Dr. Jennifer Davis, Associate Professor and Horticulture Marketing Extension Specialist at Purdue University, teaches and conducts research on the marketing of specialty crops and consumer behavior. Dr. Dennis has a master’s degree in horticulture with an emphasis in survey research methods from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she explored target marketing within the Illinois retail nursery and garden center sector. Her general research interests includes consumer behavior topics, such as switching behavior and repeat patronage, consumer perceptions of products, marketing of organic products, and the organization and implementation of consumer awareness programs for fruits and vegetables.
Eco-labeling is a cue that signals, “This is something different,” Davis said. “It’s important that consumers understand why Eco-labeling is important. What’s sustainable, organic, biodegradable, pesticide free?”
Every industry is struggling with educating and explaining these terms to their consumers, Davis explained. Sustainability, by definition, means one thing, yet consumers think sustainability is another. The problem, she said, is that there are no common definitions.
Davis established three compelling reasons why consumers buy products with Eco-labeling:
1. Superior quality
2. Concern for the environment
Much of Davis’s research has been focused on food consumption behavior, but she said those research findings were applicable to the horticulture industry as well. “There’s confusion in both sectors. Most people think that true eco-friendliness or sustainability is unattainable. As a result, consumers don’t know what to do,” she said.
Davis’ research has shown that differences exist between consumer perception of the terms “eco-friendly” and “sustainable.” Consumers had different perceptions when the two terms were defined variously as “green,” “socially responsible,” “energy saving,” “lower carbon footprint,” and other definitions.
“Eco-friendly” has better consumer perception in terms of implying that a product was organic, biodegradable, etc., but consumers want more proof that such environmentally friendly claims translate into actual benefits.
Also notable was her finding that associating a product to a social issue, such as children’s welfare, poverty, or domestic violence, was perceived as more important than green issues.
Another thing to consider: “Green and local go hand in hand, because they are perceived as affecting one’s immediate sphere of influence,” she said in closing.