Issues Indigenous to Consumer Economics and Food Marketing: Opportunities for Research Contributions

Article excerpt

Introduction

Without question, I am humbled to receive the Southern Agricultural Economics Association Lifetime Achievement Award. I am, quite frankly, the accidental agricultural economist. I stumbled into agricultural economics based on suggestions made by the wife, Debbie, and a close friend, Charlie Gordon (an agricultural economist). They noted that, as a student of mathematics, I enjoyed applying the tools of the discipline to solving problems. They believed that I could use my mathematical skills to solve empirical problems in agricultural economics. Their suggestions led me to my mentor, Joseph Havlicek, Jr., and ultimately to a career in agricultural economics.

Southern agriculture is indelibly stamped in my life. During the summer months from 1975 to 1980, I worked on my father-in-law's farm in southwestern Virginia. I served on the faculty at Virginia Tech in the Department of Agricultural Economics from 1980 to 1986, and for the past 23 years, I have been on the faculty at Texas A&M University in the Department of Agricultural Economics. Importantly, my affiliation with the Southern Agricultural Economics Association has spanned four decades, from 1977 to present. Simply put, I have a deep appreciation, fondness, and respect for southern agriculture.

In receiving the SAEA Lifetime Achievement Award, I particularly want to pay homage to my mentor and dear friend, Dr. Joseph Havlicek, Jr. Simply put, Dr. Havlicek provided the guidance and nurturing of my professional career. Consequently, I dedicate my remarks to him, given that attention in our joint efforts often was centered on issues indigenous to consumer economics and food marketing.

Background

The availability, accessibility, and choice of foods to meet an adequate and safe diet and to promote health and nutrition have been and continue to be fundamental challenges facing the U.S. food distribution system. In 2007, Americans spent about $580 billion for food at home and about $425 billion for food away from home, between 7 and 8% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) for 2007 (USDA). Consumers play the key role in linking the provision of food by the agricultural sector to the ultimate nutritional well-being of the population. Importantly, too, the food industry, broadly defined as encompassing processors or manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and food service purveyors, contributes roughly 12-15% of the GDP and employs roughly 17% of the U.S. workforce (Penson et al., 2006).

Understanding of factors influencing food choices, including economic, social, psychological, and physiological factors, is needed in order to better understand the mechanisms by which individuals select and consume foods. Knowledge about how people make food choices, what factors influence consumer demands for food, the economics of farm-to-retail distribution of food, and changing food markets is critically important to developing effective agricultural and food policies.

The ability to understand present as well as future patterns of food consumption are of great importance to both public policy makers, such as the USDA and state and local agencies, as well as private commodity and industry groups. Understanding of factors influencing food choices is necessary for the expansion of markets for U.S. products, both domestically and internationally.

Food consumption and the accompanying nutritional quality of the diet are jointly determined by income, prices, and a broad range of other factors. Changing demographics and household composition as well as changes in food markets may affect the types and amounts of food consumed (Carlson and Gould, 1994; Gould, 1996; Huang, 1996; Kim, Nayga, and Capps, 2001; Murphy et al., 1992; Nayga, 2001; Variyam, Blaylock, and Small wood, 1996; and Yen, Jensen, and Wang, 1996). Advertising efforts based on funds from producer checkoffs also may affect the demand for food and fiber products (Alston, Chalfant, and Piggott, 1995; Brester and Schroeder, 1995; Brown and Lee, 1993; Williams and Nichols, 1998). …