In this section, we briefly discuss the existing literature on consumer preferences for beer and characteristics of demand for organic food products. This overview allows us to derive several hypotheses that can be tested for organic beer in Flanders (Belgium).
2.1. Existing Research on Beer Consumption Preferences
To study the factors that determine beer consumption in Belgium, and specifically the role of organic labels in this market, it is important to investigate past research that has been conducted on beer consumption preferences. Colen and Swinnen [12
] and Piron and Poelmans [10
] provided a recent overview of the existing research on this topic. Most relevant to our study are the studies focusing on the influence of respondent characteristics as well as beer characteristics on beer consumption and beer purchasing behavior (e.g., [12
]). This past research showed that several personal characteristics such as age, gender and religion, influence the consumption of beer. Typically, men are more likely to drink beer than women are and beer is more popular with consumers younger than 45 compared to those over 45 [14
]. In addition, product characteristics such as color, alcohol content and price have been found to play an important role when consumers choose which beer to buy and/or consume.
Very few studies have focused on consumption preferences concerning organic beer. Caporale and Monteleone [5
] found that information revealing the use of “organic technology” in the beer production process (i.e., beer produced with organic barley and hops) had a positive impact on Italian consumers liking the sensory experience of a particular beer type. More recently, Hasselbach and Roosen [6
] used a choice experiment to analyze consumer preferences for local and organic food products for Bavaria (Germany). They investigated preferences for bread, milk and beer by using four product attributes (price, local label, organic label and brand). The respondents in this study were not willing to pay more for beer with the EU organic label unless the beer was also produced locally. The estimated willingness-to-pay for generic local and organic beer was 1.27 Euro per 0.5-L bottle compared to an otherwise similar beer without such a general label. In addition, respondents were willing to pay 0.7 Euro more per 0.5-L bottle for beer with the specific “Organic certified Bavaria” label compared to a similar beer without such a specific label, which in principle conveys the same information to consumers as the generic label for locally and organically produced beer.
2.2. Characteristics of Demand for Organic Food Products
Several motivations for purchasing organic food products have been found in the literature, such as reduced environmental impact [15
] or improved animal welfare [15
], as well as better taste [15
] and health considerations [18
] . The first group of motivations can be labeled as altruistic motivations since they reflect consumers’ desire to contribute to the common good, while the second group can be categorized as egoistic motivations [21
]. This also reflects the typical economic distinction between external and private considerations [22
Moreover, the majority of the existing studies show that several respondent characteristics can influence the respondents’ attitude with regard to their marginal willingness-to-pay (WTP) for organic food products. Note that in economics the demand for a particular good is defined as the marginal willingness-to-pay for this good keeping all else constant [22
]. Moreover, past studies have shown that attitudes and purchase intentions are positively correlated with actual purchase behavior [23
Several studies have been conducted on the impact of gender when buying organic food. Women seem to have more positive attitudes towards organic food and are more likely to purchase and consume organic food than men [17
]. With regard to the effect of age, the existing research delivers ambiguous results as both positive and negative attitudes have been found. According to Aertsens et al. [29
], age does not seem to have an influence in shaping organic food consumption, or only slightly. Other research shows that younger people have a more positive attitude towards organic products than older people and are willing to pay a price premium although their purchasing frequency is rather low [2
]. This allows us to formulate a first hypothesis:
Female consumers have a higher willingness-to-pay for organic beer than male consumers.
According to other research [18
], there is a perceived link between healthy food and organic food, which may lead to people willing to pay a price premium for organic food. Van Doorn and Verhoef [33
] show that the WTP for organic food products is different for vice versus virtue food products. They define vice products as products that provide immediate pleasure, but have negative long-term outcomes (such as addictions and obesity)—i.e., “unhealthy” goods—while virtue products are less appealing in the short term, but have less negative long term consequences—i.e., “healthy” goods. They found that in vice food categories, organic claims are associated with lower quality, which seems to be only partly compensated by higher prosocial benefits. The lower-quality perceptions translate into a decreased consumer WTP. For virtue goods, the perceived health benefits tend to reinforce the value of prosocial benefits leading to higher consumer WTP. Rousseau [4
] found similar results. She states that the perceived link between healthy food and organic food is important to consumers and that the impact of this “organic is healthy” idea is less prominent when it comes to “unhealthy” food. She found that the majority of respondents were not interested in the presence of an organic label when choosing chocolate and that respondents were not willing to pay a premium for organic chocolate compared to conventional chocolate. Thus, we can formulate a second hypothesis:
Consumers are, on average, not willing to pay a price premium for organic beer compared to conventional beer.
Choice experiments that ask about the WTP for specific products often give an overvaluation of the WTP. This effect is called the hypothetical bias [34
] and, in the context of environmental surveys, the social desirability bias [36
]. The hypothetical bias arises because respondents do not face the financial consequences from their consumption choices indicated in a survey, which makes the cost factor less salient and thus tends to bias the WTP estimates upwards. The social desirability bias is to present oneself as a green and socially aware consumer. In a survey, it is essentially costless to present a socially desirable attitude, which again leads to a possible upward bias in WTP estimates. A choice experiment setting is less susceptible to the social desirability bias than surveys that include direct questions since all beer characteristics are explicitly and simultaneously presented to respondents. Moreover, we explicitly reminded respondents of their budget constraint to make the cost attribute more salient [37
]. Finally, familiarity with and knowledge of the product is found to reduce this bias [34
]. For instance, primary shoppers (those that are used to doing the shopping in the household and are considered “more knowledgeable people” when it comes down to food) tend to be more familiar with grocery products and seem to be less likely to overestimate their WTP in choice experiments. Rousseau [4
] showed that those responsible for the daily food purchases (i.e., the primary shoppers) have a lower WTP for labeled products then secondary shoppers. According to the existing research, these primary shoppers are mainly women when it comes to grocery shopping, except when it concerns married couples with a female spouse who has a job outside the house [38
]. In general, our sample was familiar with beer and beer consumption and thus we claim that they revealed their preferences more truthfully. However, familiarity with products implies other possible biases such as habitat formation and the use of choice heuristics [39
]. This paragraph allows us to formulate the following hypothesis:
Primary beer shoppers have a lower willingness-to-pay for organic beer than secondary shoppers.
Consumers’ attitudes towards protecting the environment also influenced their attitudes towards and their willingness to buy organic food [2
]. For instance, Gil et al. [40
] showed that Spanish consumers who were concerned about environmental degradation were most likely to buy organic food and were willing to pay a high premium. As another example, Rousseau [4
] showed that Belgian respondents who were less likely to pay for organic and fairtrade labels were less likely to be members of nature protection organizations. This can be summarized in a fourth hypothesis:
Members of nature protection organizations have a higher willingness-to-pay for organic beer than non-members.
The main objective of this research is to test these four hypotheses for beer consumers in Flanders (Belgium). Hereby, we take into account that beer can be categorized as a vice product.
We also test for differences between younger and older respondents and between frequent and infrequent beer drinkers.