance schemes include both "generic" schemes, which have been developed with broad public participation, and proprietary schemes developed and operated by food retailing chains and large processing firms. The standards for the generic schemes which cover cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are set by technical committees and typically aim to secure the management of the supply chain particularly in the following areas:

Animal welfare
Animal husbandry
Animal health
Animal Feed
Transport, handling, slaughter and processing

The benefits of farm assurance schemes can be identified at three levels. First they provide credibility to farmers for the production process which helps inspire buyer confidence to both gain and retain a market for the products produced. Secondly, farm assurance and traceability are essential for both food processor and retailer so that they comply with legal requirements and ensure that the quality standards they wish to be associated with their products can be validly claimed and demonstrated. Finally farm assurance is desired by those consumers who have a specific focus on food supply issues. Many food retail chains demand livestock that has come from farm assurance scheme members. In addition, many chains also run their own (proprietary) farm-level schemes, which go well beyond the requirements. This can be due to a combination of reasons including, the requirement for higher standards than the assurance schemes provide, development of brands with competitive advantage and closer cooperation and control of the supply chain (Bredahl et al 2001).

Quality assurance schemes may convey a competitive advantage to domestic producers covered by the program. For example, all of the large retail food chains in the UK require farm assured livestock. Clearly, in order to source this primary market, quality assurance scheme membership has become de facto mandatory, conveying an advantage to suppliers participating in the schemes, and a disadvantage to those who do not. These schemes may come to convey the same advantage for their members as other national systems that aim to create a competitive advantage for some domestic producers based on the sensory attributes of food, or even on the location of production, such as that used for wine and other products. Taking the example of the Assured British Pigs farm-assurance scheme (ABP), several trade effects are suggested for countries exporting pork to the UK. The demand for farm-assured pigs with animal welfare and trace-back attributes in the UK is well developed. Many retail food chains (the likely buyers of most imported meat) demand farm-assured livestock, hence quality assurance schemes such as ABP have become is mandatory for supplying the primary retail market. Although retail food chains may be prepared to accept pork from comparable schemes in other countries, the animal welfare and traceability elements of such schemes are likely to have been developed for their own domestic market and may therefore need significant revision to satisfy the UK market. In addition, the mechanism by which the foreign scheme is inspected may not be sufficiently rigorous. However, where foreign schemes are acceptable to UK buyers, the presence of the quality label should be sufficient to indicate the necessary quality and/or safety of the meat and allow for reduced transaction costs of UK. buyers. This in turn may encourage a greater trade of meat between countries.

As previously noted, farm assurance schemes must have inspection protocols which ensure that members attain and maintain the required standards and that verify the sometimes complex chain of traceability. When first implemented, farm assurance schemes often lacked credibility because the inspection process was not independent of the scheme membership. That has been resolved with the inspection process being carried out by certification bodies that are accredited either directly by the national authorities or by private companies accredited by a national accreditation body.

Traceability technology information systems are rapidly advancing enabling a growing number of consumers to access details about food products at the point of purchase using bar codes, RFID chips and mobile phone scanning. This is used by an increasing number of consumers as a means to check environmental and ethical concerns, for example the distance the product has traveled, origin of the product or ingredients used in the feed and fair trade practices. Such technology provides a new dynamic to the methods available to display transparency and verify claims associated with extrinsic cues.


The global consumption of pork is still higher than other meat types, however there is intense price pressure and the global pork industry is having to fight hard to retain customers and increase market share. Quality is a very subjective and dynamic concept and the perception of meat quality is changing fast. Rather than rely on traditional intrinsic cues, consumers today pay more attention to credence quality attributes such as safety, healthiness, convenience, origin and method of production. These attributes focus primarily on quality of the production process, and not on the product itself and this increases the importance of trust in the information provided and confidence in the source of the information. At point of purchase, the consumer is often presented with an overwhelming number of choices that must be evaluated quickly. Extrinsic information cues, such as brand name, price, and label information, are used as a means of reducing the time pressures and simplifying the purchase decision making process. These extrinsic cues rely upon trust-based assumptions about the brand, its producer, the store selling the meat, the price, the certification or assurance scheme that verifies the production methods and label information relating to claims about health and performance. The purchase will then depend upon which cues the consumers feels are relevant based on the cue's predictive values, as determined by previous experience and knowledge, and confidence values, as determined by the trust in the information source or assurance label.

With the increasing globalization of food products food labeling as an extrinsic cue has become a highly effective means to create differentiation and consumer assurance about both intrinsic and credence product characteristics. However, because a high proportion of meat products are still sold fresh and without packaging, then place of purchase remains an important extrinsic cue that consumers rely upon to substitute for their own lack of experience and confidence in evaluating intrinsic cues. This is important when considering the significant growth globally in the percent of meat products sold in supermarkets compared to smaller outlets and the trend towards private labels. The reliance on extrinsic cues in the consumer decision making process for pork is therefore likely to increase and farm assurance schemes and the use of sophisticated traceability technology will help satisfy an even greater desire for transparency between the producer and the consumer.


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 This presentation was given at the Pork Expo 2010 e V Fórum Internacional de Suinocultura, Curitiba, Brazil and was provided to Engormix.com courtesy of the organizing committee.
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