Academic journal article Agricultural Economics Review

Quality Dimensions and Consumer Preferences: A Choice Experiment in the Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Market

Academic journal article Agricultural Economics Review

Quality Dimensions and Consumer Preferences: A Choice Experiment in the Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Market

Article excerpt

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1. Introduction

The growing importance attributed by stakeholders to denominations of origin and quality certifications of food products is due to the role that they may play in the development of specific production sectors and specific rural areas (Verlegh and Steenkamp, 1999; Caracciolo and Lombardi, 2012). However, their success as quality indicators depends on the degree of reliability attributed to them by the end consumer (Louriero and Umberger, 2003; Verbeke and Ward, 2006; Kim, 2012). In this scenario, Italian extra-virgin olive oil represents an emblematic product insofar as both its characteristics and their perception on the part of consumers are strictly influenced by the product's geographical origin (Di Vita et al., 2013). This aspect acquires further importance in relation to the prime role played by extra-virgin olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, especially in Italy. Moreover, in the context of the international olive oil trade Italy occupies a somewhat anomalous position: according to Eurostat data (2011), it is ranked as the world's second largest producer of olive oil and at the same time both the second largest exporter and the top importer. With a per capita annual consumption of about 11 kg, Italy is the largest per capita olive oil consumer after Spain and Greece. In this scenario, the area of origin in the case of extra-virgin olive oil represents the strategic tool most widely used to enhance production both by public authorities and by production and processing firms (Tregear et al, 2007; Horská et al, 2011). Indeed, Italy's adoption of the regulations concerning voluntary certifications of origin is reflected in the large numbers of certified extra-virgin oils: 39 PDOs and one PGI (Ismea, 2012). By contrast, mandatory public regulations have evolved in the last decade chiefly to meet the objective, achieved only recently, of clearly informing the consumer about the origin of the olives used.

As regards the close correlation between the area of origin and perception upon consumption of extra-virgin olive oil, over the years increasing space has been given to the analysis of how this characteristic affects preferences and purchasing choices. This interest is also due to the development and spread of the concept of quality in the agrifood sector: in the wake of a high differentiation strategy the concept is acquiring new meanings and functions.

This differentiation process involves both experiential eating quality and credence attributes related to environmental and other social outcomes. Consumers' perception of quality is increasingly influenced by extrinsic indicators and cues provided by the product seller (Caswell et al, 2002). Many of these aspects are classified as credence attributes. Due to the well-known difficulties in obtaining related information directly from consumers even after food consumption (Nelson, 1970; Grunert et al, 2004), credence attributes require a judgment or certification from an authority figure such as a government agency or organisations that consumers trust to give information on such attributes. Indeed, current consumer needs have generated increasing demand for more complex credence attributes that include a wide range of intangible and connected characteristics, such as public health, environmental conservation, employment creation and product origin (Moser and Raffaelli, 2011). Therefore, new certifications on both a public and private basis have proliferated in the food market.

Extensive research (Van der Lans et al, 2001; Ward et al, 2003; Krystallis and Ness, 2005; Gazquez-Abad and Sánchez-Pérez, 2009) has shown that consumers, also in different countries such as Italy, Greece and Germany, attach priority value in consumption choices to knowledge of the country of origin. With particular reference to Italy, consumers are known to assign to origin not only national value but often also regional value. …

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