2.1. Theoretical Background
Although there is no unique definition of green consumers, most of the research identifies them as consumers whose consumption is significantly affected by their environmental and social concerns [17
]. These consumers believe that their actions have a significant impact on the environment and they contribute to its preservation through purchasing green products [19
]. Additionally, these consumers often purchase green products due to their social image, which makes them appealing for social identity-based marketing strategies [20
]. However, although many green consumers state that they have very positive attitudes toward green products, most of them buy them only occasionally, which is known as an attitude–behavior gap [21
]. Therefore, there is still little known about how green consumers actually make their purchasing decisions and the key factors that shape their consumption.
Earlier studies tried to identify the main demographic characteristics of green consumers. The research of Diamantopoulos et al. and Jain et al. revealed than green consumers are mostly younger or middle-aged, with a high level of education and a high level of income [22
]. On the other hand, a study of Shiel et al. obtained opposite results, showing that age is the only demographic characteristic of green consumers that plays an important role in green products purchase due to its relation to environmental knowledge and environmental concerns [18
]. Similar results were obtained in a study of Feil et al., which revealed that socioeconomic and demographic factors do not have a significant impact on green consumers’ purchasing behavior [24
]. Additionally, a segmentation analysis revealed that green consumers’ purchase and their willingness to pay premium prices for green products are influenced by the social altruism and the level of their concerns on environmental pollution, as well as by the level of their personal responsibility to contribute to environmental preservation and fostering green initiatives. However, segmentation analysis failed to give more precise insight into the main factors that shape their buying behavior [17
In order to identify the main drivers of green consumers’ purchases in general, including the purchases in the organic food market, further research has been conducted. The research of Banytė et al. [17
] as well as a study by Smith and Paladino [25
] revealed that all green consumers are concerned with the solution of environmental issues. Therefore, environmental knowledge and concern for the future are very important factors that lead to forming positive attitudes toward green and organic food [18
]. Similar results were obtained in the research of Adhitiya and Astuti [27
], revealing that the social value of organic products has a significant positive impact on green consumer behavior, while the functional, epistemic, emotional, and conditional values of these products is of much less importance. Additionally, a study of Lobo and Greenland [28
] revealed that collectivism and long-term orientation as dimensions of culture also have a positive influence on the purchase of green and organic products. Additionally, the research of Seegebarth et al. [29
] confirmed that cultural dimensions affect the consumers’ attitudes toward green products and especially their recommendation behavior. This is in line with previous research considering the fact that a preserved environment and human well-being are the common resources, and these goals can be achieved only in the long-term. However, a study of Troudi and Bouyoucef [26
] obtained the opposite results, revealing that long-term orientation does not have a significant effect on green consumers’ attitudes toward green and organic products. The opposite results were also found in a study of McEachern and McClean [30
], suggesting that the self-interest-centered purchasing motives have a much stronger effect compared to altruistic motives of green purchase.
However, protection of the environment is very important but yet not always the primary motive for the purchase of green and organic products, as some green consumers search for these types of products mostly due to health concerns [16
]. Health is a very important reason for organic product purchases, as green consumers consider these products as safe, healthy and free from genetically modified organisms [19
]. On the other hand, a study of Aagerup and Nilsson [21
] revealed that social pressure is often the main driver of green products purchases, including organic food. However, it should be noted that the personality of a consumer moderates the response to given circumstances and the social impact of making purchasing decisions [21
The organic food products meet all previously analyzed requirements that green consumers seek—they are safe, healthy, their production is sustainable, and it enables protection of the environment and all the natural resources. Organic agriculture production is an innovative system that enables the production of safe and healthy products while preserving the environment and natural resources. It is based on principles of sustainability, whose implementation results in significant benefits for the whole society [32
]. It is well adapted to the local conditions, which is why it is recognized as one of the key drivers of sustainable economic development in many countries, especially in the case of rural areas [32
]. Organic production implies avoiding the use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal drugs, and food additives that can have a negative impact on human health, which results in the production of safe products. It minimizes the negative impact on the environment and attains ecological balance through establishing production processes adapted to the local conditions and natural resources without disrupting it [32
]. Additionally, it is built on relations that ensure respecting the highest ethical values, therefore increasing the welfare not only of the organic market participants but of every member of the society. However, total sales on the organic food market make up only a small percentage of total food market sales, which highlights two main obstacles to the further development of organic agriculture. It is evident that only a small number of loyal organic consumers buy most of the total sold organic agricultural products. A more important obstacle is the fact that the biggest organic producers are placed in less developed countries in Asia and Africa, while almost 90% of organic agricultural products are being sold in the USA and Europe [7
]. This points out the serious imbalance between demand and supply at the local market level. In addition, it emphasizes the significance of a better understanding of key elements of a sustainable marketing strategy and sustainable marketing mix that should be pointed out in order to foster green consumers’ purchase on the organic food market.
2.2. Factors Influencing Green Consumers’ Purchase of Organic Agriculture Products
Previous research in this field mostly investigated consumers in general and their response to certain elements of the offerings in the organic food market. Considering the fact that organic products have added value compared to conventional products that is not visible and cannot be experimentally confirmed, many authors pointed out the significance of creating specific packaging and its impact on purchasing decisions [36
]. A study of Aschemann-Witzel revealed that placing nutritional and health claims on organic food packaging has a very significant positive impact on regular organic buyers, while its impact on occasional buyers is of less importance [39
]. The results supporting these findings were especially obtained in studies conducted in Central and Eastern Europe, suggesting health concerns as main motives for organic food purchase. A study of Bryla [13
] revealed that Polish consumers perceive these products as healthier compared to conventional ones, as well as of higher quality. The health concerns are also confirmed as the main motive for purchasing organic food products in Romania [40
]. The same results are obtained in a study conducted in Western Balkan countries, indicating that main consumers’ motives for buying organic food products are health concerns and environmental protection [14
]. A study of of von Meyer-Höfer et al. [16
] investigated whether there are significant differences regarding expectations toward labeled organic products between developed (Germany and UK) and emerging organic markets (Spain and Czech Republic). The results suggested that consumers expect labeled organic products to be free of chemical pesticides, mineral fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms. These were the top three expectations in each observed country, which also emphasizes the importance of health concerns on purchasing decisions and thus the importance of trust in organic labels and claims highlighted on the products’ packaging.
The findings on the importance of trust in organic labels were confirmed in research by Enax and Lu et al. [19
] and pointed out the impossibility of distinguishing organic products from conventional ones as one of the main obstacles that green consumers face when buying these products. Additionally, a study of Teng and Wang [42
] revealed that increasing consumers’ trust through organic certification and labeling is an important prerequisite for purchase. Similar results were obtained in the research of Papista and Dimitriadis [43
] that revealed the importance of creating an organic brand for attracting green consumers. These results show that creating confidence and long-term relations with green consumers enables them to express their personality and altruism through organic or other green brand purchases, which has a significant impact on their final behavioral outcomes and making a purchasing decision. The importance of brand image was also confirmed by a study of Puelles et al. [44
], which revealed that consumers consider a producer’s brand as of better quality compared to the distributor’s brand. On the other hand, a study of van Herper [45
] pointed out that any kind of packaging has a negative impact on organic food sales, as it limits the choices that consumers can make when buying these products. These findings were supported also in a study conducted by Petrescu et al. [46
] in Romania, which revealed that non-labeled products (from farmers’ markets consisting of self-produced products) are considered as more “organic” compared to certified ones. Additionally, the research of the Irish Food Board revealed that Irish consumers value organic products based on their benefits stemming from specific production processes, while additional features of these products (such as packaging) are of far less importance [47
]. These results are also confirmed in a study of Hoffmann and Schlicht [48
]. Therefore, the analysis of previous research revealed that there is still a lack of knowledge of which aspects of organic food products should be emphasized in order to create a successful sustainable marketing strategy when targeting green consumers.
Price is regarded as one of the main obstacles when buying organic food products [19
]. The research of Renko et al. [14
], as well as the research of Melovic et al. [15
] and Ham et al. [50
] revealed that this barrier is particularly important for consumers in the Western Balkan countries. Additionally, this is an especially significant obstacle for occasional green buyers and non-core organic consumers, which is why the reduction of regular prices is very important for stimulating the purchase of these consumers [52
]. Similar results were obtained in a study of Marian et al. [54
] suggesting that although the promotional cut of prices does not have an impact on organic food purchase, the reduction of regular prices has a significant influence on stimulating regular green consumers’ purchases, especially when there is another clue regarding the high quality of the product besides premium prices. On the other hand, a study of Troudi and Bouyoucef revealed that green prices do not have a significant negative impact on the consumers’ attitude toward green products [26
]. These findings were also confirmed in a study of Adhitiya and Astuti [27
] as well as in the research of Diallo et al. [55
]. Considering the contradicting results obtained in previous research, it is still unclear how green consumers form attitudes toward green products’ prices and which aspects of the offerings should be highlighted when creating a sustainable marketing strategy in order to justify the premium green prices of these types of products.
The poor development of distribution channels also represents a very important obstacle to further organic market growth, and removing this barrier is very important for encouraging non-core green consumers to increase their green purchases. Core green consumers are well informed about the organic production concept and the availability of the organic offer. They seek shops that offer a wider range of certified organic food products, so they mostly make their purchases in specialized green and organic stores and are ready to make an extra effort when buying green products. However, this is not the case with non-core green consumers. Therefore, including organic products in conventional stores’ offerings is one of the main prerequisites for attracting this type of consumer [56
]. The research of Islam et al. [57
] and Henryks et al. [58
] pointed out that although organic products have premium prices, offering these products in conventional stores does not influence consumers’ perception of the store’s price level, but it has a positive influence on consumers’ perception of the social dimension of the store image. Additionally, these studies [57
] revealed that the development of distributors’ organic brands would create significant benefits for retailers as well as for green consumers and foster organic market development. These findings were supported by a study of Puelles et al. [44
] suggesting that although producers’ brands are perceived as of better quality, distributors’ green brands offer an excellent price–quality ratio. These brands have lower prices compared to producers’ green brands, which makes them an attractive option for non-core and price-sensitive green consumers. On the other hand, purchasing directly from farmers represents a very important channel of distribution in developing and emerging organic markets, such as those in Romania, Estonia, and Western Balkan Countries, which makes consumers sure that the products they buy are truly organic [13
]. Therefore, the previous research failed to answer the question of whether green consumers consider a lack of organic food products in conventional stores as a significant obstacle, or their inability to find a wider range of organic food products in any type of store is a more important barrier in the purchasing process. Additionally, it is still unclear whether a green label or other similar characteristics has a significant impact on attracting green consumers when buying organic food products.
Taking into account the health benefits of the consumption of organic food products, previous research indicated that the promotion of these products should be based on pointing out health claims on packaging and through other promotion channels, as well as on educating green consumers on how to differentiate them from conventional ones [60
]. Similar results were obtained Enax and Weber in their study, pointing out the significance of placing a recognizable organic label on the product packaging [41
]. Additionally, a study of Kereklas et al. [62
] revealed that promotional messages containing both altruistic and egoistic claims are an effective tool for attracting green consumers. However, the previous research did not focus on measuring the effectiveness of different promotion channels while delivering these messages. Although Internet-based channels, such as social media, can be a very effective way of reaching a large number of green consumers [63
], it is still unclear what media are the most suitable for promoting organic food products for attracting this segment of consumers.
Considering the literature gap regarding different aspects of the sustainable marketing mix and sustainable marketing strategy on the organic food market that is addressed above, the aim of this paper is to investigate what features of the offer should be emphasized when targeting green organic consumers. Understanding the main factors that shape green consumer purchases is the main prerequisite for creating a successful sustainable strategy for attracting these consumers and enabling local agriculture business development. The authors have consulted previous research in the field in order to identify potential factors that have a significant influence on green consumers’ attitudes toward organic agriculture products and therefore determine a sustainable marketing strategy that organic producers should implement. Some of them are given in Appendix A
of this paper.
The results of previous research identified many different factors, yet they failed to identify which of them has a prevalent role in attracting green consumers on the organic food market. Therefore, the first research question has been formulated as follows.
RQ1: What are the key factors that affect green consumers’ perception of the organic agriculture products on offer?
In order to foster the development of organic agriculture businesses and local organic markets, the producers should create a marketing strategy based on pointing out the factors that have a positive impact on the green consumers’ perception of organic agriculture products, while at the same time reducing the potential purchasing barriers that green consumers face. Therefore, the second research question is formulated as follows.
RQ2: What are the key marketing strategy determinants that organic agriculture businesses should adopt to attract green consumers?
The conceptual model of the study is formulated based on the given research questions, and it is given below in Figure 1
The conceptual model of the research is based on the causality of three main constructs: green consumers’ perception of organic products, factors that affect it, and the appropriate sustainable marketing strategy that organic agriculture businesses should adopt. Although many factors influence green consumers’ perception of organic agriculture products, they do not have the same significance. Based on the given research questions, this study aims to identify factors that have a prevalent role in that process. The identification of those factors will enable a better understanding of how green consumers perceive organic agriculture products and what they consider as very important for making a purchasing decision. Through an understanding of how green consumers perceive organic products, as well as the main factors that affect it, producers will be able to create a sustainable marketing strategy that points out the importance of positive factors and diminishes the impact of negative ones. The implementation of such a marketing strategy would attract green consumers and foster their purchase of organic products, which is one of the main prerequisites for the future organic agriculture business development. However, although consumers’ perceptions affect the suitability of the given sustainable marketing strategy, it should be noted that the applied marketing strategy also affects and changes the perception of green consumers toward the organic food offerings. Therefore, the purchasing decision is the final result of the interaction between those two concepts, as the given conceptual model shows. The obtained results of the research based on this conceptual model can provide significant guidelines for marketing managers and organic producers, pointing out how the main elements of the sustainable marketing strategy should be organized, in order to increase sales of the organic food products and foster agriculture business development on sustainable grounds.