Supermarkets emerged as a particular retail form in the United States of America (USA) during the 1930s and gradually spread to countries outside the USA, adopting local and global characteristics [28
]. The trend characterizing the development of these new retail forms was similar in the United States and the United Kingdom: supermarket stores started as places offering dry food and then full-line fresh foods [29
]. Fresh produce was not available in supermarkets until the 1960s due to the belief that it was impossible to move consumers from the wet markets and fruit shops to these new big retail stores [29
To begin with, the supermarket development began with locations in urban areas in Western countries, and then in the 1990s, an out-of-town initiative was accompanied by the decision to increase the size of the stores as well as building supermarkets at the edge-of-town centers. Latterly, supermarkets began to locate abroad because of the limited opportunities for market growth in the US and Europe [30
]. For this reason, supermarket chains began searching for new market opportunities overseas [30
Supermarkets are the dominant format of food and grocery retailing in Western societies [31
]. For example, in the UK there are four major British supermarket chains—Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons—which together account for a total of 75.4% of all UK food shopping [32
According to Reardon et al.
] following the success in Western countries, the “supermarket revolution” took place in three waves in developing countries (A developing country is one in which the majority lives on far less money—with far fewer basic public services—than the population in highly industrialized countries (World Bank).): the “first-wave” started in the mid-1990s in South American and East Asian countries, “the second-wave” encompassed Mexico, much of South-East Asia, Central America, and Southern-Central Europe, and in the “third-wave”, which occurred in the late 1990s early 2000s, Eastern/Southern Africa, India and China experienced the “supermarket revolution” [34
The above findings show that there is a contrast in the supermarket development growth between developed and developing countries. Developed countries have experienced a gradual growth in the number of supermarkets while in developing countries, the supermarket entry and expansion has happened in only a matter of years. In Albania, for example, Euromax was the first supermarket chain that entered the country in 2005 [35
]. Other supermarket chains include the Greek chain Marinopoulos with Carrefour introducing the first hypermarket in 2011, which is the largest shopping center in the country [35
]. This fact supports Hawke’s [30
] statement about supermarkets’ fast growth in developing countries where traditional outlets, hypermarkets, and discounters coexist at the same time.
Supermarkets have been emerging not only in developing countries but also in post-communist countries in Europe such as in Russia, Croatia, Latvia, Slovakia Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Most of these countries were state controlled economies and the state played an important role in the retail sector [36
]. Research in post-communist countries is focused on the expansion strategies of large Western supermarket chains that are entering these countries as opposed to analyzing consumers’ perceptions [36
]. There is some evidence of studies investigating consumers’ perceptions towards supermarkets exist in Lithuania [38
] and another one revealing that young Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles like shopping at supermarkets and are more open to Western shopping ways [39
]. As stated earlier, Albania is another post-communist country that is experiencing the supermarket phenomenon. Four international supermarket brands are now operating in the country sharing 20% of the market share with the remaining 80% being spent on local markets and smaller shops [7
]. Supermarket stores in Albania are perceived to be trusted sources of food products [40
Supermarket development came as a response to the changes in the habits, demands and preferences of consumers in developing countries [30
]. Urbanization, the entry of women into the workforce outside of the home, and the higher per capita incomes are all contributory factors to this expansion [41
]. According to Traill [42
], supermarkets in developing countries are no longer places frequented only by rich people. This is partly because of the rising incomes and the desire to imitate Western lifestyles [42
]. Moreover, supermarkets in developing countries are perceived as places for entertainment, where families spend their day shopping together [43
]. According to Harvey [19
], another reason behind the fast supermarket development is the internal niche market they create by bringing together high with low income consumers with distinctive marques at high prices, along with their own-label discount ranges. However, despite the fact that supermarkets are widely accessible to lower-income consumers, their use is not similar to higher-income consumers [44
Academic literature presents a plethora of studies around supermarkets discussing a variety of matters such as their entry into various countries, the threat they pose to the local small shops [45
], prices [47
], nutrition issues of the products available in supermarkets [50
], customer relationship marketing (CRM), strategies and maintaining customer relationships [53
], and customer service and loyalty [55
]. In Western countries, the supermarket literature is becoming more specialized, abandoning slowly the concept of a pure consumer perception of supermarkets. These new studies are covering topics such as “recording brain waves at the supermarket: what can we learn from a shopper's brain” [60
], “the influence of background music on consumer behaviour [61
], “aroma stimuli influencing shopper’s behaviour and satisfaction” [62
] and obesity issues related to the food bought in supermarkets [63
]. However, this exploratory study aims to refocus on the traditional consumer perception research. The findings of this study will have managerial implications for farmers’ markets and supermarkets on how to develop strategies to promote organic food to consumers in two different countries where two dissimilar trends of consumption are developing.
2.2. Farmers’ Markets
In the past, farmers’ markets used to be held in outdoor settings in which small farmers gathered to sell directly to the public, usually from the backs of pick-up trucks or on makeshift tables [65
] (p. 15). Nowadays, farmers’ markets are not necessarily held only outdoors. The farmers’ market in Cheltenham, for example, is held in a venue dedicated to local farmers and local producers in the heart of the town’s shopping center [66
]. It seems that the farmers’ market structure has changed over the years. Back in the 80s, farmers would sell their products in the streets while nowadays farmers’ markets take place in organized venues/spaces.
According to the National Farmers’ Retail & Markets’ Association [67
], the first UK farmers’ market started in Bath in September 1997 and since then the term “farmers” market’ has stood for locally produced food sold by the people who made it. FARMA accredits certificates to farmers when they comply with the following criteria:
The food is produced locally
The stall is attended by the producer or someone involved in production
All the goods on sale will have been grown, reared or processed by the stallholders.
Farmers’ markets have long existed as the prime outlet for such small-scale producers with the appeal of providing “local” produce to urban residents [68
]. However, there is a consensus as to their common characteristics:
“involving direct selling to the consumer by the person who grew, reared, or produced the foods,
“in a common facility where the above activity is practiced by numerous farmers,
“who sell local produce” [69
] (p. 399).
Typically, the goods sold at a farmers’ market would include: fruit and vegetables, meats and meat products, cheeses and other dairy products, fish, honey, bakery products, jams, pickles, dressings and sauces [68
]. Farmers’ markets are also believed to offer a more diverse range of products compared to supermarkets [70
The increasing preference for locally produced food has resulted in 30% sales growth in the UK over the last four years [3
]. There is also growth in the number of farmers’ markets which stands at over 550, representing some 9500 market days and 230,000 stallholders throughout the UK [71
]. The growth of farmers’ markets in the UK is often linked to consumers’ desire to move away from food that was produced using industrialized techniques [72
]. They have been associated with a growing interest in rural heritage, culinary traditions and tourism [4
]. Farmers’ markets have also been identified as part of a larger food system movement that establishes consumers’ cultural and personal identity [5
]. Increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetable products of better nutritional content, good taste, and flavour has also contributed to the success of farmers' markets over the years [73
It has been argued that farmers’ markets serve to [68
enable increased profit margins, by shortening the supply chain
provide a secure and regular outlet for produce
provide fresh local produce, direct from the producer
generate new business and boost trade for adjacent shops
encourage consumers to support local business and local agriculture
ensure that money stays in the locality
reduce transport, food miles and packaging and
encourage people to interact.
Further benefits are associated with farmers’ markets such as attracting people into the areas in which they take place and they also contribute to local economic development through the support of local traders [70
]. La Trobe [22
] argues that farmers’ markets may increase local economic sustainability and they do not have a negative impact on the environment in terms of transportation and food miles [68
]. Farmers’ markets may also act as a regeneration initiative for the local economy [22
]. Gerbasi’s study [74
] showed that farmers themselves believe that the farmers’ markets not only increase their household income (from a consumers’ perspective, the most common reason for buying from a farmers’ market is to support the local farmers) but also stimulate the local economy, add cultural value and improve social networks between farmers and their customers.
Tong et al.
] examine farmers’ markets from a different angle. They suggest that farmers’ markets differ from other food stores because they quite often have very limited hours of service and are distributed very sparsely in space. This means that farmers’ markets are not easily accessible by people whose schedule does not fit with the markets’ service hours.
Studies in most European countries such as Sweden [75
], Norway [77
], the Netherlands, and Germany [80
] indicate that the development of alternative food networks such as the farmers’ markets is often based on “modern” and more “commercial” quality definitions, stressing environmental sustainability or animal welfare, and on innovative (and retailer-led) forms of marketing [82
]. According to Evans et al.
], the general move towards “ecological modernization” may reconcile agriculture and environment in ways which continue to support agricultural production.
However, the development of farmers’ markets in countries such as Italy, Spain, and France mostly builds on activities of regional quality production and direct selling with long-lasting traditions [12
]. Other countries such as Portugal and Greece originate more than 75% of European registered, regionally designated products. This happens due to cultural and structural factors that reinforce links among region, tradition, origin and quality in countries in the south of Europe [84
]. These countries include small, diversified, and labour-intensive family farms employing traditional methods of producing food, the prevalence of the convention of “domestic worth”, with the market and industrial conventions embedded in robust localistic and civic orders of evaluation [85
] (p. 186).
Literature around farmers’ markets in Eastern or post-communist Europe is very scarce: Rizov and Mathijs [86
] have analyzed farm survival related to the scale of farms in Hungary; Blaas [87
] focuses on farm holders and their households in Slovakia. However, in the Czech Republic, the consumers’ perceptions of farmers’ markets have been investigated [88
]. In contrast to the US/Western findings of farmers’ market consumer perception [89
], the survey in Prague showed that consumers of different ages, family sizes and occupation type shop from farmers’ markets. These consumers are mainly motivated by the freshness of food and better taste. Many Western scholars aimed to reveal the characteristics of farmers’ markets consumers. They concluded that the typical customers are predominantly educated, urban, middle-class, middle aged and well-off [91
]. In Prague, a variety of consumer types would visit the markets such as urban middle class shoppers, mothers with children, and pensioners, claiming that farmers’ markets provide an interesting alternative and a welcomed uniqueness to the shopping experience across the socioeconomic and demographic divide of shoppers to the anonymous, large-scale hypermarkets [88
]. This study showed another interesting outcome: Czech consumers seemed to care less about environmental or ethical issues, support for local farmers or community building functions than their fellow shoppers in Western European countries and the USA [3
]. The main motivation of Czech consumers is rather hedonistic; it is about the freshness, taste and enjoyment of the experience [88
2.3. Buying Organic Food
“It is not an easy task to provide precise and universally agreed definition of organic agriculture and organic food” [96
] (p. 358). “Organic food products” is a term that began to be used in the 1940s. It refers to food raised, grown and stored and/or processed without the use of synthetically produced chemicals or fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, growth hormones and regulators or generic modification [96
]. According to the European Commission’s regulation [97
]: “Organic production is an overall system of farm management and food production that combines the best environmental practices, a high level of biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high animal welfare standards and a production method in line with the preference of certain consumers for products produced using natural substances and processes”. Organic foods are defined as products that contain no fertilizers, no chemicals, no pesticides, no antibiotics, no hormones, no genetically modified organisms (GMOs); and are not processed, not over packaged, no injection/no harm for animals, natural, tasty, nutritious, colorful, fresh/stays fresh longer, and are labor intensive [98
Defining organic food is with no doubt significant, however, it is also important to distinguish between certified and non-certified organic food. To begin with, in UK there are 11 official certification bodies: Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd., Organic Food Federation, Soil Association Certification Ltd., Biodynamic Association Irish Organic, Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA), Organic Trust Limited Quality Welsh, Food Certification Ltd. Ascisco Ltd., Global Trust Certification Ltd. and Scottish Food Quality Certification Ltd. (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK, 2012). In Albania, there are three official certification bodies that certificate and appropriately label organic products: BioAdria (founded in 2006), Institute of Organic Agriculture (founded in 2010) and Albinspekt (founded in 2006) [101
]. A key distinction between certified and non-certified organic production is the inspections–labeling process [102
] Inspections mobilize contractually independent inspectors, and then forward inspection information to labelers who determine whether the product meets standards to be certified as organic [102
“Organic” has many different meanings and interpretations and is often associated, and sometimes confused, with terms such as “green”, “ecological”, “environmental”, “natural” and “sustainable” [10
]. It is interesting to note that consumers have different meanings for the term “organic” and what is organic to one may not be organic to another [105
]. Moreover, producers and regulators of organic food may also interpret the meaning of organic differently from consumers [105
On the other hand, in the UK consumers consider that farmers provide them with organic, locally produced, fresh, tasty and quality food and there is often an implicit assumption that farmers’ market food is organic, which is not always the case [106
]. Moreover, the empirical findings of Vanhonacker et al
] suggested that consumers perceive organic food to be the same as locally produced food. Motives of British consumers in buying organic food include fair trade, social aspects, and support of local farmers and environmental protection [6
] as well as ethical and moral issues [109
]. Health and food safety are factors that motivate consumers to buy organic products as well as high standards of animal welfare [14
]. The factors that may affect consumers’ decisions to buy organic food are knowledge, social, cultural and personal factors [15
]. “Consumers perceive organic food as a means of achieving individual and social values of which the most important is centered around the health factor for themselves and their families” [110
] (p. 351).
As mentioned above, “organic” may be interpreted differently by consumers’ interpretations that may vary from country to country. Their primary motivations for buying organic food has been found to be related to health issues, particularly the fear of ingesting pesticide residues and chemical inputs [111
]. In Albania for example, despite the fact that very little research has been undertaken to investigate Albanians’ perceptions of organic food, a study showed [118
] that Albanians believe that organic food comes directly from farmers’ markets. However, their findings also showed that Albanians prefer to buy organic food from supermarkets which offers a contradiction to respondents’ beliefs that “organic” food comes directly from farmers.
Consumers of organic products also justify their choice by the quality and taste of these foods and by their alignment with an agricultural model that matches their values: animal welfare, support for local producers, small-scale production, and trust in organic producers, who are not perceived as profit-driven [117
]. Large companies such as supermarkets that produce and market organically certified foods are therefore somewhat distrusted by consumers [119
“Organic” is used as a heuristic for naturalness and “greenness” [120
] (p. 98). However, a study indicates that the majority of the respondents were unsure of the sources of the ideas they had about organic food and this process may be described as accidental learning [121
]. People seem to build up knowledge of the meaning of the term over time via “osmosis” and terms like organic have different meanings to different individuals or groups especially when the international dimensions are concerned [120
] (p. 99).
] (p. 198) findings showed that consumers expressed a wide range of economic, social, environmental and personal reasons for purchasing local organic food from a farmers’ market, and many were quite deliberately avoiding supermarkets where possible, choosing to support the alternative food network instead. On the other hand, a study conducted in Malaysia showed that organic products were mainly bought by organic food buyers from conventional markets followed by natural and whole food supermarkets [123
]. Chinnici et al
] found that there are four segments of organic consumers: “pioneers” who purchase at the supermarket out of curiosity; “nostalgic” are the ones that associate organic produce with the past; “health conscious” consumers who regularly purchase organic produce due to health concerns and who prefer specialized retailers such as farmers’ markets and expect to pay a premium; and “pragmatist” consumers who are knowledgeable, but price-sensitive. In the UK, a study [10
] showed that all respondents wanted organic food to be available in supermarkets because they are convenient places to shop.
Weatherell et al
] also found that despite consumers’ willingness to engage with local food producers in order to buy organic food, supermarkets remain their first point of reference when buying organic food. Supermarkets providing organic food have an advantage compared to other distribution channels because they are easily accessed and consumers believe that they sell a large variety of organic food which is fresh, tasty with good appearance [18
]. However, Young [125
] argues that there are criticisms of supermarkets overselling organic food for large profit and supplying organic food from overseas markets—adding to food miles—despite the fact that UK-produced supplies are available. Major supermarket retailers use food labels to indicate the quality and the level of sustainability of the products they provide according to their perceptions of what consumers need or prefer [126
In summary then, this paper seeks to understand how supermarkets and farmers’ markets are understood by consumers in the UK and Albania as potential sources of organic food. In the next section, the methods used for the pilot study that was undertaken are outlined.