From the Field to the Economy

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From the Field to the Economy

Post by cutthecashflow » Wed Sep 22, 2010 2:35 am

From the Field to the Economy:
An Analysis of College Students’ Attitudes and Behaviors of Organic Foods

Heather XXXXXX, Christopher XXXXXX,
Jacob XXXXXXXXX, Amanda XXXXXX, and Sara XXXXX

English 324
April 21, 2008

In order to better guide local producers and retailers, this article explores the attitudes and purchasing behaviors of college students in the Red River Valley in reference to organic foods. The demand for organic products is rapidly increasing throughout the developed world; however, North Dakota does not seem to be responding. While attitudes are reported as the main reason for the increasing demand, they also seem to be the reason organic has not completely taken over the market. Information was gathered first by survey, analyzed primarily by Microsoft Office Excel software then further investigated with interviews. With these tools, the following findings resulted: few local college students purchased or were knowledgeable of organic foods; and the primary concerns about food included cost, taste, and healthiness. Additionally, we found mixed results when analyzing city versus rural-raised students and male versus female students. With further studies relating local college students and price or knowledge, Red River Valley producers and retailers could potentially profit from the organic industry.

There have been many research studies addressing organic foods and peoples purchasing behaviors (Chakrabarti & Baisya, 2007; De Boer, Hoogland, & Boersema, 2007; Dreezens, Martijn, Tenbult, Kok, & De Vries, 2005; Honkanen, Verplanken, & Olsen, 2006; Makatouni, 2002; & Steptoe, Pollard, & Wardle, 1995), but none of these studies have looked at college students purchasing organic foods. This is an especially important topic in the Red River Valley (RRV) because of the three different post-secondary intuitions located in just a small section of the area. College students make up a significant portion of the Fargo-Moorhead community and insight into their motivations and attitudes on organic foods can help provide local producers and retailers better information about their consumer population.

Organic food can be defined as food that is made without chemicals, growth hormones, is naturally produced, and is not intensively produced (Makatouni, 2002; Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Schultz II, & Stanton, 2007). Organic food has become one of the fastest growing demands placed on developed countries. In fact, the world demand for organic foods has shown a rapid increase in Western Europe, the United States, Japan, and Australia (Chakrabarti & Baisya, 2007). According to Stone (2007) from 2003 to 2004 organic production acres increased 9% to 64 million acres, what he calls one of the fastest growing divisions of agriculture. Likewise Hughner et al (2007) stated that the organic food market is on the increase by an average of 12% per year.

North Dakota, according to Stone (2007), used to be one of the top organic producers in the country but has declined in production in recent years. With organic food consumption on the rise worldwide and with people becoming more health conscious (Chakrabarti & Baisya, 2007) North Dakota has the potential to bring in extra economic incentives. If organic food were grown locally, the price would drop (Stone, 2007) and organic food would be more available to people of lower socio economic status in the RRV; such as college students and the elderly. The problem, according to Stone (2007), is that organic growers in North Dakota are aging and there does not appear to be anyone willing to take their place in the growing of organic foods. This is not only a detriment to the consumers of organic food in the state but also to people of nearby metropolitan areas (Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, etc.).

There are many motivations people take into consideration when purchasing organic foods. The number one reason behind peoples purchasing of organic foods is the perception that organic foods are healthier than conventional foods (Chakrabarti & Baisya, 2007; Zepeda, Chang, & Leviten-Reid, 2006; Steptoe, Pollard, & Wardle, 1995; Wilcox, Pun, Khanona, & Aung, 2004; Honkanen, Verplanken, & Olsen, 2006; & Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Schultz II, & Stanton, 2007). However, Honkanen, Verplanken, & Olsen (2006) have shown that there is no evidence that organic foods are, in fact, healthier or more nutritious than conventional foods. Because organic foods are produced without pesticides, growth hormones, or chemicals; the price on organic foods is higher than that of conventional foods. Many people see the higher price and immediately conclude that because the price is higher, they are paying for a superior product (Honkanen, Verplanken, & Olsen, 2006).

Attitudes are defined as “psychological tendencies that are expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” (Dreezens, Martijn, Tenbult, Kok, & De Vries, 2005, p. 40). Attitudes produce people’s beliefs as well as shape peoples values, which upon activated, shape the motivational processes and corresponding attitudes that result in the person’s involvement in value-congruent activities; such as the purchasing of organic foods (De Boer, Hoogland, & Boersema, 2007). People will purchase organic foods if their values, beliefs, and attitudes are in line with what organic food stands for: Tastier, naturally grown, healthier, environmentally beneficial, and fair treatment of animals (Makatouni, 2002; Zepeda, Chang, & Leviten-Reid, 2006; Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Schultz II, & Stanton, 2007; & Chakrabarti & Baisya, 2007). This has provided the producers of organic food with a new market.

Along with motivations in the purchasing of organic foods there are also hindrances to the purchasing of organic foods. The largest reason behind people not buying organic food is its high price (Makatouni, 2002; Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Schultz II, & Stanton, 2007; Honkanen, Verplanken, & Olsen, 2006; & Zepeda, Chang, & Leviten-Reid, 2006). It is interesting to note that this is also one of the reasons people perceive organic food as being healthier for them. The other reasons for people avoiding organic foods include: lack of availability, skepticism of certification boards and organic labels, insufficient marketing, peoples’ current satisfaction with conventional foods, and cosmetic deficits (Hughner, McDonagh, Prothero, Schultz II, & Stanton, 2007). De Boer, Hoogland, & Boersema (2007) showed that people that have a low involvement in food choice also appear less likely to purchase organic foods, and organic food buyers want control in their lives, avoid risks, are inclined to reflection, and value a good conscious.

While these studies and many others have looked at why people purchase or fail to purchase organic foods, they have not looked at college-age students in particular. This is especially important to the RRV because of the sizeable percentage of college-age students in the region. North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota have over 12,000 students each. There are also institutions in Moorhead, Wahpeton, Mayville, and East Grand Forks. With the sheer size of the college population in the RRV it is important to consider this group of people when evaluating organic food consumption as well as concerns related to the purchasing of organic foods. College students are not only important in the “present” aspect of the situation but the future as well. Many college students that graduate from the RRV will stay in the RRV. This leads to the premise that the money of tomorrow lies in the hands of the students of today. If the trend of buying organic is to continue, producers and retailers must look to the consumers of tomorrow.

The hypothesis of the present study is that college-age students purchasing behavior of organic foods will be consistent with their attitudes and beliefs about organic foods. The aim of this study is to determine if the motivations and beliefs behind organic foods drive purchasing behaviors of college age students. There were a total of 50 students selected between the ages of 18 and 30 years old to complete a survey, statistical analysis was carried out on the surveys using Microsoft Excel and follow up interviews were conducted for further elaboration. Results indicated that college students were not frequent purchasers of organic foods, were not very knowledgeable about organic foods, and considered cost and taste most in regard to purchasing organic. Other results indicated a preference for organic foods from students raised in a populated setting and that females are more likely to purchase organic.

Our results did not match our hypothesis and further research along the lines of organic foods and purchasing behaviors should continue to be of interest in the RRV. The potential for economic gain is prevalent in North Dakota with this being one of the largest areas of agricultural production in the country. Further research should focus on North Dakota farmers attitudes towards organic, the variable of price in organic, and if college students now are more or less likely to buy organic food later.


In this study, there were a total of 50 participants (25 males, 25 females), selected by individual researchers in order to obtain as many participants as possible. Participants came from college students in the Red River Valley area. Participants were between 18 and 30 years old. Incomplete surveys were discarded.

Surveys are the most common way of gathering opinions from a large number of individuals. The ability to target a wider audience allows for more representative results. Furthermore, the format involved in a survey allows for easier data analysis. Interviews provide valuable information, but they cost time and money, and it is very hard to draw general conclusions from interview data. The categorization of results can be skewed by the researcher, and this can impact the data negatively.

As such, this study primarily uses a survey to gather data (see Appendix I). This survey instrument has been designed to assess customer demographics, values, and beliefs about organic foods. It also assesses how much organic foods individuals purchase, and how knowledgeable they feel themselves to be. Survey questions involved a rating scale of 1-5, with 1 being "a little" and 5 being "a lot". Students were also asked to give their age, school, family background (rural, farm, suburbs), gender, and food lifestyles (vegetarian, vegan, kosher, not applicable).

After the survey, some select participants were also interviewed for more information (see Appendix II). The questions from the interview were modified from another study (Zepeda, et al.) and helped determine what people think organic means, what organic foods people do or do not buy, their reasons for their purchasing habits, and the influence of price upon their choices.

Participants were first administered a basic survey to assess their values and other demographic information. Once the results of the survey were obtained, some participants (n=5) were selected for follow-up interviews. Participation in an interview depended on the participant's willingness to provide contact information. Results from the survey were analyzed using Microsoft Excel software, and the interview results were also studied for any additional information they could provide.


For our research, our group used the Likert scale of 1 to 5, with 1 equal to ‘a little’, 3 equal to ‘somewhat’ and 5 equal to ‘a lot’. For the purposes of equally categorizing the data, an average score of 2.3 or lower will be considered low i.e. minimal importance or agreement. A score of 2.31 to 3.69 will be considered the middle range i.e. somewhat important or somewhat agree. Finally, a score of 3.7 or higher will be considered high i.e. high importance or agreement.

Figure 1 illustrates that a vast majority (68%, 34 students) of students purchase a small amount of organic food, with only 8% (3 students) considerthemselves to purchase a large amount of organic food. Finally, 26% (13 students) claim to purchase a moderate amount of organic food (‘some’).

Our findings also indicated that students do not consider themselves very knowledable on the topic of organic food. In Figure 2, a negative relationship can be seen between students and their level of organic food knowledge. 26 students (52%) claim to have below average (‘a little’) knowledge regarding organic food. 10 students (20%) claim to have average (‘some’) knowledge of organic food. Lastly, 14 students (28%) claim to have above average (‘a lot’) knowledge regarding organic food.

Figure 2. This chart shows the knowledge of Red River Valley college students in regard to organic food. There is a negative correlation between number of students and amount of knowledge.

Certain factors were also looked at to determine college students’ attitudes and beliefs towards purchasing organic and non-organic foods. Of the factors anaylzed, cost, taste and healthiness were found to be the most profound influences on food purchases.

Figure 3. This line chart shows the imporance of the studied factors in regards to college students’ food purchases. It can be seen that taste, cost and healthiness are the three most important factors when making a food purchase.

Figure 3 shows the imporance of the factors put into question. Cost and taste were the only factors to score in the high category (3.7+). All other factor analyzed scored in the middle range (somewhat important). Of the middle range scores, healthiness was the highest scoring factor. Shelf life, origin locality of food, and animal welfare all scored well below the 3.0 mark, indicating they are the least important factors when making a food purchase. Hormones and antibiotics in food, along with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) scored well below the 3.0 mark as well, which indicates they are of little concern to the college consumers surveyed.

Figure 4 goes into further depth on the importance of cost and taste. It is shown here that the majority of students surveyed considered both factors very important when deciding what food to purchase.

Figure 4. This chart shows the importance of cost and taste according to Red River Valley college students. Majority of students surveyed considered taste and cost crucial factors.

When students raised in a city versus those who were raised in a rural setting were analyzed, it was found that rural-raised students bought less organic food but claimed to have more organic food knowledge. Rural-raised students also cared more about taste and price, while city raised students cared more about every other factor, excluding origin and shelf life. This can be seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5. This line chart shows the differences between rural and city raised college students. Numbers 1 and 2 show the amount of organic food purchased and claimed knowledge. 3 through 15 are the factors influencing food purchases. 16 is the amount of trust in the organic label. 17 and 18 are how much more likely students would buy organic food if price wasn’t a factor or if the food was guaranteed certified.

It was also shown that city-raised students trust the organic label more than those raised in rural communities. Furthermore, students from a city indicated they were more likely to buy organic food if price was not an issue and if certification was guaranteed, as opposed to rural raised students.

The final analysis was that of the differences between males and females. Figure 6 shows this analysis. It was found that females buy more organic food than males, and yet males claim to be more knowledgeable about organic food. Females also had higher scores in all food purchasing factors except variety and origin locality. This indicates females care more about these factors than do males. It was also shown that females are more likely to buy organic food if price was not and issue, and if certification was guaranteed.

Figure 6. This line chart shows the differences between male and female college students. Numbers 1 and 2 show the amount of organic food purchased and claimed knowledge. 3 through 15 are the factors influencing food purchases. 16 is the amount of trust in the organic label. 17 and 18 are how much more likely students would buy organic food if price wasn’t a factor or if the food was guaranteed certified.


The most significant thing we found from our research was that college students in the Red River Valley do no purchase much organic food. We also found that college students do not believe they are very educated when it comes to organic food. This could be one reason for the lack of organic purchases.

Also of major significance, and another possible reason for the little amount of organic food purchases, was the fact that cost is a high priority when purchasing food. Organic foods typically cost more than their counterparts of the non-organic variety, and college students are usually known for being short on money. This verdict is congruent with Makatouni’s (2002) findings that the main reasons for not buying organic foods are price, lack of availability, variety, and trust. However, our findings did not lead us to believe that availability, variety or trust are major contributors for college students specifically, as all three categories had scores near the 3.0 mark and thus were not significantly high or low. Our findings indicated that taste and healthiness of the food are more significant in deciding someone’s food choices. A possible explanation of this could be that organic food has since become more popular, and thus there is more variety and better availability than there was during the time of Makatouni’s study.

As for our hypothesis: local college students' purchasing behaviors of organic food will be consistent with their attitudes and beliefs about organic food; we found this to be untrue. Students’ attitudes and beliefs are important factors in their purchasing decisions. This is shown with the differences between city-raised vs. rural-raised students. However, while this is true, we found that cost and taste outweigh other factors.

There are some potential problems with methodology that could have distorted the data in this experiment. The sample size of 50 students is relatively small. Also, the sample was not distributed in a completely random manner. A much larger, more random sample of students would provide a better outlook on the subject. Finally, the survey was non-normative as well and parts of it may have been unclear to those surveyed. A more precise and simpler survey could have produced more valid results.
Future work that should build off of this study could focus more on prices of organic food rather than attitudes and beliefs, as it seems price can influence one’s purchasing decisions over beliefs and attitudes.


In general, a significant majority of college students in the RRV do not buy much organic food. This may be due to a number of reasons, such as a low level of consumer knowledge on the subject; or as this study suggested, the frequently higher costs or questionable taste of organic food. Animal welfare, shelf life, local origin, and antibiotics did not show as much of an influence on college-age purchasing decisions as they were expected. Moreover, no exceptionally significant differences were found between students from a rural and city setting, or male and female students. This suggests that neither residence nor gender influence purchasing behavior among students as much as price and taste of products do. It was also concluded that attitudes toward organic food do not match purchasing behavior in regard to organic food. Many of those surveyed believed organic food was healthier but still did not purchase it. Price was a larger factor than attitudes.

Since food grown without pesticides or antibiotics produces a lower yield, organic food incurs a higher price, which is why many students do not buy it. This problem can be solved gradually. If more farms were growing organically, there would be a greater proportion of organic food overall, and thus the prices would slowly drop. The second major concern was taste; however, simply having more education on the subject would practically eliminate most of that concern, since there is no evidence that organic food tastes worse than conventional food.

With all the colleges in the RRV, the population of college students is so high that their purchasing decisions are extremely important to the economy of the RRV. What they buy truly affects the area, so they are a demographic that should no longer be ignored. With an ever-increasingly health-conscious population, organic food growth is a promising market.

The percentage of the rural population is steadily dropping in the United States, and states such as North Dakota are losing many of the young adults and families crucial for the economy to thrive. Any way North Dakota can bring in more jobs and opportunities will only help the state and region. Organic food production is such a potentially lucrative business for this community and the nation that much more needs to be done to draw attention to organic food, especially among young adults. Better education and lower prices will boost this industry and will not only encourage more purchase but more growth of organic food crops in the RRV and North Dakota, thus propelling North Dakota into economic bliss.


Chakrabarti, S., & Baisya, R. (2007, January). Purchase motivations and attitudes of organic food buyers. Decision (0304-0941), 34(1), 1-22. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from EBSCO MegaFILE database.
De Boer, J., Hoogland, C. T., & Boersema, J. J. (2007). Towards more sustainable food choices: value priorities and motivational orientations. Food Quality and Preference. 18, 985-996.
Dreezens, E., Martijn, C., Tenbult, P., Kok, G., & De Vries, N.K. (2005). Food and the relation between values and attitude characteristics. Appetite. 45, 40-46.
Honkanen, P., Verplanken, B., & Olsen, S.O. (2006). Ethical values and motives driving organic food choice. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 5, 420-430.
Hughner, R. S., McDonagh, P., Prothero, A., Schultz II, C. J., & Stanton, J. (2007). Who are organic food consumers: a compilation and review of why people purchase organic food. Journal of Consumer Behavior, 6(2-3), 94-110.
Makatouni, A. (2002). What motivates consumers to buy organic food in the UK: results from a qualitative study. British Food Journal, 104(3-5), 345.
Steptoe, A., Pollard, A. M., and Wardle, J. (1995). Development of a measure of the motives underlying the selection of food: the food choice questionnaire. Appetite, 25(3), 267-284.
Stone, K. (2007, January 9). Organic board chair says North Dakota is 'slipping'. Agweek (Grand Forks, ND), Retrieved March 18, 2008, from EBSCO MegaFILE database
Wilcock, A., Pun, M., Khanonax, J., and Aung, M. (2004). Consumer attitudes, knowledge and behaviour: a review of food safety issues. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 15(2), 56-66.
Zepeda, L., Chang, H., & Leviten-Reid, C. (2006, October). Organic food demand: A focus group study involving caucasian and african-american shoppers [electronic resource]. Agriculture and human values, 23, 385-394. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from Agricola database.

Appendix I
A. Demographics
Year in school: Fresh. Soph. Jr. Sr.
Family Background: Rural Farm Town City Suburb
Gender: Male Female
Food Lifestyle: Kosher Vegetarian Vegan N/A

B. (1=little  5=a lot)
How much organic food do you buy? 1 2 3 4 5 How knowledgeable are you on organic food? 1 2 3 4 5

Out of the following, rank how important they are to you when buying organic food:
• cost 1 2 3 4 5
• availability 1 2 3 4 5
• human health 1 2 3 4 5
• variety 1 2 3 4 5
• environmental health 1 2 3 4 5
• animal rights/treatment (caged vs. free range) 1 2 3 4 5
• taste 1 2 3 4 5
• shelf life 1 2 3 4 5
• origin (local, regional, national) 1 2 3 4 5

How concerned are you with the following in your food:
• hormones 1 2 3 4 5
• chemicals (pesticides) 1 2 3 4 5
• antibiotics 1 2 3 4 5
• genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 1 2 3 4 5

How much do you trust the “organic” label? 1 2 3 4 5
How healthy do you perceive organic food compared to non-organic food? 1 2 3 4 5

How likely would you be to buy more organic food if:
• price was not an issue 1 2 3 4 5
• certification was guaranteed 1 2 3 4 5

C. If you are willing to participate in a follow up interview, please fill out the following information. If you are not, please leave this section blank.

Name: ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬__________________________________

Email Address: _________________________________________________
Appendix II

Interview Questions:

Interviewer Interviewee

1. What does “organic” mean to you?
2. You answered ____ in regard to how much organic food you buy. What are the main reasons you do/do not?
3. Which foods would you prefer to buy organic? Why?
4. Which foods would you never buy organic? Why?
5. Do you see a price difference in organic vs. conventional food?
-If so, is it justified?
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Re: From the Field to the Economy

Post by WeedGuru_Flow » Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:29 am

I am about a third of the way there, are we supposed to answer the questions at the end ?
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Re: From the Field to the Economy

Post by cutthecashflow » Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:32 pm

If you would like you could, this was an old project from my undergraduate career in college. Thanks for reading Flow!
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Re: From the Field to the Economy

Post by Gorecore » Sun Oct 17, 2010 8:23 pm

I'm sleepy and didn't have the eyeball stamina to read all of that, but I do have a question.

I've heard that food products can be labeled organic even if only 1 ingredient in the product is organic and the rest is not. Say, you buy granola bars labeled as organic and only one ingredient out of the 15 in the bar is organic. Any truth to this?

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Re: From the Field to the Economy

Post by cutthecashflow » Mon Oct 18, 2010 3:41 pm

Gore, I am unsure about your question. I will do some more research into the product and look into this. I'm sure at the time I wrote this paper I knew the answer, but that was two years ago and a lot of beers have been drunk since then. The laws will more than likely differ for Canada and the US, but I will let you know what I find out.
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Re: From the Field to the Economy

Post by JokersAce » Sat Oct 23, 2010 9:47 am

cutthecashflow wrote:Gore, I am unsure about your question. I will do some more research into the product and look into this. I'm sure at the time I wrote this paper I knew the answer, but that was two years ago and a lot of beers have been drunk since then.
This almost feels like making me quit drinking.... nah.
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