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In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

I’m not sure I will have access to internet next week, so here is another post…Bonjour all once again from my France adventure! This past weekend we went to the large Saturday market here in Montpellier so all the pictures throughout this post will hopefully depict how fantastic the food is here and reinforce how important food quality is to the French.DSCN2686

Today we met with Lucie Siriex, a research professor of Marketing and Consumer Behavior here at SupAgro University, to discuss environmental and ethical consumer concerns. I loved how she pointed out that the information we are learning is to not make us activists, but to widen our view about food systems. It seems that a lot of the food press today focuses on informing consumers what they should eat (organic, local etc) almost to a point that it is overwhelming and contradictory in many cases. Due to this, it was interesting to see data on how consumers interpret this overload of scientific and marketing information. At the market

The first question Lucie addressed was how to measure consumer ethical and environmental concerns. This can be studied by analyzing a consumer’s willingness to pay for a certain type of product, by direct questions, and by attitude and behavior scales. I really see value in experimental studies conducted by Siriex that actually give people money to spend and allow the consumer to buy whatever product they desire, because it is one thing to be idealistic and say that you are extremely concerned about food miles, but when you see a significant price increase between the local and conventional products, it is hard for many to act on their ideals.At the market

The second part of the presentation focused on explaining why consumers have certain ethical and environmental concerns. She uses a means-end chain theory to link product attributes to personal values to enhance understanding behind consumer motivations. For example, a consumer might not purchase organic products due to less pesticides because of their environmental impact, but more so, because the consumer values their family’s health.  I would love to see research on this topic comparing the United States consumer values against what Siriex found as prevalent French values. Apparently, the French value the fact that their food tastes good, value food as enjoyment, are focused on health as a value, value when food evokes good memories, and have a respect for tradition.DSCN2682

Consumers saw the fact that they do not need organic food to be able to enjoy their food. For example, in Siriex’s finding, consumers expressed that there really was not a need for organic wine because they already associated wine as “natural.” As demonstrated by an organic and fair trade chocolate tasting and bidding experiment , even though there is a interaction between taste and label, consumers definitely  need to have quality before they are willing to pay more.

I think values in the U.S. are not as focused on quality, but more on price and convenience factors, and  not as centered on food as enjoyment , or as food as tradition other than on holidays.  I’m continually finding here, depicted by the actual research statistics and the fact that everyone understandably makes the journey to the Saturday early morning market, that the French as a culture, definitely have a connection with their food like no other.

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