Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer's Side of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Nonhypothetical Study

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer's Side of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Nonhypothetical Study

Article excerpt

In recent decades, several changes have been observed in social and economic environments that have deeply influenced business activities and strategies. Companies are confronting more globalized and unpredictable markets in which they are forced to differentiate themselves to remain competitive and deliver products that more than ever meet customer expectations and social concerns. Conversely, customers are more aware and more careful regarding the consequences of their choices for the environment, society, and future generations (Grunert 2011; Mohr and Webb 2005). Under this background, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has recently been considered as an effective tool to balance companies' needs and consumers' expectations. CSR identifies a set of actions that address private and public concerns when voluntarily implemented by companies. CSR may improve companies' competitiveness (Heyder and Theuvsen 2012; McWilliams and Siegel 2001), product differentiation (De Magistris, Del Giudice, and Verneau 2015; Hartmann 2011; Manning 2013), and customer satisfaction (Lev, Petrovits, and Radhakrishnan 2010).

CSR is increasingly important in the food sector because of the growing interest of consumers and governments in food production and the impacts of the agro-food industry activities on the environment and society (Hartmann 2011). Public opinion dictates that agro-food companies must deliver safe foods, protect the environment, and ensure access to natural resources for future generations (Lamberti and Lettieri 2009). Consistent with the increasing societal expectations, companies are reorienting their production systems and promoting sustainability throughout the supply chain. To a greater or less extent, these companies are establishing a greener and sustainable system in which transparency, equality, environmental protection, and social issues are the focus of business activities, and products that are more respectful of the environment and embedded with ethical attributes are the result (Hartmann et al. 2013; Jones et al. 2005; Maloni and Brown 2006). Pursuing these objectives, companies are turning potential weaknesses into drivers by establishing a strategic approach in which CSR plays a central role. Specifically, public expectations become business strategies, and context-specific issues, such as those related to nutrition, human health, and animal welfare, become new objectives for companies (Forsman-Hugg et al. 2013). To support these objectives, companies are allocating part of their resources to CSR activities. CSR is clearly recognized as a tool to meet public expectations (Peloza and Papania 2008); however, the primary responsibility of managers is to create value for companies' shareholders through profit maximization (Friedman 1970). Therefore, an equilibrium between stakeholders' requests for CSR and shareholders' demand for profits must be reached.

Current research is focused on methods of effectively pursuing CSR instead of the question whether to engage in social initiatives. To that extent, the consumers' perspectives must be considered because they have the power to guide corporate choices in promoting and supporting socially responsible strategies (Anselmsson and Ulf 2007; Sogn-Grundvag, Larsen, and Young 2014). Companies have a strong incentive to make CSR a long-term successful investment. Therefore, companies are implementing several initiatives focused on meeting societal expectations. However, CSR is a multifaceted and evolving concept, and deciding what dimensions of CSR are more strategic remains under debate, with a lack of clear consensus on the activities that are most relevant for consumers or the extent to which consumers are willing to reward social and ethical companies through a premium price (Costanigro, Deselnicu, and McFadden 2016).

The current study attempts to fill these two gaps by detecting consumers' preferences and willingness to pay (WTP) for as many as eight dimensions of CSR. …

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