Consumers take various factors into consideration when choosing food; they include taste and freshness as well as naturalness [1
]. In addition to taste, smell, freshness and naturalness of the product, the following factors also affect consumer choices: the method of food production and processing, ensuring welfare of farm animals and maintaining the health values of food, especially for consumers for whom it is most crucial [3
]. Moreover, results of studies also indicated that relative advantage, naturalness, novelty and discomfort are the most important factors of the perception of some innovative food products [5
]. The literature showed that from a consumer perspective, among other factors, food selection factors are seen as food quality [6
]. This also applies to dairy products [6
]. The results of studies confirm that consumers take into account a number of attributes associated with quality, so they expect the product to be safe, natural, healthy and generally of high quality [9
]. Furthermore, some consumers underlined the role of quality signs, particularly in the field of positioning origin and organic products in the segment of premium prices, emphasizing the authenticity of these products [10
Moreover, when it comes to functional food, consumer acceptance was also analyzed from the perspective of consumer quality perception of food products. Functional foods provide, from the consumers′ perspective, synergies between healthiness and convenience but may, in the consumers′ opinion, lead to trade-offs between healthiness on the one hand and taste and naturalness on the other hand [11
The results of studies showed that acceptance of functional dairy products increases among consumers with higher diet/health-related knowledge, as well as with ageing. General interest in health, food-neophobia and perceived self-efficacy seem also to contribute to shaping the acceptance of functional dairy products [12
]. Furthermore, products with “natural” matches between carriers and ingredients have the highest level of acceptance among consumers [12
]. A review by Kaur and Singh indicated that a high level of education and high income greatly influence consumer uptake of functional food, as well as an increased personal health consciousness [14
]. Furthermore, results of the research indicate that health benefits and ingredient naturalness are positively valued, but such preferences and valuations depend on an individual′s education, income and food purchase behaviors; thus, naturally occurring nutrients are preferred over fortification [15
As earlier mentioned, taking into account food safety and food naturalness, the method of food production is also a crucial point. When it comes to the method of food production, including animal welfare-friendly methods, the results of studies among European consumers indicate that public perceptions of farm-animal welfare represent a potentially important driver of consumption behaviors by European consumers [16
]. However, some Europeans currently do not think there is sufficient choice of welfare-friendly animal food products in shops and supermarkets [17
]. In addition, there is an increasing need to develop policies pertaining to animal production diseases, sustainable intensification and animal welfare, which incorporate consumer priorities as well as technical assessments of farm animal welfare. Consumers may have concerns about intensive production systems and whether animal production disease pose a barrier to consumer acceptance of their increased use [18
With reference to yoghurt, its nutritional content varies depending on the processing method and the ingredients used. Similar to milk, it is a good source of protein and calcium and may be a source of iodine, potassium and B vitamins [19
]. Moreover, some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D [20
]. Furthermore, during the past years, interest in yoghurt manufacture has increased for scientific and commercial reasons [21
]. Additionally, the functional food market has experienced a tremendous level of growth particularly in yoghurt in the last couple of decades, due to the ease of incorporating pre- and probiotics [22
Yoghurt still plays an important role in the human diet today due to its pleasant taste and health benefits [22
]. Moreover, yoghurt is the most-frequently consumed healthy and nutritious food around the world. Therefore, it offers an appropriate potential to provide nutritious ingredients to human diet [24
]. Furthermore, the results of research indicate that with respect to the safety and health effects of food products, the probiotic yoghurt is recommended for consumption [25
]. Considering the fast evolution of functional yoghurts either at research stage or marketplace, further development would require an accurate measure of quality, safety and efficacy to meet consumers’ expectations on quality and claimable health benefits [26
Therefore, the aims of the current study were (a) to deepen the understanding of the quality of food from animal origin with particular emphasis on dairy products, including yoghurt; (b) to determine the level of acceptance of methods and ingredients used to enhance the quality of food from animal origin; (c) to identify how the perception of animal products quality affects the acceptance of changes in production methods and (d) to identify the projective image of consumers purchasing high-quality yoghurt.
2. Material and Methods
2.1. Data Collection Process
The sample in our study (N
= 983) was drawn from the Social Security addresses database and was representative of the national population in terms of age, gender and the region that consumers lived in. The survey was conducted in each of the 16 voivodships in Poland. After drawing the starting addresses, the random route method was used in the selection of the sample [27
]. A good number of sampling points were drawn with a probability proportional to population size, for total coverage of the country and for population density. In order to achieve this, the sampling points were drawn systematically from each of the “administrative regional units”, after stratification by individual unit and type of area. They thus represent the whole of Poland as well as the distribution of the resident population. In each of the selected sampling points, a starting address was drawn at random. Further addresses were selected by standard “random route” procedures from the initial address. In each household, a respondent was drawn at random (following the “closest birthday rule”).
The interviews were conducted face-to-face at respondents’ homes by a professional market research agency in accordance with the ESOMAR (European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research) code of conduct using the CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interview) technique. All respondents were aged 21+. Only those respondents who met the recruitment criteria, i.e., made their own or cooperative food purchases and declared dairy product consumption, participated in the study.
2.2. Description of Questionnaire
The questionnaire used in the study was structured in a few main blocks and covered aspects such as consumer opinion towards: (1) the quality of food, including quality of animal origin food and (2) production methods of animal origin food, formulated into various types of questions:
An open question: What, in your opinion, shows the quality of food? Please indicate one of the most important attributes;
Two questions related to the quality of animal origin food (I), including the dairy products (II):
Below are statements describing food of animal origin. For each statement, how much you agree are indicated on a 1–7 scale, where 1 is the lowest level of compliance and 7 is the highest level of compliance; High-quality animal food is food (1) with the right taste and traditional recipe; (2) preservative free and with a short shelf life, (3) having nutritional value and health benefits, (4) produced in an environmentally friendly area, including taking into account production ensuring welfare of farm animals, (5) of low processing level/derived from an organic production method, (6) which is easy to prepare and easily available in a wide range;
Please indicate how much you agree with the following statements. Please provide answers on a scale of 1–7, where 1 means “strongly disagree” and 7 means “strongly agree”; (1) I buy dairy products because they have a positive effect on my figure, (2) I buy dairy products because they have a good effect on my children’s health, (3) Quality is important to me when choosing dairy products, (4) I buy dairy products for those members of my family who have health issues;
Questions referring to methods of increasing the quality of food of animal origin are formulated as follows: To what extent do you accept the following methods of increasing the quality of food of animal origin? Please provide answers on a scale of 1–7, where 1 means “definitely do not accept” and 7 “definitely accept”; (1) Adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed, (2) Production ensuring welfare of farm animals, (3) Enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage;
Questions related to increasing the level of ingredients in dairy products are as follows: Please specify if you think the content of the ingredients listed below should be increased in dairy products? Where 1 definitely should not be increased, 7 definitely should be increased; (1) Minerals; (2) Fibre, (3) Cholesterol-lowering ingredients, (4) Omega-3 acid, (5) Live bacterial cultures, (6) Protein, (7) Coenzyme Q10;
Questions that allow the determination of projective image of buyers purchasing high-quality yoghurt are formulated as follows: Who do you think is the most willing to buy high-quality yoghurt? Please give your answer on a scale from 1–7, where: 1 means “Definitely no” and 7 “Definitely yes”, (1) professionally active individuals, (2) sport doers, (3) those looking for nutritional news, (4) the young, (5) the overworked, (6) people with abnormal intestinal motility, (7) cooking lovers, (8) those oriented on the convenience of preparing a meal, (9) bargain hunters, (10) people who are particularly health-conscious.
2.3. Data Analysis
Referring to analysis of the results collected using the open question, the χ2
test was applied in order to determine statistically significant differences between the variables (part A of the questionnaire). Moreover, the k-means clustering method was used to identify segments of consumers. In the k-means method (k-means clustering algorithm is an unsupervised algorithm that is used to segment the interest area from the background), in order to increase its efficiency, the average values for individual clusters obtained using the hierarchical method were used as seeds. The statements about the characteristic of food of animal origin were used as segmentation variables (part B I of the questionnaire; Table 1
Five well-separated clusters were obtained, which was confirmed by both statistics assessing the selection of clusters such as CCC (Cubic Clustering Criteria), pseudo T2 or ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) statistics comparing the average values of variables for individual clusters. Socio-demographic variables such as gender, age, education, subjective assessment of the financial situation and size of the place of residence were used to profile the clusters. The independence χ2 test was used to assess the diversity of profile features between clusters.
In all statements analyzed, statistically significant (p < 0.05) differences between mean scores particularly clusters have been observed. Additionally, post-hoc test (Waller–Duncan K-ratio t Test) was used to compare mean values of opinions between pairs of clusters.
As mentioned, the segmentation analysis made it possible to identify five consumer segments. Clusters have been named according to consumers′ opinions towards statements referring to high quality food of animal origin (Table 1
“Convenience-oriented” consumers with a high level of compliance with the statement referring to convenience associated with the easy preparation and availability of high-quality food (9.12);
“Uninvolved” consumers with the lowest levels of compliance with most of the statements compared to other segments;
“Health-oriented” consumers with a significantly high level of compliance with the statement describing the acceptance of nutritional value and health values (10.53) compared to other segments;
“Particularly demanding in terms of quality”, consumers with a significantly high level of compliance for most statements referring to high-quality food;
“Neutral but valuing food quality”, consumers declaring relatively high rating levels for most statements but lower rating level for people classified in segment No. 4.
In the second step of data analysis, logistic regression was performed to determine how the perception of animal products quality impacts on:
The acceptance of adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed;
The acceptance of production ensuring welfare of farm animals;
The acceptance of enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage.
Due to the dichotomous nature of dependent variables (accept/not accept), logistic regression models were used [29
], where dependent variables (regressants) were declarations regarding the acceptance of the above-mentioned 3 methods, and explanatory variables (regressors) were opinions about yoghurts and dairy products expressed in questions, i.e.,: How much do you agree with the statements describing the quality of dairy products, Who do you think is the most willing to buy high-quality yoghurt? Do you think the content of the ingredients listed below should be increased in dairy products?
The models were built with a stepwise selection of explanatory variables. Only statistically significant variables at the significance level α = 0.05 were included in the models. The statistical analysis was carried out using IBM SPSS Statistics, version 25.0 (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA) and SAS 9.4 statistical package (SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA).
3.1. Profile of the Total Sample and Perception of Food Quality
The detailed socio-demographic characteristic of the sample and segments identified is included in Table 2
Results of the study show that the quality of food of animal origin is connected with the ease of preparation, availability, as well as nutritional value and health benefits (Table 1
), but when it comes to the food quality in general, it is perceived by consumers mainly through the following attributes: its freshness, naturalness, production method, as well as appearance, taste and smell (Table 3
Results also show (Table 2
and Table 3
) that in segment No. 1 (“Convenience-oriented”; N
= 208; 21%) the largest share of opinions indicate that the quality of food of animal origin is evidenced by its naturalness, production method, but also its freshness. This segment was characterized by the largest share of middle-aged people (45–54 years).
In segment No. 2 (“Uninvolved”; N = 172; 18%), the largest share of the food quality is reflected in its freshness, naturalness and the production method. This segment had a relatively high share of people with low levels of education.
In segment No. 3 (“Health-oriented”; N = 218; 22%), the highest share of answers indicating that the quality of food is reflected in its freshness was recorded. There was also a relatively large share of opinions indicating that the quality of food of animal origin is reflected in its naturalness and production method. The additional attribute of food quality that was mentioned by people was lack of preservatives in the product.
In segment No. 4 (“Particularly demanding in terms of quality”; N = 159; 16%), there was a relatively large share of opinions indicating that the quality of food of animal origin is reflected in its composition and nutritional values as well as appearance, taste and smell. The segment had the largest share of indications that the determinant of food quality is its price. This segment had the relatively high share of people with low levels of education.
In segment No. 5 (“Neutral but valuing food quality”; N = 226; 23%), among the indications characterizing the quality of food of animal origin, mainly its freshness, naturalness, method of production as well as the aspects referring to composition and nutritional value of food were mentioned.
3.2. Methods of Improving Quality of Animal Origin among The Clusters of Consumers
The results show that among the methods of increasing the quality of food of animal origin, consumers scored the highest for the production method ensuring welfare of farm animals compared to the other two methods. Comparison of the segments show that respondents from segment No. 3 (“Health-oriented”) displayed significantly lower acceptance, compared to other segments regarding the method of adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed (Table 4
In addition, scores on production ensuring welfare of farm animals by respondents in segment No. 5 (“Neutral but valuing food quality”) was significantly lower compared to consumers in segments 1, 2 and 3, while respondents from segment No. 4 significantly displayed lower acceptance of this type of production compared to other segments. Scores on enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage by respondents from segment No. 4 (“Particularly demanding in terms of quality”) was significantly higher compared to other segments, and respondents from segment No. 3 (“Health-oriented”) had significantly lower acceptance of this type of enrichment compared to other segments (Table 4
Regarding the increase of some ingredients in dairy products, live bacterial cultures and cholesterol lowering ingredients were the most important types of ingredients that should be increased in the consumers′ opinion in dairy products (Table 5
). Consumers in segment 2 (“Uninvolved”), which was also significantly higher compared to segments 3, 4 and 5, agreed that the content of cholesterol-lowering ingredients should be increased in dairy products. “Uninvolved” also declared a significantly higher level of acceptance compared to other segments, in terms of increasing the content of live bacterial cultures and coenzyme Q10
in dairy products. In the case of increasing the content of minerals and increasing the fiber content in dairy products, the “Uninvolved” significantly agreed with this opinion in comparison to “Health-oriented” and “Particularly Demanding in Terms of Quality”. On the other hand, “Health-oriented” segment displayed the lowest degree of acceptance with regards to increasing the level of Omega-3 acid, proteins and Coenzyme Q10
in dairy products compared to other segments (Table 5
The next part of the study was aimed at determining the image of consumers of high-quality yoghurt (Table 6
). Respondents perceived consumers of high quality yoghurts referring to two main aspects: (1) health and (2) physical activity.
Respondents from segment No. 4 (“Particularly demanding in terms of quality”) in the least degree compared to the other segments agreed with the opinion that such consumers are people who can be characterized as: doing sports, young people, as well as people with abnormal intestinal motility and people who are particularly health-conscious.
3.3. Impact of Selected Attributes on Methods of Improving Quality of Animal Origin Food
In the next stage of the study, the extent in which consumers would accept 3 methods aimed at increasing the level of food quality was assessed.
The rise in the acceptance of opinion that the content of live bacterial cultures in dairy products should be increased resulted in a 47% increase in the willingness of accepting production ensuring welfare of farm animals (OR: 1.47; 95% CI: 1.14–1.90), while maintaining other model parameters at a constant level. The level of education had an impact on the acceptance of production, ensuring the welfare of farm animals. The higher the level of education, the greater the willingness of this acceptance. This willingness in the case of people with secondary education increased four times compared to people with primary education (OR: 4.06; 95% CI: 1.82–12.93). In the case of higher education, the willingness of acceptance increased more than 10-fold (OR: 10.25; 95% CI: 1.95–22.49) in relation to people with primary education (Table 7
The rise (by 1 point) in acceptance of the opinion that the content of minerals in dairy products should be increased resulted in a 21% increase in the willingness of acceptance of adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed (OR: 1.21; 95% CI: 1.06–1.37). The rise in importance of the opinion that high-quality yoghurts are bought by people involved in sports resulted in a 27% decrease in willingness of acceptance of adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed (OR: 0.73; 95% CI: 0.58–0.91). The increase in the rank that high-quality yoghurts are bought by those looking for novelty foods increased by 19% compared to the willingness of acceptance of adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed (OR: 1.19; 95% CI: 1.02–1.40). People declaring that quality is important to them when choosing dairy products showed a 19% lower willingness of accepting the addition of health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed (OR: 0.81; 95% CI: 0.65–0.99) along with increasing the rank of this opinion by 1 level (Table 8
The rise in importance of the opinion that the content of cholesterol-lowering ingredients should be increased in dairy products resulted in a 29% increase in the willingness to accept enhancing food products with pro-health ingredients at the processing stage (OR: 1.29; 95% CI: 1.13–1.47). Obviously, while maintaining the remaining model parameters at a constant level. The increase in the rank referring to opinion that high-quality yoghurts are bought by the professionally active individuals resulted in a 30% decrease in the level of acceptance of enhancing food products with pro-health ingredients at the processing stage (OR: 0.70; 95% CI: 0.56–0.86). The increase in the rank of the opinion that high-quality yoghurts are bought by people with abnormal intestinal motility gave a 31% greater willingness of accepting enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage (OR: 1.31; 95% CI: 1.06–1.60). Similar results were seen in the responses that high-quality yoghurt is bought by those looking for price bargains. In this case, the willingness of accepting enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage increased by 24% (OR: 1.24; 95% CI: 1.08–1.41). The willingness to accept enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage decreased by 26% in the case of persons agreeing with the opinion that quality is important for them when choosing dairy products (OR: 0.74; 95% CI: 0.60–0.90). The rise in the rank of the opinion that I buy high-quality dairy products for those family members who have health issues
resulted in a 17% increase in enhancing food products with health-promoting ingredients at the processing stage (OR: 1.17; 95% CI: 1.04–1.33) (Table 9
The significant role of food quality in decisions taken on the food market, as well as the availability of products with special health benefits, encourages the assessment of consumer behavior in relation to food perceived as the high-quality food and learning about consumer opinions on products that have a positive impact on health.
The results show that in general, food quality is perceived by consumers mainly through the following attributes: freshness, naturalness, production method, as well as appearance, taste and smell, while when it comes to the quality of food of animal origin, convenience connected with availability, nutritional value and health benefits are of primary importance.
The most accepted production method of high-quality food is animal production with respect to the welfare of farm animals. It is a particularly important aspect, because animal welfare is an important element of sustainable development, including food consumption and human diet and can positively contribute to food quality. Results also show that the increase in the level of education of the surveyed people contributed to the acceptance of production, ensuring welfare of farm animals as a method of increasing food quality.
With regard to the acceptance of other methods aimed at increasing the content of health-promoting ingredients, it should be emphasized that consumer openness to new products favored the acceptance of adding health-promoting ingredients to livestock feed. Regarding the assessment of the level of acceptance by consumers of enhancing food with beneficial ingredients at the processing stage, people for whom health aspects were important declared their willingness to accept such a method of increasing food quality.
Moreover, the research findings can be used to develop educational campaigns as well as in marketing communication of enterprises operating on the food market. When it comes to the educational campaigns, there are opportunities to increase the level of consumer awareness referring to animal welfare that is still not considered an issue for many of the Central and Eastern European citizens. Moreover, to strengthen the competitive position of food enterprises, an important point could be the development of the food products labelled with information on animal production, ensuring welfare of farm animals.
In addition, in terms of information on the methods of improving quality communicated to consumers, for some people, the manner in which this information is presented will play an important role, as well as the level of awareness of the recipients to whom it was addressed, and the possible health consequences they perceive. Therefore, the observed impact of the level of education as well as the health benefits of accepting some methods of increasing food quality should be used on the food market. This aspect could be particularly important according to the development of health and nutrition claims.
The present study fills the relevant research gaps regarding enhancing the quality of food from animal origin and explores methods referring to increasing the level of food quality, providing a new perspective to food industry and the scholars. On the one hand, there are some differences regarding the consumer acceptance referring to methods of enhancing food quality. On the other hand, the determinants that impact the level of acceptance are also various. Future research studies should concentrate on investigating and developing the level of consumers’ acceptance of new production methods. Nevertheless, it should be noted that our results indicated the main directions regarding the acceptance of the used productions methods as well as designated the possible changes that may be accepted by consumers.