Consumer Perspective: Food claims and extra value of environmentally sustainable foodstuffs in the case of the Mediterranean Diet

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In the last decades, there has been a change in consumer patterns, with consumers increasingly concerned with environmental and health issues. Consumer’s concerns motivate the demand for healthy and environmentally-friendly food. In the context of a globalized food market, a vast stream of information related to lifestyles, diets, food and nutrition circulates constantly in the conventional and social media. The Mediterranean diet has emerged as a standard of healthy diet that contributes simultaneously for the preservation of the Mediterranean landscape and agroecosystems. There is an interest in the valorisation of the territory and the promotion of the region's products and to understand if other sustainability concerns, such an ecological production mode and the contribution to the preservation of local landscape are as well acknowledged and valued by consumers as attributes of healthy foodstuffs. Thus, the research to develop in this thesis aims at understanding the consumer perspectives for food claims and to know if they add a value, i.e., are willing to pay a price-premium for healthy foodstuffs when they are produced with environmentally-sustainable modes, using the Mediterranean Diet as a healthy food standard. Given the pertinence of this theme, the motivation of this thesis is to add to the existing literature empirical evidence on the relationships between food, health and environment and which are the explanatory variables for that to happen. The thesis proposes to develop an innovative model that help to make an informed decision on the attributes that the consumer values most, helping local producers to develop innovative but at the same time sustainable ideas. Likewise, this work will present a contribution that will help rural development and the design and implementation of programs to connect producers and consumers. It will also help to improve the long-term productivity and diversity of rural production. This thesis will be structured in four empirical papers. The objectives and methodological approach detail the methods of data collection and analysis to be adopted. The first paper addresses the gaps on the debate on consumer issues with the sustainability of farming systems by delivering an interdisciplinary synthesis of literature relating food and diet with health and environment, and by discussing how demand for healthy diets might enhance sustainability of Mediterranean rural landscapes. The second paper through a meta-regression intent synthetizing data from multiple and diverse studies presenting estimates on the consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for various food claims and its combinations. The third paper will apply PLS – SEM model to investigate the influence of attitudes and behaviours on intentions to use organic olive oil. From a practical perspective, discuss how positive emotions, beliefs, and subjective norms may heighten the volitions regarding the use of this product, one of the emblematic products of the Mediterranean Diet. The fourth and last paper develops an extended Model Goal Directed Behaviour (EMGB) to predict the intention to use organic extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) as the main edible oil. Aims at understanding how healthy food and safe food are additionally influenced by how consumers use and trust food claims. Structural Equation Model (SEM) will be applied to data generated through a large-scale survey administrated by on-line interview to webpanels. The thesis contributes for the identification of the attributes that are more valued by the consumers and by offering a deep understanding of the consumer’s representations respecting healthy food and how it influence behaviour intention respecting its use, with a focus on the Mediterranean diet. It delivers novel empirical evidence on the moderating and mediating effects that influence the relationships between latent and observable variables that have not yet been empirically confirmed through the SEM, and which type of information appears to be more effective in communicating sustainability-related attributes associated with healthy foodstuffs related to the Mediterranean diet.
Tese apresentada à Universidade de Trásos-Montes e Alto Douro, como requisito para a obtenção do grau de Doutor em Desenvolvimento, Sociedades e Territórios
Food claims , Mediterranean Diet