Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Consumer Preferences for Oyster Attributes: Field Experiments on Brand, Locality, and Growing Method

Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Consumer Preferences for Oyster Attributes: Field Experiments on Brand, Locality, and Growing Method

Article excerpt

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Oyster aquaculture is rapidly expanding in the United States. When considering all oyster species and all U.S. states, the national oyster industry produced 9.5 billion pounds of oysters worth $5.5 billion in 2014 (NOAA 2016). Moreover, oyster landings in East Coast states increased substantially over the last five years (see Figure 1). Oyster landings from the Chesapeake Bay alone increased more than 1,600 percent between 2006 and 2014 (NOAA 2016).

Rhode Island added seven oyster farms in 2014, bringing the total in the state to 61 farms spanning 241.4 acres (Beuttle 2015). Virginia has also reported substantial growth in shellfish aquaculture; revenue for oyster growers in 2014 was estimated at $15.4 million, a 39-percent increase over 2013 (Hudson and Murray 2015).

Delaware is currently the only East Coast state that lacks shellfish aquaculture. In 2013, Delaware legislature passed House Bill 160 (147th General Assembly), designating certain areas in Delaware's inland bays for development of shellfish aquaculture. Beuttle (2011) estimated that establishing 160 acres of oyster aquaculture in Delaware (the number of acres of oyster aquaculture in Rhode Island at the time) would not only create jobs and benefit the local economy but also provide environmental benefits by filtering between 9 percent and 22.5 percent of the water in Delaware's inland bays each day.

Given the growing popularity of oysters among consumers, it is surprising how little is known about consumer preferences for specific oyster attributes, such as brand, harvest location, and production method (wild-caught versus aquaculture). One of the few studies on this subject is from Manalo and Gempesaw (1997), which explored three attributes related to part-worth consumer preferences for oysters in the northeast United States - inspection information, price, and source information (wild-caught versus aquaculture). Using a survey mailed to a sample of 5,000 residents in the Northeast, the authors found that safety inspections ranked highest in importance, especially for consumers who believed that farm-raised oysters were grown in cleaner waters than wild-caught oysters. The consumers in that study generally were willing to pay a premium for information about the source of the oysters and for farm-raised oysters, suggesting that aquaculture oysters were considered by many to be "safer."

Recently, Bruner et al. (2014) estimated the effect of safety considerations in preferences for traditional raw and post-harvest-processed oysters using a random nth-price auction. Subjects submitted bids in four rounds to consume raw oysters served traditionally (no processing) and after four types of postharvest processing designed to reduce or eliminate potential pathogens (quick-freezing, pasteurization, pressure treatment, and irradiation). Consumers were first presented with information about the health risks posed by untreated and processed oysters. While processing reduces the risk of foodborne illness, it also tends to negatively affect oyster taste. The authors found that, on average, consumers were willing to pay a premium for traditional raw oysters relative to processed oysters, despite the increased risk posed by untreated oysters, concluding that taste considerations were responsible for reducing processed oyster willingness to pay (WTP). Moreover, given a "normal" level of risk associated with consuming raw seafood, taste was more important to consumers than reducing risks associated with raw consumption.

Wessells and Anderson (1995) also looked at consumer safety preferences related to seafood and found that Rhode Island consumers were willing to pay a 10-percent price premium for assurances regarding the catch date, pointing to consumers' awareness of safety issues and their preference for fresher, safer seafood.

Dedah, Keithly, and Kazmierczak (2011) also focused on health risks associated with consuming oysters in a study investigating the effects of warning labels of risks associated with raw oyster consumption. …

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