This project examined consumer attitudes to insect contamination of vegetables, and whether there is likely to be a specific, value added market for vegetables sold under a sustainability or ‘eco’ label. Although many consumers understand that insects can be present on vegetables, they are less tolerant if products are purchased from a supermarket—especially if they are packaged. There was generally low understanding of how and where vegetables are grown. However, the use of beneficial insects to control pests was of great interest.
A series of 30-second videos were produced to explain the use of beneficial insects to consumers.
Why study this?
Despite advances in the use of integrated pest management (IPM) many growers are reluctant to use these practices. One reason is the fear that insects will be left on the product, resulting in rejection at retail. The other is the lack of reward in the marketplace for adopting more sustainable, but also more expensive, production methods.
This study aimed to enhance market attitudes towards IPM and sustainable vegetable production.
What was done
A desktop study was conducted of consumers and environmental labelling in Australia and around the world. Next, a series of focus groups in Sydney and Melbourne investigated interest in—and willingness to pay for—sustainably produced vegetables, and attitudes to insect contamination of vegetables generally.
Results from the focus groups were tested more widely using a national survey of over 1000 chief grocery buyers.
What we found
Most consumers don’t really understand where vegetables come from or how they are grown. They are interested in the environment and sustainability, but most do not read labels or signage. When shopping they are not thinking about how vegetables are produced, but what to make for dinner!
A simulated auction found that people were willing to pay a small premium for sustainably grown vegetables, once the issue was explained. This fell when the same question was asked online, and in reality a premium of more than 10% is unlikely to be acceptable.
Despite understanding that insects are a natural part of the environment, finding an insect was less likely to be tolerated if products were purchased from a supermarket, dropping even more if that product was packaged.
The idea of using beneficial insects to control pests was new but interesting and engaging. This is a useful focus for efforts to explain sustainable practices.
Where to next?
Industry needs a comprehensive approach to the issue of insect contamination in vegetables. An overall strategy could benefit all supply chain members.
Engaging consumers by showing them how vegetables are grown has the potential to increase both interest in a sustainability label and tolerance of insects on produce.
A series of 30-second videos explaining the use of beneficial insects on vegetables was produced. The next steps could evaluate the effectiveness of these, produce additional videos and related material and link more effectively to consumers through use of QR codes on packaging.
For more information contact
Dr Jenny Ekman, Applied Horticultural Research Pty Ltd