Everybody Seems Concerned About the Environment: But Is This Concern Reflected in (Danish) Consumers' Food Choice?


Suzanne C. Grunert (1993) ,"Everybody Seems Concerned About the Environment: But Is This Concern Reflected in (Danish) Consumers' Food Choice?", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 428-433.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 428-433


Suzanne C. Grunert, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark

Since the early 70's environmental issues have been one of the top ten topics for citizens, politicians, scientists and marketers. Newspaper articles and scientific papers are regularly occupied with consumers' environmental concern. These articles usually start with stating the latest opinion polls on consumers' dramatically increasing environmental concern and willingness to change their consumption habits. It seems that only a minority is still believing that qualitative growth and sustainable development are synonymous with stone age-type living conditions. "Green" marketing thus seems to be the number one success strategy for the present and future. Is that a realistic picture?

In this paper, I will present some results of several studies carried out in Denmark in 1991 under the so-called +KO foodsBproject (Grunert & Kristensen, 1990, 1991, 1992a). The focus will be on Danish consumers' environmental concern and its relationships to the buying of organic food products, trying to give an answer to the above title's question.


One of the most noticeable consumer issues which have emerged during the last years is that of environmental concern. It has led to the phenomenon of a new kind of consumerBthe so-called green consumer who, in the context of foods, discovered the interrelations between environmental pollution, type of agricultural production and food contamination, and who realized that many of the food products s/he bought are produced at nature's expense by exploiting soils, polluting water, and degrading cattle to meat-producing machines. I call her/him +KO-foods consumers, with "+KO" standing for the Danish abbreviation of eco-logy. As an analogy to the environmentally concerned consumer (Balderjahn, 1985), s/he can be defined as a person who knows that the production, distribution, use and disposal of food products lead to external costs, and who evaluates such external costs negatively, trying to minimize them by her/his own food choice behaviour. A corresponding behaviour would hence be the buying of organic foods as often as possible.


The central purpose of the +KO foodsBproject was to increase knowledge about consumer behaviour in the organic foods market and to assess the factors which make consumers prefer organic foods. The Danish Ministry of Agriculture therefore decided to support a scientific study in this area within its research programme on food products 1990-94. This put forth the formation of the +KO foodsBproject with the main objective of enhancing consumers' choice in the food market through: 1) assessing product characteristics relevant for consumers' evaluation of organically versus conventionally grown foods in order to shape products' appearance according to consumers' requirements and 2) providing food policy makers with advice on which aspects to focus on when designing information campaigns related to organic foods.

The questionnaire which was employed after several pretesting rounds in the main phase of the project contained 13 sections with either statements to be rated on 9- and 5-point scales, respectively, or questions to be answered openly (for more details see Grunert & Kristensen, 1992b). The different sections dealt with social and personal values, nutritional knowledge, attitudes towards modern food processing, attitudinal aspects of environmental concern, environmental knowledge, environmentally desirable behavioural intentions, product attributes of organic foods, willingness to pay more for organic foods, knowledge of the Danish organic foods' labelling, experiences with buying organic foods, and socio-demographic situation.

Data were collected in may 1991 by means of a nationwide computer-assisted telephone survey. 1476 respondents aged above 18 participated: 820 (55.6%) women and 656 (44.4%) men. Women are thus a little bit overrepresented in the sample with regard to their actual share in the population (pr. 01.04.1991: 50.7%). Within the five age groups respondents were assigned to, there is a small overrepresentation of those aged 26 to 35 and a small underrepresentation of those 60 years and older.


Environmental concern was hypothesized to consist of three different aspects: Attitudinal aspects of environmental concern, environmental knowledge, and environmentally desirable behavioural intentions. This conception is in line with mainstream views (e.g., Balderjahn, 1986; Holzmnller & Pichler, 1988; van Liere & Dunlap, 1981).

Environmental attitudes

Respondents were asked to agree-disagree on a 5-point scale with 10 statements concerning environmental issues. These statements either described a more emotional concern, or the willingness to do something oneself, or an actual commitment to environmentally friendly behaviour possibilities. Wording of the statements was based on the EAKS by Maloney et al. (1975), but adapted, updated, and reformulated during the project's pretest phase.

Frequency distribution of the single items showed high agreement with emotional concern statements, while more conatively oriented statements received considerably less agreement. Based on factor analysis results, a scale was computed of five statements (Cronbach's alpha: 0.67). On the basis of similar scale distances, respondents were allocated to three groups:

Environmental knowledge

Respondents' knowledge on general environmental topics such as the consequences of phosphate on marine life or polluting substances in cars' exhaust fumes were measured by 5 open questions. Again, respondents were assigned to three groups on the basis of a scale which was computed out of the potentially 16 right answers to the five questions (table 2). It is evident that consumers' knowledge is disappointingly low, a result which is in line with those from a similar study in Canada (Muller & Taylor, 1991).

Environmentally desirable behavioural intentions

This section was originally intended to measure self-reported behaviour in eight different behavioural possibilities ranging from recycling to buying environmentally ethic products or avoiding environmentally unethic products. Given the uncertainty known to exist with this type of questions (e.g., Felcher & Calder, 1990) together with the possibility of a wide range of connotations with the behavioural possibilities, the scale derived was renamed into behavioural intentions. Frequency distribution showed a high percentage of consumers engaging in recycling behavioural (intentions), whereas the more active avoidance respectively choice of certain products is much less popular. Table 3 shows the group distribution on the corresponding scale.







It can thus be concluded that Danish consumers are scoring high on environmental attitudes, low on environmental knowledge, and medium on environmentally desirable behavioural intentions. A significant covariation was found between attitudes and behavioural intentions (c24 = 49.004, p = 0.000) as well as between knowledge and behavioural intentions (c24 = 25.608, p = 0.000), while attitudes and knowledge are independent of each other (c24 = 4.602, p = 0.331). The three aspects of environmental concern were therefore considered to be related to each other and used together for further analyses.

With the help of cluster analysis, five groups being distinctively different in their degree of environmental concern were found: The environmental concern palette (see also figure 1).

Group 1: The colourless

58 (3.9%) respondents belong to this group and are characterized by scoring low on all three dimensions of environmental concern. Sociodemographic characteristics show a slight overrepresentation of men, and group members on average belong to the middle segements of age, education, and income.

Group 2: The attitudinal greenish

352 respondents (23.8%) belong to this group. They have a medium level of environmental attitudes and a low one on both knowledge and behavioural intentions. They tend to belong to the older age segments and to live in small households without children.

Group 3: The conatively greenish

Scoring low on attitudes and knowledge, this group displays nevertheless a high level of behavioural intentions. It consists of 169 (11.5%) respondents, mainly male consumers living in households with children and tending to belong to the upper third of the income and education segments.

Group 4: The greenish

This is the biggest group with 728 (49.3%) respondents. They score low on knowledge, but high on attitudes and behavioural intentions. Many of them are women, often living alone and of medium educational and income level.

Group 5: The greens

169 (11.5%) respondents form this group characterized by high scores on all three dimensions of environmental concern. they tend to belong to the upper third of the income and education segments and to live in bigger households with children.


A look at table 4 gives the answer to the titles' question: Consequent +KO foods consumers are still a distinct minority in Denmark, i.e., environmental concern is not reflected in consumers' food choice. According to our definition of an +KO foods consumer, her/his characteristics are reflected in the tripartite construct of environmental concern: Consistently high scores on all three scales were found with 11.5% of respondents. Cross-tabulated with their self-reported frequency of buying organic foods we get the figures in table 4. They are more or less compatible with the figures of organic foods' market shares as far as these have been estimated (Hvidbog, 1991).

Moreover, it can be shown that there is a significant covariation between a consumers' position on the environmental concern palette and her/his self-reported buying behaviour frequency of five out of eight product groups (table 5).

These results are not really encouraging for optimistic estimations on the future development in the organic food market. In the remainder of this paper some other (bivariate) results will be presented in order to illustrate differences between the five environmental concern groups.


Product attributes and attitudes towards food processing

53% of respondents were convinced that organic foods are natural, pure, and simply better than conventionally produced. On the other hand, considerable distrust in modern food processing was expressed by 84% of respondents.











It can be hypothesized that one's environmental concern influences the belief about organic food products' attributes and one's distrust in modern food processing technologies. The results shown in the following two tables support this hypothesis.

Covariation of these two variables environmental concern and belief in natural product attributes is significant (c28 = 180.745, p = 0.000) as is the covariation between environmental concern and distrust in modern food processing (c28 = 47.44, p = 0.000).

Willingness to pay more

However, the just mentioned attitudes have only limited influence on the willingness to pay more for organic foods or to buying these productsBalthough this would seem to be a logic consequence of such attitudes. For example, only 5% of all respondents declare to be willing to pay 30% more for organic foods. Hence, there seems to exist a trade-off between, e.g., distrust and the potentially inconvenient consequences of boycotting conventional products.

Willingness to pay more for organic foods (open question) obviously depends on one's degree of environmental concern (table 8). Moreover, this variable shows significant covariation with five demographic characteristics of respondents (table 9).

These bivariate results indicateBtogether with some others not reported here (see Grunert & Kristensen, 1992a)Ba clear relationship between consumers' environmental concern and a number of variables assumed to influence their food choice behaviour. However, these relationships do not add up to a demand for organic foods which could be called satisfyingly high, stable or even steadily growing.


The questionnaire used in the telephone survey was comprehensive, but certainly not exhaustive. Those respondents identified as either colourless or attitudinal greenish in the first telephone interview were therefore called up once more to ask them for their specific reasons not to buy organic food products. They were given 13 potential reasons to be rated on a 5 point scale ranging from "not at all important" to "very important".







Mean values showed that most items are considered to be less important reasons not to buy organic foods (range from 1.808 to 2.959; standard deviation range from 1.670 to 1.962). This result can be explained, inter alia, by assuming that this group of consumers never really considered buying organic foods, and they may thus find it difficult to express their opinion. This assumption is supported by the finding that up to 19% of these respondents answered with "I don't know". Statements and frequencies of both "very important reason" and "I don't know" are found in table 10.

According to these figures, the three most important reasons not to buy organic foods are old habits, distribution problems, and price. Explorative factor analysis of the 13 statements revealed five principal dimensions: doubts about differences between organic and conventional foods, dissatisfaction with supply and distribution density, lack of interest, bad appearance and high price. These aspects need therefore to be tackled by marketing efforts if also less green consumers should be convinced to buy organic foods. As results of our four pretest samples have shown, even the more environmentally concerned consumers name similar reasons for not buying (more regularly) organic foods.


The results of this study have shown that Danish consumers' environmental concern is, though clearly present, almost not reflected in their food choice. There seem to be at least two reasons for this. One may be related to the almost classical problem of a lack of high correlations between attitudes and behaviour, a trivial but common finding. Another may be that consumers in Denmark do not perceive the buying of organic foods as one potential opportunity to improve environmental conditions. Moreover, the actual price and distribution density situation does not really favour such behaviour. It seems that both information campaigns about the relationships of environmental situation and organic foods as well as strong efforts from producers and distributors are needed to increase the demand for these products. It is evident, that there remains much to do for convincing more consumers to buy organic foodsBif there is a societal and political consent that organic food production is an important contribution to pollution abatement and protection of natural resources.


Balderjahn, Ingo (1986). Das umweltbewu¯te Konsumentenverhalten. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

Felcher, E. Maria, & Calder, Bobby (1990). Cognitive models for behavioral frequency survey questions. In: M.E. Goldberg, G. Gorn, & R.W. Pollay (eds.), Advances in consumer resrach, Vol. 17. Provo, UT: ACR.

Grunert, Suzanne C., & Kristensen, Kai (1990). Factors influencing the demand for organically produced foods: Theoretical notes and project outline. +FP Working paper no. 1, Series H nr. 50. Aarhus: The Aarhus School of Business.

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Grunert, Suzanne C., & Kristensen, Kai (1992b). The green consumer: Some Danish evidence. In: Klaus G. Grunert & Dorthe Fuglede (eds.), Marketing for EuropeBmarketing for the future, Vol. 1, pp. 525-539. Aarhus: The Aarhus School of Business.

Holzmnller, Hartmut H., & Pichler, Christoph (1988). AnsStze zur operationalisierung des Konstruktes "Umweltbewu¯tsein" von Konsumenten: Ein Forschungsnberblick. Marketing-Arbeitspapiere Nr. 4. Wien: WirtschaftsuniversitSt Wien, Institut fnr Absatzwirtschaft.

Kristensen, Kai, & Grunert, Suzanne C. (1991). The effect of ecological consciousness on the demand for organically produced food. In: Marketing thought around the world, Proceeding of the 20th Annual Conference of The European Marketing Academy, Vol. 2, pp. 299-318. Dublin: University College.

Maloney, Michael P., Ward, Michael P., & Braucht, G. Nicholas (1975). A revised scale for the measurement of ecological attitudes and knowledge. American Psychologist, 30, 787-791.

Muller, Thomas E., & Taylor, D. Wayne (1991). Everybody talks about the environment: But how environmentally responsive are consumers? In: T. Schellinck (ed.), Marketing, Proceedings of the Annual ASAC Conference, Vol. 12, part 6, pp. 202-211. : Dalhousie University.

van Liere, Kent D., & Dunlap, Riley E. (1981). Environmental concern: Does it make a difference how it is measured? Environment and Behavior, 13(69, 651-676.



Suzanne C. Grunert, Aarhus School of Business, Denmark


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993

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