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NATURALLY CONFUSED: A FOCUS GROUP STUDY DESCRIBING SELECTED
CONSUMERS' PERCEPTIONS OF ALL-NATURAL AND ORGANIC PORK
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
2007 Katherine Chodil
To Mom, Dad, Scott, Brian, and Wrigley: The people and one dog who will always love me, no
This master's thesis is the culmination of the best and most challenging 2 years of my life
(so far). During this time, many people made this thesis a conquerable feat. They deserve much
more than a simple acknowledgment.
I thank my Mom and Dad for supporting me financially and emotionally through my
poorly-paid years. Their support and pride in all that I do gives me motivation to exceed even my
I thank Jennifer Doup-Smith for helping me discover my niche in agricultural
communications. Without her down-to-earth advice and encouragement, I would not be where I
Dr. Nick Place provided keen insight into areas I would have not otherwise considered in
my thesis topic. His input made the scope and recommendations of my thesis relevant to all the
right researchers and practitioners.
I thank Dr. Ricky Telg for his attention to detail in writing and structure. Because of him,
my writing abilities and thesis have improved ten-fold. After all, it's not only the quality of the
research that makes a thesis strong, it is the writing style and ability to clearly communicate it.
I thank Dr. Tracy Irani and Courtney Meyers for their advice, encouragement, and constant
reassurance that I could do this. Your confidence in me was exactly what I needed to complete
I thank Brian Estevez for daily hugs, work disruptions, office baseball, and always being
there for me in a bind. I would have gone crazy without the joy he brings to the batcave day in
and day out.
To my wonderful colleagues, Elio Chiarelli and Carrie Pedreiro, thanks for walking
through the fire with me. Having the both of them by my side was the key to my success. And
let's face it, our theses rocked.
I thank Brian Abrams for cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, and bringing me flowers
throughout the busiest months. He is my strength on the toughest days. I'm so lucky to be
marrying the man of my dreams.
And last, but not least, to all of my friends in Rolfs Hall, thanks for every Gators
experience, Chipotle Fridays, office shenanigans, random get-togethers, and a bit okay, usually
a lot, of laughter every day. They are all the greatest friends I could have ever hoped for.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .........4..... ...............
LIST OF FIGURES .................................. .. .... ..... ................. 10
A B S T R A C T ........................................... ................................................................. 1 1
1 INTRODUCTION ............... .......................................................... 13
State ent of the Problem ................................................. ...... ................. 16
Significance of the P problem ................................................................................ ........... 20
Purpose of the Study and Research Questions .................................................................... 21
A ssu m p tio n s ..................................................................................................................... 2 2
L im itatio n s ................... ...................2...................2..........
D definition s of K ey T erm s ........................................................................ .. ....................... 23
2 R E V IEW O F L ITER A TU R E .................................................................... ...... .................25
T theory of P planned B ehavior................................................................................. .... ..... 25
Means-End Theory ................................. .. ... .... ................... 28
Risk Perceptions ............................. ..... ..... ........................... 30
Consumer Perceptions of Quality, Price and Value Model..................................................33
Organic and N natural Pork Quality Perceptions ........................................... .....................36
T aste P perception s ................................................................................ 37
Price/V alue Attitudes ............................. .. ...... .......... .......... .. ..38
Organic and Natural Claims Labeling Perceptions ..................................... .................40
S u m m ary ................... ...................4...................3..........
3 METHODOLOGY ............................. ...................... ........45
D design of the Stu dy ............. .................................................... ...................4 5
Screening Process and Subject Selection ........................................ .......... ............... 47
Instrum entation/Q questioning R oute................................................................. ................... 48
P ro ced u re ................... ...................4...................9..........
D ata C o lle ctio n ................................................................................................................. 5 1
Data Analysis................................................. ........ .........52
Credibility, Transferability, Dependability, and Confirmability .............. ............. 52
Summary of Methodology ......................................................................54
4 R E SU L T S ....................................................... 55
Perceptions of A ll-N natural and O rganic .................................. ............................................ 57
Skepticism Surrounding All-Natural ......................... ....................57
All-N natural M means "N o".......................................................................... ............... 58
All-Natural Pork Associated with Animal W elfare................................. ... ..................59
Organic M means "H healthy" .............................. ... .......................................... 59
O organic Equated w ith Produce......... .................. .................................. ............... 60
O organic Foods Cost M ore ................... ............... ....... ....................................... 61
Reactions to USDA Standards for Organic and Policy for Natural Claims .........................61
Confusion Surrounding Differences between USDA Standards and Guidelines............61
Making the Information Clearer to Consumers.......................................................63
Taste Perceptions of All-Natural Pork........ .................................................. 63
All-Natural Boneless Pork Loin Tastes Better............... ... .... ................64
D offering Taste Expectations ...................... .... ................... ................... ............... 64
D offering Taste Preferences ...................... .. .. ......... ........................... ............... 65
Results from Taste Questionnaire .......................... ......... ....... .................... 66
Taste Perceptions and Willingness to Pay for All-Natural Pork Products ...........................67
Taste Influences W willingness to Pay.......................................... ........... ............... 67
Su m m ary ...... ......... .. ............. .. ........................................................ 6 8
5 D IS C U S S IO N ...................... .. ............. .. .......................................................7 0
K ey F in d in g s ..................................................................................................................... 7 0
Conclusions........ ............................................. ......... 71
Perceptions of All-Natural and Organic ............................................ .......... 71
Perceptions surrounding all-natural ....................................................... 71
Perceptions surrounding organic ..................... .............. ............................ 73
Reactions to USDA Standards for Organic and Policy for Natural Claims ....................74
Taste Perceptions of All-Natural Pork ............ .......................................75
Willingness-To-Pay as Influenced by Taste Perceptions .................................... 77
Im p licatio n s .............................. ...... ...................................................................7 8
Perceptions of All-Natural and Organic................................. .. ...... .............. 78
Taste Perceptions and Willingness to Pay for All-Natural Pork ............ ............. 81
R ecom m endations.. ......................... .................................................. 82
Practice ........................ ..................... .. ... .....................82
F utu re R research .............................. .. ......... ............ ................. ... ......................... 86
Summary of Conclusions, Implications, and Recommendations .......................................87
A IRB APPROVAL................. .................................. .......90
B ALL-NATURAL PORK FOCUS GROUP SCREEN QUESTIONNAIRE .............................92
C INVITATION LETTER TO SELECTED PARTICIPANTS...................... .....................94
D MODERATOR GUIDE AND QUESTIONING ROUTE ............................................. 95
E TASTE TEST SURVEY FEEDBACK FORM ......................................... ...............100
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S .................................................................................. ..................... 102
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ......................................................................... .. ...................... 109
4-1 D em graphics of focus group participants ........................................................................56
LIST OF FIGURES
2-2 Hierarchal value map of associations of Danish consumers with perceived attributes
of organic pork ............................................................................29
2-2 T otal food quality m odel.......................................................................... ....................35
3-1 Handout for participants regarding USDA policies for organic and natural claims..........48
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science
NATURALLY CONFUSED: A FOCUS GROUP STUDY DESCRIBING SELECTED
CONSUMERS' PERCEPTIONS OF ALL-NATURAL AND ORGANIC PORK
Chair: Tracy Irani
Major: Agricultural Education and Communication
Consumers' concerns about food production have encouraged the rapid growth of the
organic and natural meat markets in recent years. A variety of labeling and claims are used to
address these concerns. Among those are the certified organic label and the all-natural claim.
During the time consumers' interest in organic was increasing, the niche pork market emerged.
Niche pork producers may use the all-natural claim on labeling to differentiate and add value to
their products. However, value is only added as much as the target consumers perceive all-
natural products to be better. This study focused on consumers' perceptions of the terms
"organic" and "all-natural" as used on pork products.
The purpose was to use focus groups to describe a representative sample of selected
consumers' perceptions of pork products with an all-natural or organic label. To achieve this
purpose, focus group discussions addressed the following objectives: 1) Determine participants'
perceptions of the terms "organic" and "all-natural" in reference to pork products, 2) Determine
participants' reactions to the United States Department of Agriculture organic standards for meat
production and policy for natural claims, 3) Determine participants' taste perceptions of all-natural
pork products, and 4) Determine participants' attitudes toward the price of all-natural pork products
as affected by tasting all-natural pork.
The research design was qualitative in nature. Participants associated the term "all-natural"
as used on pork products with perceptions of production and processing aspects, including hogs
that are raised outdoors without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, fed higher quality
food, and no use of preservatives or chemicals in the final pork product. Results of this study
showed that participants had positive perceptions of both organic and all-natural pork products,
with some exceptions regarding taste, price, and trust in the information source. Participants
were particularly skeptical of the term "all-natural" on pork package labeling. The only obvious
differing perceptions between organic and all-natural was that organic also means no pesticides,
is regulated by the government, costs more money, and is associated more with produce rather
than meat. After participants reviewed and discussed a handout with the USDA standards for
organic meat production and policy for natural claims, observations indicated that the USDA
definition for all-natural did not corroborate with the participants' definition of the word on meat
Participants generally had positive taste perceptions of all-natural pork products and
perceived an all-natural pork sample to taste better than a conventional/unlabeled sample in a
double-blind taste test. However, participants had differing taste expectations of all-natural pork
products during the double-blind taste test. One of the focus groups expected all-natural pork
products to taste inferior to conventional pork, while the other expected all-natural pork products
to taste better. Overall, participants perceived a minimal amount of value in the term "all-
natural" in isolation, but favored and were willing to pay a premium for all-natural pork products
if they preferred the taste.
Consumers today are bombarded with labels and claims that are intended to address their
concerns about how food products are produced, processed and regulated. Among those are the
"natural" or "all-natural" claims and the certified organic label. With producers, marketers and
consumers of organic food regularly using the concept of natural and naturalness to characterize
organic (Verhoog, Matze, Lammerts Van Bueren, & Baars, 2003), the consumer may
understandably be confused by the seemingly different contexts in which natural claims are used.
An increase in consumers' interest and confusion about organic products during the 1990s
led to the institution of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program in October
2002 (California Institute for Rural Studies, 2005). These standards were established to assure
consumers that so-labeled products are produced, processed, and certified to meet the consistent
national organic regulations (National Organic Program, 2002a). The organic standards provide a
set of guidelines for food to be labeled organic that affect the growing, handling, and processing
of organic food. For organic meat production, the standards prohibit the use of antibiotics and
growth hormones, require animals to be fed 100% organic feed, and require animals to have
access to outdoors and access to pasture for ruminants. The organic label is considered a certified
label, whereas "natural" claims are upheld by USDA policy. The term "natural" (or all-natural)
refers only to the processing of meat once the animal is slaughtered. It is defined by the USDA
as containing "no artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives; and the
product and its ingredients are no more than minimally processed" (Food and Safety Inspection
Consumers' concerns for food that is healthy, safe and ethically produced are often equated
with organic. Concern for human health and safety motivates consumers to buy organic food as
insurance and/or investment in health (Yiridoe, Bonti-Ankomah, & Martin, 2005; Zehnder,
Hope, Hill, Hoyle, & Blake, 2003). These concerns have encouraged the rapid growth in the
organic and natural food markets in recent years. Once limited to a small number of retail stores,
organic foods are now available in natural supermarkets, conventional supermarkets, farmer
markets, and discount club stores (Dimitri & Greene, 2002). Since 2000, most organic foods
have been purchased in conventional supermarkets.
Overall, most studies report that consumers purchase organic foods because they perceive
them as safer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly than conventionally produced foods.
Consumers' perceptions of the merits of a production system are highly likely to influence their
perception of the quality of a product produced from such a system (Edwards, 2005). Price, lack
of knowledge, lack of trust, and limited availability are the major reasons preventing non-buyers
from purchasing organic (Yiridoe, et al., 2005; California Institute for Rural Studies, 2005). In
the organic food market, fresh produce is the top-selling category, followed by nondairy
beverages, breads and grains, packaged foods, and dairy products (Dimitri & Greene, 2002).
Although not in the top-selling categories, organic meat is the fastest-growing segment of
the $14 billion organic food business. From 2004 to 2005, organic meat sales went up 55% to
$256 million, but organic meat accounts for only 0.22% of overall meat sales (Organic Trade
Association, 2006). According to ACNielsen LabelTrends (as cited in Moran, 2006), natural
labeled meat sales in mass merchandiser stores have nearly doubled since 2003 to $681.3
million. The growing organic and natural meat markets suggest that factors relating to the
production of meat may be a consideration in consumer purchasing decisions.
Pork consumption has been on the rise since the late 1990s and is expected to continue
rising as the U.S. population grows. A report from the USDA Economic Research Service
covered the factors affecting pork consumption in the United States. Pork ranks third in meat
consumption and totals to about 51 pounds per person annually. Per person, fresh pork accounted
for an average of 38 percent of all pork consumed and processed pork accounted for 62 percent.
Pork chops hold the largest share of the fresh pork market, while smoked ham is the most
commonly consumed pork in the U.S. (Davis & Lin, 2005).
During the time consumer interest in organic was increasing, U.S. market hog prices fell
to historically low levels, leading to the establishment of niche pork markets in the late 1990s.
The market decrease in 1998 adversely affected both small and large pork producers, but
"smaller scale producers competing in the open market faced a particularly dire situation"
(Wheatley, p. 18, 2003). Niche markets are a viable solution for smaller producers, because some
of these markets capture a higher dollar, while requiring less capital-intensive methods of
production. To capture this higher dollar, niche pork products claim product differentiation in
two general ways superior or unique product quality and social or credence attributes
(Honeyman, et al., 2006). All-natural pork is part of the niche pork market. Niche pork producers
use the term "natural" or "all-natural" in different ways and it varies from producer to producer.
Natural could mean the pork was processed in accordance with the USDA's natural claims
policy, or it could refer to raising the pig "naturally," meaning, for example, without the use of
antibiotics or growth hormones and raising outdoors (Nichepork.org, 2006).
Producers may switch to organic or "natural" production based on a combination between
their agricultural philosophy and market forces. Attitudes are significant in determining producer
conversion to organic farming systems and consumer purchase behavior, and there are many
commonalities among attitudes (McEachern & Willock, 2004). Producers' attitudes toward
animal welfare, chemical use, and sustainability are certainly activators of their decision to
convert to organic farming systems. However, the market forces are particularly important to
farmers as well. The USDA Economic Research Service (2005) reports that many U.S. producers
embrace organic farming to lower input costs, conserve nonrenewable resources, capture high-
value markets, and boost farm income, especially as prices fall for staple commodities.
"Obstacles to adoption by farmers include high managerial costs and risks of shifting to a new
way of farming, limited awareness of organic farming systems, lack of marketing and
infrastructure, and inability to capture marketing economies" (para. 4). An additional barrier is
the cost of the services from the National Organic Program, which is required to sell food with
an organic label. Meat producers seeking to capture a piece of the high-value natural and organic
food market may appeal to consumers by incorporating some organic production techniques and
processing within the natural claims policy.
Understandably, producers want to use legitimate production and/or processing claims to
capture a piece of the high-dollar market for such products. However, coupling those claims with
the term all-natural may have led to consumer confusion. An article in the New York Times
sums up the issue by stating,
Probably the most confusing and fungible word in all of food labeling is the term "natural."
When it is applied to meat, it can signify many things -that the animals were not given
antibiotics or hormones, that they were not fed rendered animal byproducts and that they
lived a happy life outdoors. Or it could mean almost nothing (Warner, 2006, p. C4).
Statement of the Problem
The labeling of natural pork products may influence consumer perceptions of production
practices related to animal welfare and avoidance of hormones or antibiotics. The USDA has
recognized that many individuals regard these conditions as an integral part of "natural" labeling
even though such statements remain independent of the policy regarding the use of the term
"natural" (Food and Safety Inspection Service, 1999).
Much of the meat that is labeled with claims to address consumer concerns about
environmental, livestock care, and human dietary issues meets the "natural" label requirements
(Honeyman et al., 2006). These claims may include "raised outdoors" and/or "no antibiotics,"
which are integral parts of organic livestock production. As a result, the average consumer may
not perceive a clear difference between "organic" pork and "natural" pork. Consumers associate
no hormones and no antibiotics with the natural label, at least in the case of beef (Diel &
Associates, 2001). The average consumer is probably not aware that the USDA Food and Safety
Inspection Service prohibits the use of growth hormones in raising hogs for consumption (2006).
Pork labels are not allowed to claim "no hormones added," unless it is followed by the statement
federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones. Producers attempting to further differentiate
their all-natural pork product may add the statement "no hormones added" even though that
particular aspect of their production methods does not truly differentiate their product. However,
unless the consumer is aware that federal regulations prohibits the use of hormones in pork
production or reads the fine print, for them that claim may differentiate the product from others.
Recent research shows that consumers are becoming more aware of labeling alluding to how the
food was produced or processed, but their knowledge of what the labels exactly mean (i.e., the
standards or policies set by the USDA to certify or verify the food for a certain label) lag behind
their general awareness (California Institute for Rural Studies, 2005). Although consumers'
perceptions and understanding of the organic label has been explored, there have not been any
studies on natural claims used on meat labeling. Exploring consumers' perceptions of the terms
"all-natural" and "organic" will offer insight into how the use of these on meat labels affects
their attitudes toward those products and how the claims influence their purchasing decisions.
Discovering perceptions of both terms offers a comparison so that we can describe the gaps and
overlap between the two.
The media are an important source for food-related information (Frewer, Howard,
Hedderley, & Shepherd, 1996). Arguably, the media's role in communicating about food labels
specifically is highly important. By design, a food label or claim does not communicate exactly
what it means (i.e., standards for that label). It merely identifies or differentiates a certain type
food product, whether it be organic, all-natural, or free range. The government standards,
policies, and regulations for food labels are too comprehensive and are not written in a widely
accessible manner. Thus, it partly falls upon the duty of the media to inform the consumers about
food labels and what they mean. However, the mass media do not typically use objective sources
when reporting about organic-labeled foods. Government regulators and scientists are rarely
cited for information in these news stories. Journalists focus on controversy in science topics like
agricultural production and therefore cite sources with a personal opinion about organic
production when communicating about these foods (Meyers & Chodil, 2006). Agricultural
communicators specialize in communicating about food production and products, and have
access to government regulators and agricultural producers for more objective knowledge and
information. This research has particular implications for agricultural communicators who are
often called upon to bridge the knowledge gap between agriculture and the public and to develop
marketing plans for agricultural products. These professionals are familiar with government
regulations and producers' practices with regards to all-natural claims and organic labeling. They
need to understand consumers' perceptions of organic and all-natural in order to communicate
about these products in a way that resonates with consumers.
The number of large pork producers continues to increase, while the number of small
producers continues to decrease. Regardless of size, lack of profits to sustain expansion plans is
expected to be the largest growth-limiting factor (Lawrence & Grimes, 2000). "Environmental
regulations and lack of market outlets are the next most highly ranked obstacles to growth.
Market outlets are more important for smaller producers and environmental regulations are more
important for larger producers" (p. 6). Looking for ways to continue operations, smaller-scale
producers have been entering niche markets by offering value-added pork products. A group of
10 producers in Florida and southern Georgia are part of these smaller producers that have joined
together under the brand name Madison Farms All-Natural Pork to explore the marketing
opportunities in value-added pork products (F. Hall, personal communication, November 15,
2006). This group of small producers contracted with an agricultural marketing company that
decided to pursue market research with a representative sample of consumers. The agricultural
marketing company decided to work with University of Florida researchers to provide Madison
Farms All-Natural Pork with unbiased, rigorous research results. Adding value is a customer-
oriented concept -value is only added to food products to the extent that target consumers
actually perceive these products as better (Grunert, 2005). For this reason, the group of producers
sought to learn a representative sample of Florida consumers' perceptions of all-natural pork to
develop marketing plans for the southeastern United States.
The largest niche pork marketers reside in the north central United States, which may
explain why much of the marketing and consumer research regarding niche market pork
attributes has been localized to the central and western regions of the United States. About 68%
of the U.S. hog herd resides in the Corn Belt area, where they have access to that region's
abundant supplies of feed grains and soybean meal (Davis & Lin, 2006). The southeastern
United States has 20% of the hog herd, which is the second largest concentration in the nation.
Pork consumption is highest in the Midwest, followed by the South (Davis & Lin, 2005). Pork is
an integral part of the distinct cuisine in the southern United States and a staple ingredient in
Southerners diets (Egerton, 1993). The prevalence of the hog industry and pork consumption in
the southeastern United States makes it a good location to explore consumers' perceptions.
Significance of the Problem
Marketing natural products as higher quality than conventional products has a unique set of
The challenges of marketing natural products once consumer preferences have been
determined are not clear. The underlying issue of the market information problem is
quality signaling. If producers can not differentiate their product, securing premiums for
the unique bundle of attributes their product may offer consumers cannot be achieved
(Grannis & Thilmany, p. 477, 2002).
Natural pork products attempt to signal quality to consumers through credence attributes,
which are attributes that can not be assessed before purchase or after its use. Consumers' demand
for quality increases as more products encompass credence attributes, but quality signaling to
consumers is difficult with these products (Auriol & Schilizzi, 2003). Previous research has
demonstrated that quality signaling is most easily accomplished through the use of a certified
label (Caswell & Mojduszka, 1996; Auriol & Schilizzi, 2003). There is no such thing as a
"certified natural" label. The claim must be true in accordance with Food and Safety Inspection
Service policy, but there is no formal inspection for that claim. Discerning consumers'
perceptions of risk, trust, and quality associated with organic and all-natural pork is crucial for
effective marketing and communication about these products and their attributes. Although
perceptions of organic have been explored in previous studies (Yiridoe, Bonti-Ankomah, &
Martin, 2005) perceptions of natural claims have not.
Research has found that many consumers are willing to pay 3 to 10% more for natural pork
products and/or pork products with credence attributes, such as raised outdoors, no antibiotics, or
family-farm raised (Grannis & Thilmany, 2001; Dransfield, et al., 2005). Studies have shown
consumers are paying at least 10% to over 100% more for organic food (Dimitri & Oberholtzer,
2005; Dimitri & Greene, 2001). Since price is the prominent barrier for most consumers, a
premium around 5% for natural fresh pork may be more appealing. Discovering the value
consumers perceive in those products that makes them willing to pay more will help agricultural
communications marketing professionals communicate the quality of those products. The rapid
growth of the organic and natural meat market signifies a change in consumers' preferences, so it
is important to understand their perceptions of such labeled meat. Beyond that, exploring how
the prevalence of organic foods has affected consumers' perceptions of the natural claim may
suggest ways in which producers can add value to their product, help food regulators determine
future adjustments in policy, and help agricultural communicators communicate about these
labels in a way that resonates with consumers.
Purpose of the Study and Research Questions
Consumer trust in information about food-related risks is related to perceptions of
accuracy, knowledge, and concern for public welfare. Research suggests the media are the most
trusted source of food-related risk information while trust in information from industry sources
(such as marketing) is hindered by perceptions of selfish, economic interests (Frewer, Howard,
Hedderley, & Shepherd, 1996). To be effective, marketing strategies and government regulations
and policies for organic and all-natural food must consider consumers' attitudes and/or social or
The purpose was to use focus groups to describe consumers' perceptions of pork products
with an all-natural or organic label. Previous qualitative studies show that consumers have high
expectations for the quality of pork with credence attributes, but are often confused by what the
claims mean (Ngapo, 2003; Bredahl & Poulson, 2002 & Scholderer, et al., 2004). Based on the
purpose of this study, the following research questions were developed to guide the study.
* RQ1: What are the perceptions of a representative sample of consumers toward the terms
"organic" and "all-natural" in reference to pork products?
* RQ2: What are their reactions to the USDA organic standards for meat production and
policy for natural claims?
* RQ3: What are their taste perceptions of all-natural pork products?
* RQ4: How do their taste perceptions affect their attitudes toward the price of all-natural
An important assumption in this study is the general lack of knowledge and understanding
of the standards and policies behind meat labels and claims. A study on the impacts of the
organic standards surveyed 1,000 households nationwide and found that only 37.1% of
Americans are aware of the National Organic Program standards, while their understanding of
what the standards entail varied (California Institute for Rural Studies, 2005). Yet 74.3% believe
USDA organic labeled food is better for the environment, 70.2% feel is safer, 64.8% believe it is
healthier, and 45.9% believe it is more nutritious. Another assumption is that consumers are
projecting these beliefs associated with organic food on to food labeled as "natural." Diel &
Associates (2001) found that an average of 64% of consumers associate no antibiotics and no
hormones with all-natural beef products.
Most of the limitations in using and analyzing focus groups are the downsides of the
advantages. First, the small number of participants in focus groups limits the ability to generalize
the findings to a larger population. However, the goal of qualitative research is to gain a deep
understanding of people's concerns, beliefs, attitudes, lifestyle, motivations, and behavior.
People communicate those most appropriately through their own words, which is the benefit of
the open-ended discussion format of focus groups. Qualitative methods intend to gather deep
insights on a particular topic and gain a rich, detailed understanding of people's thoughts.
Second, the location of the focus group typically means that participants will only come from the
local area, in this case, the Gainesville, Florida area. Third, responses from participants are not
independent of what other group members say, but arguably focus groups are a more accurate
representation of reality (Krueger, 1994). People's opinions are influenced by what they learn
from other people. Fourth, analyzing the data is difficult because of the focus group's open-
ended question format (Krueger, 1998). The researcher must be objective and cautious when
analyzing results to ensure comments are interpreted within the context they were meant.
Definitions of Key Terms
* Accountability: "Being answerable to audiences for fulfilling obligations, duties, and
expectations" (Sinclair & Irani, 2005, p. 61).
* All-natural: Synonymous with "natural" under USDA policy for natural claims; this was
the term used throughout the focus group discussions.
* Credence attributes: Quality attributes of a product that can not be assessed by the
consumer before or after use and affect products' perceived quality only so much as
consumers' trust in the claims; for example, a label on a pork product indicating "raised
under environmentally friendly practices" would be considered a credence attribute (Darbi
& Karni, 1973; Scholderer et al., 2004).
* Conventional: Refers to food production or food products that are produced in ways that
would not qualify the final food product for the natural claims, production claims (e.g., no
antibiotics, no hormones, etc.), or the USDA organic label.
* Free range: Can only be used on poultry packaging in the United States and refers to
raising the poultry in conditions where they have access to the outdoors.
* Natural: Defined by the USDA under the policy for natural claims as containing "no
artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives; and the product and
its ingredients are no more than minimally processed" (Food and Safety Inspection
* Niche pork products: Pork products that claim superior or unique product quality and
credence attributes (Honeyman, et al., 2006). All-natural pork is considered a niche pork
* No antibiotics: Animals raised without the use of antibiotics
* Organic: Refers to any food qualifying for the USDA certified organic label under the
National Organic Program standards. For organic meat production, the standards prohibit
the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, require animals to be fed 100% organic feed,
and require animals to have access to outdoors and access to pasture for ruminants
(National Organic Program, 2002a).
* Perceived quality: The consumer's judgment about the superiority or excellence of a
product (Ziethaml, 1988).
* Perceived value: Highly personalized and thus varies for individuals; the definitions
grouped into four categories are "(1) value is low price, (2) value is whatever I want in a
product, (3) value is the quality I get for the price I pay, and (4) value is what I get for what
I give" (Ziethaml, 1988, p. 13).
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
The theoretical framework for this study includes the theory of planned behavior, the
means-end theory, and theories related to risk perceptions. All three areas of theory offer
explanations of attitude formation, motivation, and behavior in consumer decision making with
regard to natural and organic foods. These theories contributed to the analysis of the results. This
study also draws on previous studies in perceptions of food quality, perceptions of taste, price-
value attitudes, and perceptions of organic and natural foods.
Theory of Planned Behavior
The theory of planned behavior both explains and predicts behavioral intentions. The
theory states that a person's behavioral intention is essentially determined by three factors: the
attitude that the person holds towards the behavior; the degree of social pressure felt by the
person to perform or not perform the behavior; and the degree of control that the person feels he
or she has over performing the behavior. Attitudes are formed based on an individual's positive
or negative belief about performing a behavior and the evaluation of the outcomes as good or bad
of that behavior, referred to as behavioral beliefs. The subjective norm is predicted by an
individual's perception and motivation to comply with social norms, referred to as normative
beliefs. Similarly, control beliefs determine an individual's perceived control to perform or not
perform a given behavior. In the theory of planned behavior, attitudes, subjective norm and
perceived control have a direct effect on behavioral intention (see Figure 2-1). Although
dependent on the application, the more positive the attitude and subjective norm with respect to a
behavior, and the greater the perceived control, the stronger the intention is to perform the
behavior (Ajzen, 1991).
Copyright 0 2006 I ek Aizen
Behaviur-GI A tt it Lide
ad ie f S: Towai4d lh#
Nort tive Sub'ec ive
Figure 2-1. A model diagram of the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 2006).
The theory was originally developed to explain social behaviors, but has since proved
applicable to explain consumers' food choice (Sparks, Conner, James, Shepherd, & Povey, 2001;
Scholderer, Bredahl, & Magnusson, 2004). Shepherd (1999) contends that it generally affords
good prediction of behavior, and can be used to determine the relative importance of different
factors in influencing food choice. Bredahl, Grunert, and Frewer (1998) found that attitudes
toward buying genetically modified food are determined by perceived attributes and
consequences of buying and consuming that product, and by the attitude the person has toward
food production in general. With food products, perceived behavioral control is based on a
person's competence in judging risks and benefits of a product in purchase situations, and on
time and access to those products. Using the theory of planned behavior to research Danish
consumers' attitudes toward fresh fish before an advertising campaign revealed some of the
perceived barriers to actually purchasing fresh fish. Scholderer and Grunert (2001) showed that
the theory is still useful in situations when consumers' food purchase intentions are inconsistent
with their actual behavior. The inconsistency may indicate that situational factors, such as
labeling, shelf positioning, and packaging, play a predominant role.
The theory of planned behavior can be applied to describing consumers' purchasing
behavior in regard to organic and all-natural food. The three factors of this theory could be
applied to this topic as: personal attitudes toward organic and all-natural foods, social and
cultural factors, and the degree of personal involvement in food purchases. Social and cultural
factors (subjective norms) may be viewed as related to the cultural definition of "natural" in
terms of pork production, the increasing prevalence of these products in supermarkets, and/or
family status (e.g. "What do I want to feed my family?").
Sparks and Shepherd (1992) found that self-identity plays an additional role in the theory
of planned behavior. Consumers that identified themselves as "green consumers" were more
likely to have intentions to purchase organic food. Self-identity affected their intent to purchase
organic food independently of attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control. This
fourth factor in the theory of planned behavior can be applied in this study to help understand
how consumers' proclaimed self-identity as "regular organic foods shoppers" affects their
intention to buy all-natural pork. These consumers may buy all-natural labeled foods because it
has become a central aspect of their self-concept.
Bentler and Speckart (1979) added past behavior as another independent variable that
influences behavior in the theory of planned behavior. These researchers postulate that behaviors
may be habitual and therefore not controlled by intentions. Food choices and purchase behavior
may become habitual for many consumers since it is a regular occurrence in their lives (as cited
in Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). As a result, organic food shoppers may not consider other options
simply because they have always bought organic foods since the point in time when they made
the conscious decision to do so.
The means-end theory (Gutman, 1982) is complementary to the theory of planned
behavior, as it also reveals motivations behind consumers' decisions. The theory is based on the
assumption that consumers purchase products because of perceived benefits from using the
product. The theory brings together the cognitive oriented and motivational oriented
perspectives to provide a framework for studying and explaining consumer behavior. The
cognitive perspective of consumer decision-making focuses on the consumer's knowledge of a
product in terms of its attributes and functional consequences (Reynolds & Olson, 2001). Within
this perspective, food purchasing decisions are evaluated by the consumer's knowledge of a
particular food's nutritional consequences. The motivational perspective focuses on consumers'
personalities, lifestyles, and motivations to study their behavior. Again, in food purchasing
decisions, research from this perspective would look at how a consumer's self-schema as a
"healthy eater" affects their purchasing decisions. The means-end theory argues that attributes,
consequences and values are not independent precursors of attitude or behavior. "A product
attribute is not relevant in and by itself, but only to the extent that the consumer expects the
attribute to lead to one or more desirable or undesirable consequences" (Brunso, Fjord, &
Grunert, 2002, p. 8).
The means-end chain illustrates the links between product attributes, consequences, and
values, where the means is the product and its functional consequences and the end is the
fulfillment of life values. In simpler terms, the product's attributes and the results of its use are a
means to an end. "The end is a personal need, goal or value that reflects the perceptual
orientation of the consumer and shows how he or she translates a seemingly inconsequential
product into an object having deep personal relevance and importance" (Reynolds & Olson,
2001, p. 217).
Bech-Larsen and Grunert (1998) used the means-end chain model to assemble a hierarchal
value map of Danish consumers' perceived attributes, consequences, and life values associated
with organic pork (as cited in Scholderer, et al., 2004). Hierarchal value maps summarize
qualitative interviews across participants/consumers to show how consumers translate the
attributes of products into meaningful associations with respect to the self (Reynolds & Olson,
2001). The results indicate that consumers' perceived attributes of organic pork, such as "pigs
are reared properly," "less, no use of antibiotics, chemicals," and "more expensive," are related
to perceived functional consequences and result in fulfilling their life values. The hierarchal
value map is shown in Figure 2-2.
Feel good about self,
pleasure, happiness (n=23)
sense of duty, ethics (n=9)
Family well-being, Good health and
security (n=7) a i:nng li-r n ,
Need to do
other things (n=9)
of animals (n=13)
avoid illness (n=23)
save money (n=16)
of meat (n=11)
Pigs are reared e ( God, natural, non-animal Leaner Le no se
properly (n=16) Moe expensive (n=22) pig(n=)meat(n= of antibiotics, Better qul
chemicals (n--20) of meat (n=8)
Figure 2-2. Bech-Larsen and Grunert's (1998) hierarchal value map of associations of Danish
consumers with perceived attributes of organic pork. (Cited by Scholderer et al.
"Means-end theory provides one of the most powerful premises for developing a customer-
focused communications strategy" (Reynolds & Olson, 2001, p. 216). Peter and Olson (1994)
argued that consumer involvement grows when marketers bring out personally relevant
psychological and sociological reasons for consuming their products, and consequently,
involvement can be manipulated by marketing programs (as cited in Reynolds & Olson, 2001).
Although the intentions of this study are not to build a means-end chain, the theory helps
explain how consumers translate all-natural and organic pork product attributes into functional
consequences that relate to their life values or self-schema. It may be the case that attributes of
these products appeal to consumers' family status role (mother, care-taker, protector, etc.),
beliefs regarding of animal welfare, and/or identity as an organic foods shopper.
Consumer behavior is shaped by risk perception. Risk analysis theory falls within the
psychometric paradigm, which explains the psychological basis of people's perceptions of risk.
The theory suggests that laypersons evaluate risk qualitatively in rich detail based on perceived
control and understanding of the risk, whereas experts tend to evaluate risk empirically focusing
on probability and severity of the risk (Slovic, 1987). In people's subjective evaluation of risk,
nine general properties of activities or technologies emerge: (1) voluntariness of risk, (2)
immediacy of effect, (3) knowledge about the risk by the person who are exposed to the
potentially-hazardous risk source, (4) knowledge about the risk in science, (5) control over the
risk, (6) newness, i.e. are the risks new and novel or old and familiar ones, (7) chronic/
catastrophic, (8) common/dread, i.e. whether people have learned to live with and can think
about the risk reasonably and calmly, or is it a risk that people have great dread for, and (9)
severity of consequences (Fischoff, Slovic, Lichtenstein, Read, & Combs, 2000).
Perceptions of knowledge, newness, or unfamiliarity, and the potential immediacy of
consequences are highly correlated with consumer perception of food risk (Yeung & Morris,
2006). Food risk perceptions are conceptualized in terms of risk to human health, the
environment, the economy, animal health, and future generations (Miles & Frewer, 2001).
Ethical concerns about food production practices and food safety also encourage public food risk
perceptions. Communication about risks must be a two-way process between the expert and
public for optimal effectiveness (Slovic, 1987). Understanding public perception of risk provides
insight into effective food safety and risk communication and how the public will react to new
technology (Knox, 2000). Risk is often an unavoidable product of advances in science and
technology, and the science of agriculture is no exception. Agricultural communicators regularly
engage in risk communication when informing consumers about agricultural production and
processing practices and their impact on the food system.
Several studies have found the level of trust to be closely related to risk perception (Biel &
Dahlstrand, 1995). Both risk and trust perceptions in the case of food are seen as
multidimensional; they are dynamic and continuous rather than a static phenomenon (Miles &
Frewer, 2001; Yee, Yeung, & Morris, 2005). McGuire (1985) explained that trust is determined
by the extent to which an institution or information source is perceived as credible and honest (as
cited in Frewer, Kole, Van De Kroon, & De Lauwere, 2005). Trumbo and McComas (2003)
found that "higher credibility for industry and the state directly predicts lower risk perception,
whereas high credibility for citizen groups predicts greater risk perception" (p. 343). However,
with food risk perceptions, the persuasive content of the message and the type of risk have a
greater effect on the number of risk-relevant thoughts than source credibility (Frewer, Howard,
Hedderly, & Shepherd, 1997).
Dependence on the media, particularly newspapers and television news, for food safety
information is also correlated with greater food risk perception (Tucker, Whaley, & Sharp,
2006); however, the media are the most trusted for food-safety related information (Frewer,
Howard, Hedderley, & Shepherd, 1996). Media tend to focus on the unknown when
communicating food risk and describe it in qualitative terminology (Frewer, Raats, & Shepherd,
1993). Food additives, in particular, are heuristically reported as bad and related risk statements
are often unqualified.
In a focus group study of organic and conventional produce buyers, the organic food
consumers cited several risk factors to explain their purchasing behavior. These risks include the
fear of ill effects related to pesticide residues, growth stimulants, and fertilizers (Hammitt, 1990).
The perceived risk from pesticides and the uncertainty surrounding genetically modified food are
incentives for consumers to purchase organic foods (Gifford & Bernard, 2006). This study
intends to reveal related perceived risks that may emerge as incentives to purchase all-natural
Theories of risk perception may help us understand why consumers prefer to buy natural or
organic meat to avoid those risks. Risk perceptions may be amplified by the increasing
prevalence of these products in grocery stores. The "no" repetition associated with natural claims
(e.g., no chemical additives, no preservatives, no antibiotics) may be telling the consumer that
those are food risks. Other forms of risk perception associated with livestock production are the
risk to the environment, society morals, and animals, better known as ethical risks. Ethical risk
perceptions are gaining importance, but typically rank below health and meat safety risk
perceptions (Verbeke & Viaene, 2000). However, pork and poultry come up most often when
consumers perceive risks to animal welfare. It may be the case that when marketers use all-
natural to refer to the raising of the pig, invoke images of pigs happily rooting around outdoors
and offer pictures of families as the producers, consumers assume extreme opposites for pork
without such labels.
Consumer Perceptions of Quality, Price and Value Model
Consumers' perceptions of price, quality, and value and how they are related aid in
conceptualizing the cognitive processes in consumer decision making. Ziethaml (1988) proposes
a means-end model of price, quality, and value that defined and related the concepts from the
consumer's perspective. Essentially it is an extension of Gutman's means-end model.
Quality is broadly defined as superiority or excellence. Ziethaml's model emphasizes
perceived quality rather than objective quality, where perceived quality is the consumer's
judgment about the superiority or excellence of a product and objective quality is the actual
technical or manufactured quality. However, Ziethaml argues that at some point, all quality is
perceived. With food products, quality is most affected by experience because most quality
perceptions are contingent upon handling and consuming the product. "Expectations of product
quality are formed based on evaluations of available cues regarded by the consumers as reliable
indicators of the quality of the product" (Scholderer, Bredahl, & Magnusson, 2004).
Quality cues at the point of purchase are most often extrinsic qualities, such as brand,
labeling, and price, and during handling or consumption is when quality cues are intrinsic
qualities (Olson 1978; Ziethaml 1988). Consumers make assumptions about intrinsic values
based on information from extrinsic cues (Olson, 1978). For example, an organic label on a
package of potato chips may generate the belief that "it is probably more nutritious for me."
Consumers rely on extrinsic attributes in initial purchase situations when they cannot evaluate
the relevant intrinsic attributes of a product or when evaluation of intrinsic cues requires more
input than the consumer perceives is worthwhile (Ziethaml, 1988).
Darbi and Kami (1973) offer the term "credence attributes" for quality attributes of a
product that can not be assessed by the consumer before or after use. For example, a label on a
pork product indicating "raised under environmentally friendly practices" would be considered a
credence attribute. Whether or not credence attributes signal good quality depends on
consumers' trust of the claims. If consumers do not trust all-natural claims, then they do not
signal good quality.
Extrinsic attributes can signal value to a consumer. Consumers' definition of value is
highly personalized and thus varies for individuals. The definitions grouped into four categories
are "(1) value is low price, (2) value is whatever I want in a product, (3) value is the quality I get
for the price I pay, and (4) value is what I get for what I give" (Ziethaml, 1988, p. 13). Perceived
value affects how consumers view the quality of a product and whether or not they will purchase
Grunert, Larsen, Madsen, and Baadsgaard (1996) build on Ziethaml's model (1988) and
others to present a total food quality model, shown in Figure 2-2. The model shows how extrinsic
and intrinsic cues, cost, and expected quality determine the purchase decision. The model also
shows the relationships between expected quality, preparation, consumption, and future
Although the total food quality model has not been tested per se, it provides a common
framework for various tested approaches to food quality perception, including the means-end
approach. The model has proved useful in providing structure for examining and explaining food
safety and quality (Grunert, 2005). The focus groups contributing to the development of the total
food quality model also revealed four major dimensions of food quality, which appear to be
universal in Western industrialized countries. Brunso, Fjord, and Grunert (2002) call them taste
and appearance, health, convenience, and process. Health as a food quality is perceived by how it
affects an individual's health. It also encompasses safety and risk-related perceptions.
Figure 2-2. Grunert, Larsen, Madsen, and Baadsgaard's (1996) total food quality model.
"Convenience means the saving of time, physical or mental energy at one or more stages of
the overall meal process: planning and shopping, storage and preparation of products,
consumption, and the cleaning up and disposal of leftovers" (p. 9). Process, or the way a food is
produced, has become of particular importance to consumers even when it has no bearing on the
taste or healthiness of a product. This quality dimension covers organic production, concerns for
animal welfare, the environment and so on. "This quality dimension is also a credence
characteristic, since the consumer must rely totally on guarantees about production-oriented
quality from various sources" (Brunso, Fjord, & Grunert, 2002, p. 9). These dimensions of
quality are related and can vary from product to product. With respect to all-natural and organic
pork, it may be the case that consumers base perceptions of quality on the beliefs they have about
how the production or processing method affects the quality in terms of taste and healthiness.
The healthiness aspect of pork is an important quality to consumers, and natural production
techniques are closely related to the health quality (Scholderer, Bredahl, & Magnusson, 2004).
Models of consumers' perceptions of quality are applicable to understanding consumers'
perceptions of the quality of all-natural and organic pork and how those quality perceptions are
related to perceived price and value of those products. The model helps us understand how the
perceived quality of all-natural pork is assessed by the consumer, how consumers encode price,
and how price and value play into perceptions of quality.
Organic and Natural Pork Quality Perceptions
Ngapo, et al. (2003) used focus groups to obtain insights into decision-making toward
fresh pork purchases and pig production using consumers in France, England, Sweden, and
Denmark. At the point of purchase, salient extrinsic quality cues were fat cover, price, country of
origin, place of purchase, weight, and date of packing or "best before" date. Other labels on pork
indicating how the pigs are raised were confusing to consumers and many distrusted the limited
information available at the point of purchase.
Grannis and Thilmany (2001) surveyed 1,370 consumers in Colorado, New Mexico, and
Utah to determine what pork production practices are important to them. The pork attributes
studied were no small or crowded pens, no antibiotics, no growth hormones, grazing managed to
protect streams, grazing managed to protect endangered species, and animals born and raised
within 250 miles. No use of hormones and no use of antibiotics had the highest average rating,
while the "local" attribute had the lowest average rating. Antibiotics and hormones may have
been rated highly by consumers surveyed by Grannis and Thilmany because those aspects are
perceived as a health risk to consumers in the United States (Hwang, Roe, & Teisl, 2005).
Bredahl and Poulsen (2002) analyzed focus group data to report how consumers defined
high quality pork. Salient intrinsic quality cues were defined as good taste, tenderness, juiciness,
freshness, leanness, and healthiness. Above all, high quality pork had to taste good. The
researchers also revealed a perceptual link between production method and pork quality, where
consumers perceived pork from pigs raised outdoors to be of higher quality than pork from pigs
raised indoors. Scholderer et al. (2004) found a "halo" effect in consumer quality expectations of
pork with credence attributes, meaning the credence attributes partly became experience
attributes for the consumers. The study concluded that as long as the differences between quality
expectations and quality experiences are small enough, quality expectations raise the level of
The reasons consumers make food purchasing choices are quite complicated. When
determining preference for one food over another, it is difficult to distinguish between effects
caused by an actual difference in the attributes of a food product and effects caused by
individuals having preferences for different attributes. Preferences for meats are most strongly
affected by changes in color/appearance and texture (Risvik, 1994). Whether or not niche market
pork production affects sensory qualities of pork is not clear. Edwards (2005) found a majority of
studies evaluating taste differences between pigs raised outdoors and pigs raised indoors have
shown no difference in juiciness or tenderness, and no studies showed a difference in meat
Scholderer et al. (2004) found that credence attribute labeling affected consumers'
perceptions of the taste of fresh pork. In taste testing, consumers perceived pork chops labeled
"free range" or "organic" to have higher eating quality than pork chops left unlabeled or labeled
"conventional." When comparing the same pork without labels, consumers consistently
perceived the organic pork chops to have a slightly lower eating quality. The study reported that
consumers have high expectations of pork labeled as organic or free range.
Sensory evaluation is the science of judging and evaluating the quality of a food by the use
of the senses, i.e. taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing (Oregon State University Food Resource,
1998). Researchers in the field of sensory evaluation have expressed the need to include sensory
evaluation into marketing strategies because taste is an individual experience affected by a
number of things, including cultural influences, psychosocial influences, situational variables
and expectations (Cardello, 1995b).
Jaeger (2006) proposed synthesizing research in communication and marketing with
research in sensory evaluation to enable a more complete understanding of the non-sensory
factors that influence consumers' relationships with and decisions regarding food. Integrating the
two fields of research reveals that non-sensory factors, including convenience, price, production
technology, personal health, branding, and societal issues do account for some aspects of
consumers' food related behaviors (Jaeger, 2006).
Estimating willingness to pay (WTP) yields beneficial information for agricultural
marketers and policy-makers. Various methods attempting to model realistic considerations for
obtaining consumers' WTP for quality and safety attributes have been a major stem of
agricultural economics research (Grunert, 2005). When scanner data is available, hedonic pricing
methods are used to obtain WTP. Hedonic pricing measures values of the individual
characteristics of a product by looking at how the price people are willing to pay changes when
the characteristics change. When scanner data is not available contingent valuation, experimental
auctions and conjoint analysis are popular methods for obtaining WTP (Grunert, 2005).
Conclusions from WTP studies should be taken with caution, because consumers' price
involvement or awareness is related to many factors. Consumers do not always know or
remember actual prices, so they encode prices in a way that is meaningful to them. For example,
organic and natural foods are encoded by consumers as "expensive" rather than in terms of
actual price. Many food purchases are part of habitual behavior and may not involve a lot of
conscious thought at all (Grunert, 2005).
Price is one of several extrinsic cues available to consumers to judge quality. Ziethaml
(1988) defines price from the consumer's perspective as what is given up or sacrificed to obtain a
product, which includes monetary, time, search and psychic costs. However, Ziethaml's review
of research indicates that the use of price as an indicator of quality varies among consumers. In
categories where quality variation is expected (i.e., cars, jewelry, refrigerators), price may
indicate quality. Where products differ little in price, the consumer may not attribute high quality
to slightly higher cost, as is generally the case with food items.
While price is an important factor in consumer decision making, several studies have
shown that attributes, such as taste, appearance, tenderness, and leanness rank above price in
meat purchasing decisions (Food Processing Center, 2001, Diel & Associates, 2001; Dransfield,
et al., 2005).
A national study of 1,200 consumers in Australia found that organic food preference was
not related exclusively to higher income. The decision to purchase conventional or organic food
relied on a myriad of considerations such as personal preferences, beliefs and practical issues of
cost, availability, and convenience. For organic consumers, the most motivating purchase factors
were health and natural content of foods followed by price. Ethical concerns for the environment
and treatment of animals were rated equivalent to price in overall importance (Lockie, Lyons,
Lawrence, & Mummery, 2002).
Cues to a product's intrinsic attributes, such as all-natural, produced without hormones or
lean labels, affect consumers' perceptions of its quality (Zeithaml, 1988). Consumers are
generally willing to pay more for pork products with labels using terms positively associated
with pork production, such as family-farm raised, no antibiotics, no hormones, and
environmentally friendly production practices (Freese, 2000; Hurley, Miller, & Kliebenstein,
2006; R Parker & Associates, Inc. & Ashcraft Research, 2005). A survey of consumers in north
central U.S. found that 34% of respondents were willing to pay a 10% premium for all-natural
products. However, a consumer would need to be convinced that it is worth a premium of 15, 20,
or even 25% to buy organic and/or all-natural meat because food safety, tenderness, and taste
rank above price (Food Processing Center, 2001). An online survey of 200 female consumers
found that price was the most influential factor in purchase decisions of niche pork products, and
49% of respondents ranked price above every other attribute tested (R Parker & Associates, Inc.
& Ashcraft Research, 2005).
Grannis and Thilmany (2001) used market surveys to estimate consumer willingness-to-
pay for natural pork products in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. They found that a significant
proportion of respondents were willing to pay a 9% premium for natural ham and a 10%
premium for natural pork chops. A study with European consumers found that consumers were
willing to pay about 3% extra for pork when all characteristics of appearance and labeling stating
"home country produced" and "raised outdoors" were available. After tasting the labeled
product, they were willing to pay between 4% and 10% more (Dransfield, et al., 2005).
Organic and Natural Claims Labeling Perceptions
"In the United States, the federal government is increasingly using informational labeling
as a means of shaping (a) consumers' knowledge, purchasing patterns, and use practices, and (b)
manufacturers' product offerings and marketing practices" (Caswell & Mojduszka, 1996, p.
Patchwork methods of organic certification and consumer confusion about organic food in
the United States resulted in the implementation of national standards for the production and
labeling in the National Organic Program. Since most producers see organic certification as a
marketing tool, labeling guidelines are one of the most important sections in certification
standards. Most of the differences in labeling guidelines and certification systems were relatively
minor, except in the area of livestock production. The uniform national standard for organic
significantly impacts the market by increasing buyer confidence (Fetter & Caswell, 2002).
Consumers want to be assured their food is safe and organic food is often equated with
safer food. Perceptions of food safety and risk typically relate to concern about food production
technologies. In the United States, concern is highest for pesticides and hormones, followed by
antibiotics, genetic modification, and irradiation (Hwang, Roe, & Teisl, 2005). The USDA
organic regulations address these concerns and the USDA certified organic label distinguishes
the food as free of those perceived risks. The United States government frames the organic label
as a "marketing label," and rejects the idea that organic food production would have relative
advantages to the environment, health or food quality (Bostrom & Klintman, 2003). The organic
label, natural claims and production technique claims are not meant to differentiate the food as
safer, but unintentionally, they may have. Government regulations have typically been used to
distinguish between safe and unsafe foods; therefore, organic standards could give consumers the
impression that conventionally produced foods are unsafe (Klonsky & Tourte, 1998).
The organic label signals quality to the consumer because it is certified by a reputable
certification agent whom consumers trust -the USDA. Previous research has demonstrated that
quality signaling is most easily accomplished through the use of a certified label (Zarkin &
Anderson, 1992; Caswell & Mojduszka, 1996; Auriol & Schilizzi, 2003). "Certification may be
defined as a process whereby an unobservable quality level of some product is made known to
the consumer through some guarantee system, usually issued by a third independent party"
(Auriol & Schilizzi, 2003, p. 10). Organic products overcome the problem of quality signaling
because they are certified by the USDA. Natural meat products differentiating themselves
through claims on labeling such as "raised outdoors," "fed natural feed," and "family-farm
raised" have difficulty signaling quality. These claims on pork labels are often confusing and
mistrusted by European consumers (Ngapo, et al., 2003). Distrust in food product claims results
if the information source is perceived to be promoting their own vested interests or are perceived
as unaccountable or over accountable to others (Frewer, et al., 1996).
Quality labels, like "all-natural," is a fuzzy category that covers many different things
Quality labels can be awarded by manufacturers, groups of manufacturers, retailers,
government bodies, and independent organizations, for example, consumer associations.
The criteria for awarding the labels can be very strict or almost non-existent. Some labels
refer to very specific qualities, such as the labels indicating organic production, whereas
others are intended as general quality labels (p. 378).
Studies on consumer perceptions of pork with credence attributes found that consumers
prefer an abundance of information on packaging labels; however, just giving consumers more
information will not reduce asymmetry when consumers do not feel confident about using the
information (Grunert, 2005). Although quality labels are important to differentiate a product and
demand a higher price, consumers may need other quality cues more familiar to them, such as
the color of the meat, date of packaging, visible fat content, and taste to be convinced of its
The variation in pork producer-set standards for all-natural and consumer confusion about
the meaning of the term is reminiscent of the patchwork of state and regional standards for
organic. One package of pork labeled as all-natural may only refer to the processing as USDA
policy stipulates, while its shelf neighbor may use it to refer to various production techniques as
well. Understandably, producers want to use legitimate production/process claims to capture a
piece of the high-dollar market for such products. However, coupling those claims with the term
all-natural may have led to consumer confusion about the meaning of the term. The USDA
National Organic Program website (2002b) and the NichePork (part of National Pork Board)
website (2006) address the question of natural versus organic, so the policy-makers and
marketers are aware of this confusion. Studies have shown consumers are not aware of the
standards behind production and processing claims and often mistrust and are confused by those
claims (Ngapo, et al., 2003; California Institute for Rural Studies, 2005). The prevalence of
natural and all-natural labeled meat products exceeds the prevalence of organic labeled meat
products. Consumers are generally willing to pay more for these products, but need to be
convinced of their quality (Freese, 2000; Hurley, Miller, & Kliebenstein, 2006; R Parker &
Associates, Inc. & Ashcraft Research, 2005). Understanding consumers' perceptions and
intentions to buy all-natural pork products is important for differentiating these products and
developing effective marketing plans around signaling good quality to consumers. Exposing the
confusion consumers may perceive over the term "all-natural" is helpful to regulatory bodies and
policy makers if they seek to build credibility for pork products that use the term and for those
that do not. Perceptions consumers have surrounding all-natural pork products can be explored
in-depth through focus group methodology. In Europe, the use of focus groups has proven
effective in revealing consumers' perceptions of pork with various production and processing
claims (Bredahl & Poulsen, 2002; Ngapo, et al., 2003; Scholderer et al. 2004).
A review of the literature demonstrates that consumers generally associate organic labels
and production claims (i.e., no antibiotics, raised outdoors, locally grown) on pork packaging
with perceptions of quality in terms of taste and price/value (Dransfield, et al., 2005; Npago, et
al. 2003; Grannis & Thimany, 2002). However, pork with production claims on the labeling may
not be perceived by consumers as signaling quality, because the claims are often mistrusted and
confusing (Npago, et al. 2003). The "all-natural" claim, in particular, has not been explored
using focus groups, nor has it been explored in comparison to the organic label. The purpose of
this study was to utilize focus group methods to describe consumers' perceptions of pork
products with an "all-natural" label and gather their reactions to marketing materials for these
After reviewing the literature, four research questions were developed as follows:
* RQ1: What are the perceptions of a representative sample of consumers toward the terms
"organic" and "all-natural" in reference to pork products?
* RQ2: What are their reactions to the USDA organic standards for meat production and
policy for natural claims?
* RQ3: What are their taste perceptions of all-natural pork products?
* RQ4: How do their taste perceptions affect their attitudes toward the price of all-natural
Design of the Study
This study was qualitative in nature, using focus group methodology to explore a sample of
consumers' perceptions of the terms "organic" and "all-natural" in reference to pork. A
qualitative study was determined to be most appropriate to answer the research questions posed
in this study. Qualitative studies intend to explore and describe complicated topics in rich detail.
They can be used to illustrate what has already been uncovered through quantitative methods or
lay the groundwork for more rigorous investigation. In qualitative studies the researcher is the
instrument, which allows for flexibility as unforeseen, related information emerges (Guba &
Lincoln, 1989). Focus groups are one way to achieve the purposes and goals of qualitative
Focus group discussions create a process of sharing and comparing among the participants
to provide the context and depth behind their thoughts and experiences (Morgan & Krueger,
1998). "Focus groups can provide insight into complicated topics where opinions or attitudes are
conditional or where the area of concern relates to multifaceted behavior or motivation"
(Krueger, 1994, p. 45). This type of research methodology is representative of reality because
open-ended questions allow participants to respond in their own words. The focus group
discussion format encourages interaction among participants and allows people to change their
opinions based on discussion with other participants. The moderator also has flexibility to further
probe unanticipated areas related to the topic that would otherwise not be discovered using a
more structured questioning design. Focus groups have high face validity because the technique
is easily understood and results are presented in an uncomplicated format (Morgan & Kreuger,
The conversations among participants in focus groups are particularly useful for
understanding behavior and motivation. Focus groups may not always reveal deep motivational
insights, but they can show that "people may be less logical, less thoughtful, and less organized
than expected" (Morgan & Krueger, 1998, p. 58). The ability of the moderator to both direct and
follow the discussion is useful to get participants to articulate their motivations, feelings, and
opinions. The participants also bounce ideas and questions off each other, allowing them to
become more explicit about their own views.
Screening Process and Subject Selection
The University of Florida's Institutional Review Board approved this research study prior
to the screening process and focus group meetings (Appendix A). A series of two focus groups
were conducted in Gainesville, Florida, on July 15, 2006. In first week of July 2006, the
University of Florida Survey Research Center recruited participants from Alachua County in
north central Florida using standard random digit telephone dialing techniques. The screening
questionnaire (Appendix B) used to identify participants for the focus group sessions emphasized
the importance of potential participants' insights and opinions on the topic of all-natural pork.
Questions were asked to ensure the participants would be familiar with food packages and also
willing to engage in the taste-testing portion of the focus groups. The questionnaire identified
people who were the primary purchasers of food for their households and meat (including pork)
eaters. Questions about age, race, ethnicity, gender, and income were asked to ensure that groups
were diverse. Participants were also offered a $50 incentive as compensation for participating in
the focus groups.
A total of 19 participants were recruited nine for the first session and 10 for the second
session. Morgan and Kreuger (1998) recommend over-recruiting to achieve an ample number of
attendees. A personalized invitation was sent one week before the focus group session (Appendix
C) and each participant was telephoned the day before the session to remind them of the session
and determine if they would attend. These tactics emphasized the importance of their
participation and helped increase actual attendance.
The questioning route (Appendix D) used in both focus group sessions was peer-reviewed
by members of the Agricultural Education and Communication Department familiar with focus
group procedure to ensure its quality and validity. Wording, structure, and order were carefully
chosen to maximize effectiveness and to ensure unbiased language. Included in the questioning
route was time to review and discuss a single-page handout listing the USDA's organic standards
and natural claims policy as they apply to meat (see Figure 3-1) in the same language available
to and intended for consumers on its websites.
USDA "Natural" Standards for Meat Products USDA "Organic" Standards for Meat Products
* No artificial ingredients
* No coloring ingredients
* No chemical preservatives
* Product and ingredients minimally
processed (minimally processed means the
raw product is not fundamentally altered,
such as most fresh meat/poultry)
* Label must explain the use of the term
"natural" (such as no added colorings or
artificial ingredients; no hormones)
Fed 100% organic feed
Vitamin and mineral supplements allowed
No growth hormones or antibiotics
Vaccines allowed to keep animal healthy
Producers may not withhold treatment for a
sick or injured animal, but if the animal is
treated with a prohibited medication (e.g.,
antibiotics) it may not be sold as organic
Animals must have access to outdoors, but
may be temporarily confined only for health
reasons, safety, animal's stage of
production, or to protect soil/water quality
Processing and packaging must be done in
a way to prevent mixing the organic product
with non-organic products and prohibited
The above standards set by the USDA National
Organic Program apply to any farm or handling
operation that wants to sell an agricultural product
as organically produced.
Figure 3-1. Handout to focus group participants regarding USDA policies for organic and natural
claims. Standards for "Natural" obtained from USDA Food and Safety Inspection
Service (1999) "Natural and organic claims." Standards for "Organic" obtained from
USDA National Organic Program (2002a).
During the development of the questioning route, this was the only information available.
Since then, the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service (2006) redesigned its website
pertaining to meat and poultry labels and included the information that "federal regulations
prohibit the use of hormones" in pork production on the same page that defines the term
"natural" (para. 18-19). The handout was designed so that it could be read relatively quickly and
with ease to make certain the session stayed within the approximate two-hour time constraint. It
was not provided until after an initial discussion of the terms "organic" and "all-natural" to
ensure the information would not affect participants' original perceptions.
Taste-testing was also incorporated into each focus group to obtain participants' taste
perceptions and to see whether or not tasting the product affected their price attitudes and
willingness to pay for all-natural pork products. A survey feedback form (see Appendix E) was
designed to gather each participant's reaction to each pork sample before they discussed their
reactions with the rest of the group. This was done to help the participants think about the taste
of each sample and record their thoughts for discussion.
On July 15, 2006, the researchers conducted two focus groups in Gainesville, Florida, with
a total of 15 participants (seven in one session and eight in the other). Participants included eight
females and seven males; ages ranged from 22 to 66, with white and African American ethnic
representation. The ideal focus group size is six to ten participants because this size range
provides enough difference in opinions to stimulate a discussion (Morgan & Kreuger, 1998).
Two focus groups in the same setting is the minimum needed for validity. Each session lasted
two hours and the moderator followed standard focus group procedures (Krueger, 1994; Morgan,
1997). The moderator used a structured questioning route to provide consistency between the
two sessions (Morgan, 1997).
Each session began with explanations of the purpose of the focus group and brief
instructions. Before getting into formal questions, general introductions encouraged participants
to become comfortable in the group setting and also identified the characteristics the participants
shared. Participants were first asked to provide information about their food and meat shopping
behaviors. These questions were intended to promote conversation among all participants.
Discussion then centered on participants' understanding of the terms "organic" and "all-natural"
and then narrowed in on those terms in reference to pork products. Following unaided discussion
questions, participants were provided a single page handout listing the USDA's organic
standards and natural claims (Figure 3-1) to gather their opinions about the standards and policy
for organic and natural labeled meat.
In the second half of each session, participants engaged in affective testing (one component
of sensory evaluation or sensory analysis). The purpose of affective testing is to gather subjective
data of the product being evaluated (Bopp, 1997). The first taste test was a comparison of an all-
natural pork loin sample to a conventional pork loin sample. For the purpose of this study,
"conventional" is used to describe pork products that were not produced in ways that would
qualify them for all-natural or organic status. The all-natural pork used in consumer testing was
natural pork (in accordance with USDA policy) from pigs raised outdoors, and produced with 1)
no antibiotics or growth-stimulant hormones, 2) no meat by-products in feed, and 3) growers
following an animal welfare protocol. Participants were only told they were comparing an all-
natural pork sample to a conventional pork sample. This taste test was a double-blind taste test in
that neither the participants nor the moderator knew which product was the all-natural pork.
Once both samples had been tested, the moderator asked participants to compare the two
pork loins to determine which one they preferred and decide if there was a difference between
the two samples. After tasting each sample, each participant recorded initial reactions on a
survey feedback form (Appendix E). Participants were then told by the chef which sample was
the all-natural pork loin and the moderator asked for reaction. Following the comparison taste
test, participants tasted all-natural ground pork and all-natural spare ribs with no comparison
samples. Again, participants recorded initial reactions on a survey feedback form. Following
each taste test, the moderator asked participants for their reactions about the products tasted.
The moderator then led participants in a price threshold exercise with four cuts of pork
(loin roast, chops, ground pork, and spare ribs). For each cut, the moderator showed the price per
pound for the all-natural product and the conventional product. Participants were then asked for
their reaction to the price difference and how many would be willing to pay for the all-natural
product (as it was always more expensive).
At the end of each session, the moderator briefly summarized the main points of the
discussion, watching participant body language for agreement, hesitation, or confusion, and
asked if the summary was accurate and allowed for comments and questions (Krueger, 1998).
Before leaving, participants received $50 compensation for their time and a package of the
client's all-natural boneless pork loin. They were not aware they would be additionally
compensated with the pork product until after the completion of session.
The focus group sessions were recorded using audio, video, and field notes. During the
discussion, the moderator took brief notes and two assistant moderators took detailed notes,
including body language and complete statements from participants. The assistant moderators
and videographer remained unobtrusive to the focus group discussion. The moderator kept track
of which participants were not speaking often and occasionally addressed them directly to elicit
insights from all participants. This tactic also helped the more reserved participants become more
comfortable speaking. Video recordings offered further analysis of body language, tone, and
caught audio for the few quotes that were unclear during audio cassette transcriptions.
After each session, the assistant moderators and moderator collaborated in a debriefing
discussion to be sure all of the main points were understood and recorded, and discussed
reactions and key themes. This also helped identify differences between the two sessions.
Sessions were transcribed and analyzed by using Glaser's (1978) constant comparative
technique. Researchers looked for common themes, similarities and dissimilarities, observations
of non-verbals, interactions, and reactions to product and price threshold stimuli. Transcripts
were coded for themes, and categories created. As themes emerged, they were compared to
existing categories to look for common relationships. New categories were created for distinct
themes that did not fit existing categories.
Credibility, Transferability, Dependability, and Confirmability
Credibility in qualitative studies is equivalent to internal validity in quantitative studies. It
involves how well the research accurately represented the insights and opinions of the
participants (Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 2002). This study achieved credibility through consensus
by conducting peer debriefing with colleagues familiar with focus group methodology
throughout the development, implementation, and analysis of this study. Colleagues were
provided raw data and the researcher's analysis to corroborate findings. Focus group participant
feedback was also elicited at the end of each session to confirm the accuracy of the main points.
To control for bias in the analysis, the researcher conducted negative case sampling by looking
for themes and examples opposite of expectations. For example, the researcher expects
consumers to be uninformed about the USDA policy for all-natural labels, so by looking for
examples of participants' knowledge of the definition of "all-natural" the researcher employs
negative case sampling. This technique "makes it more difficult to ignore certain information"
(Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 2002, p. 454).
Transferability is analogous with external validity in quantitative studies and refers to the
generalizability of qualitative findings. The ability to apply this study's findings to other groups
of people in different places and at different times, depends on how well the findings fit with the
other contexts. This study did not aim for generalizable findings. Instead, the goal was to
understand the topic in-depth. The results of this study applied to different contexts will require
judgments and comparisons by the potential user (Ary, Jacobs, & Razavieh, 2002).
Dependability is similar to reliability, but instead it addresses the consistency of the data
analysis over time. The researchers met this criterion by using an audit trail, including original
data analysis, codes, semantic relationships, and listing of all domains for verification and
trustworthiness. The researcher also used the code-recode strategy by coding the data, leaving it
for a period of time and then re-coding to match the two sets of coded material (Ary, Jacobs, &
Confirmability in qualitative studies is the same as objectivity in quantitative studies.
"Qualitative researchers are concerned with whether the data they collect and the conclusions
they draw would be confirmed by others investigating the same situation" (Ary, Jacobs, &
Razavieh, 2002, p. 456). The audit trail, in which contains all data in raw form and clear notes on
the printed transcripts, was the strategy used to meet this criterion.
In qualitative studies the researcher is the instrument, so it is important to acknowledge the
researcher's background, interests, and beliefs that have shaped this research. The researcher
studies communication within the field of agriculture and is particularly attentive to the labeling
and marketing of meat products. Once an organic foods shopper, the researcher is sensitive to
organic consumers' interests. Personal influences and knowledge acquisition about conventional
agriculture production has since deflated the researcher's preference for organic foods. The
researcher's continued interest in the organic and natural foods phenomenon sparked this
exploration of consumers' perceptions surrounding these labels. Despite these beliefs, previous
experiences, and background, the researcher kept these separate from the data collection and
analysis to conduct credible research and allow the conclusions to emerge from results.
Summary of Methodology
The researchers used two focus groups in Gainesville, Florida, with participants who were
the primary food purchasers for their household and pork consumers, and lived in Alachua
County. Both groups were diverse demographically and each group contained at least one
organic shopper. Each session was recorded using audio and video recording devices, while one
assistant moderator took handwritten notes and the other typed notes during the sessions. Data
were analyzed by looking for common themes, similarities and dissimilarities, observations of
non-verbals, interactions, and reactions to product and price threshold stimuli. Transcripts were
coded for themes, and categories created. All conclusions were peer reviewed by the research
committee and appropriate strategies were used to address credibility, transferability,
dependability, confirmability, and reflexivity.
This chapter presents the findings of two focus group sessions. The purpose of this study
was to describe consumers' perceptions of pork products with an "all-natural" label. To achieve
this purpose, focus group discussions addressed 1) participants' perceptions of the terms
"organic" and "all-natural" in reference to pork products, 2) participants' reactions to the USDA
organic standards for meat production and policy for natural claims, 3) participants' taste
perceptions of all-natural pork products, and 4) participants' attitudes toward the price of all-
natural pork products as affected by tasting all-natural pork. Results are presented in order of the
research questions in narrative format based on the participants' discussion.
Participants' demographics and reported food purchasing-related behaviors contribute to
the understanding of the findings. Potential participants answered demographic questions during
the telephone screening process and efforts were made to select for a diverse and representative
group in terms of income, age, race, and gender (Table 4-1). The median household income in
Gainesville, Florida is $31,426 (Gainesville Facts, n.d.). Participants were also asked if they
purchase organic or all-natural foods to ensure they would be familiar with these types of
products. During the focus group discussions, participants were asked about their food
purchasing behavior/preferences and food information sources. Each participant was given an
opportunity to answer these questions to ensure everyone had provided their individual
responses. Most participants shopped at the regional grocery chains Publix, Albertson's, and
Winn Dixie. Some shopped at local independent grocers, including Wards and Hitchcock's. Few
indicated that they shopped at national grocery chains, such as Sam's Club. Only three out of the
15 total participants considered themselves regular organic foods shoppers. Participants reported
receiving their food-related information from a variety of media sources, including the Internet,
newspapers, magazines, ads, TV commercials, cooking shows, Food Network, magazines,
samples in the grocery store, and televised news.
Table 4-1. Demographics of focus group participants
Income Do you
more or purchase
less than organic or all-
Group Participant Age Race $30,000 Gender natural foods?
One 1 47 African American More Female Yes
One 2 47 White Less Female Yes
One 3 26 White More Male Yes
One 4 37 White More Male Yes
One 5 42 African American More Female Yes
One 6 41 White More Female Yes
One 7 66 White More Male Yes
One 8 41 White More Female Yes
One 9 26 African American More Female No
Two 10 38 White More Female Yes
Two 11 37 White More Male Yes
Two 12 45 White More Female Yes
Two 13 24 African American Less Female Yes
Two 14 44 White More Female Yes
Two 15 22 African American Less Male No
Two 16 25 African American Less Female Yes
Two 17 53 White More Male Yes
Two 18 28 White More Female Yes
Two 19 55 White More Male Yes
Fifteen of the selected participants (Table 4-1) were in attendance for the focus group
sessions, seven in the first and eight in the second. Based on moderator's and assistant
moderators' observations, both groups were diverse in age range. The first group had one
African American female, three white females, and three white males. The second group had one
African American female, three white females, one African American male, and three white
males. It is important to note that most selected participants indicated they do purchase organic
or all-natural foods in the screening questionnaire to ensure they were aware of these food
products. The question posed during the focus group discussion revealed a different answer
(most did not consider themselves organic shoppers) from the majority of participants, because it
was phrased to determine if they considered themselves regular organic foods shoppers.
Perceptions of All-Natural and Organic
To explore this research question, participants were asked to define the terms "all-natural"
and "organic" as associated with pork products. Themes discovered surrounding perceptions of
"all-natural" were the mistrust or skepticism that all-natural means anything at all, the idea that
all-natural means "no" (no hormones, no antibiotics, no chemicals, etc.), and the connection
between all-natural pork and superior welfare for the pigs. Themes discovered surrounding
perceptions of "organic" were similar to the "no" theme seen in perceptions of all-natural, but
also included the perception that organic foods are healthier, "from the garden," and more
Skepticism Surrounding All-Natural
The first group immediately expressed skepticism surrounding the term "all-natural," while
the second group expressed this shortly after initial responses indicating "no preservatives, no
additives, no antibiotics" and "no fertilizer." Although the majority of participants in both groups
felt the term all-natural meant "not loaded with chemicals," most expressed skepticism as to the
validity of manufacturer claims in this respect. "I don't think that anything is truly natural. I'm
skeptical," was a common response. Participants were not convinced all-natural means anything.
"All-natural isn't exactly what you think."
Another related theme that emerged here was that the term might be a marketing or
advertising ploy. A participant in the second group called the term, "a form of advertisement. I
don't believe it." Participants in both groups, unaided, brought up that they did not know
regulations for all-natural products. A typical statement was, "I know for organic there are laws,
but I don't know if there are any for natural." Some participants in group two ultimately decided
that there were no guidelines for using the term "all-natural" on product labeling. "I don't think
they need guidelines for all-natural." "Just like 'diet.'"
All-Natural Means "No"
Despite their skepticism, participants in both groups had similar responses, indicating
perceptions of the term "all-natural" as meaning "no" no preservatives, no additives, no
antibiotics, no hormones, no extra liquids in the meats, no phosphates, and no chemicals.
According to a participant, "all-natural means it has less bad stuff." Another remarked, "That it
was a real animal." Participants often qualified their statements about preservatives, additives,
antibiotics, hormones, extra liquids, phosphates, and animal welfare in a negative tone,
emphasizing that these are concerns for them. "So all-natural, to me, means that hopefully it's
not had hormones shot into it to make it fatter." Participants said pork with this label designation
would be fresher and "untreated." One participant termed it, "All pig and nothing but pig." All
participants had negative reactions to use of chemicals, feeling all-natural conveyed less
chemicals used in food production.
Some participants also expressed confusion about what the term meant, although that did
not necessarily influence their overall perception of the product. Said one participant from group
one, "Well I really don't know what all-natural means. Sure it sounds good, and I would
probably buy something that said all-natural over something that didn't say all-natural."
Participants in this group all agreed with this statement.
With respect to meat and pork products and labeling, participants immediately brought up
a local all-natural chicken producer, which participants perceived as having promoted its
products as "no hormones, no antibiotics, no additives, no preservatives." One participant
summed up this theme, saying:
... Teach me, show me, that if you say, at Bob's Farm when we sell you our pork and it
says all-natural, it means we didn't put a bunch of preservatives in it... it wasn't pumped
full of water, and nothing was added, phosphates weren't added. Like that Sanderson
Farms, the chicken people. I mean they say "oh, we don't have any phosphates." I don't
know if phosphates are good for me or bad for me, but when they tell me they don't have
any I start thinking maybe we should get that chicken.
All-Natural Pork Associated with Animal Welfare
Several participants focused on the connection between all-natural and livestock raised free
range, particularly in group one. One participant said, "I think of Martha Stewart and the free
range turkeys" in response to what comes to mind when they see the term all-natural on a
package of meat.
They also associated the term with the idea that the pigs from which these products were
produced would be small-farm raised, fed natural foods, and/or fed organic foods. A woman in
group one said, "I would hope that what [the pig] was eating was a better quality. Like feeding
your dog the Cheap Charlie instead of like Science diet." Another from this group said:
I would hope that it means fewer hormones and fewer antibiotics. I would hope that all-
natural would mean that somebody's grandparents raised it on a farm somewhere rather
than they were locked in a little metal cubbyhole where they couldn't turn around with a
feeding tube in one end and an IV in the other side. Filling it full of things just to keep it
alive long enough to get it to slaughter.
Organic Means "Healthy"
When asked to define what the term "organic" meant to them, participants in both groups
had both positive and negative reactions. One participant in group two summed up the definition
of organic foods by saying "[organic foods are] without chemicals, pesticides, hormone-free,
from animals fed organic and not meat products, but may not look as pretty." All participants in
both groups said organic means "no pesticides"; others said it also means "[livestock] weren't
fed ground-up animals," and "vegetables haven't been wiped with vegetable oil and wax."
Some immediately thought of these foods as "tasteless" or tasting "like cardboard."
Participants in both groups said that organic "was better for you." One woman commented, "I
think that it's probably better for you than all-natural." Some participants in group one and all in
group two said organic foods taste better, and all perceived these foods as "healthier." Several
members of both groups indicated that organic foods were very important to them. A man in
group one said, "[Organic] means you don't have to worry, this was raised by tested methods
that are safe, healthy and natural." Said another in group one, "Organic is really important to me.
My wife and I grow organic tomatoes, but it's difficult to make it organic, and it takes a while to
do it because of pesticides and such. No pesticides is an important factor." Other members of this
participant's group spent some time picturing tomatoes as representative of organic foods in
which they would be interested.
When discussing their perceived criteria for all-natural and organic foods in group one, all
participants agreed that these were "individual concerns." One participant said:
I'm not that concerned, because after getting away from home-grown things, I figure
something's not going to be good for you no matter what you do. It's great to take
precautions, nothing's 100%, and I think every shopper is going to be different about that.
Organic Equated with Produce
Participants in both groups identified organic as having more to do with food coming from
the garden or "the earth." Said one, "It's very much more like what came out of your garden."
Participants typically referenced fruits and vegetables when discussing their perceptions of
organic, an example being "I don't care if all the tomatoes are uniform shape... I would like my
tomatoes to taste like a tomato."
Most participants equated organic food with produce; few considered the term organic as
relating to meats. A common statement being, "I never thought of meat as being organic." A
participant in group one described organic in relation to all-natural as:
Basically a high-tech way of saying all-natural, but there's a little bit more to it. I think
people are a little more aware of the process, where with all-natural we're not really sure
what it actually means. In organic we know that it means no pesticides, but I can only
equate that with vegetables. I never thought of meat as being organic.
Organic Foods Cost More
All participants perceived organic foods to cost more. Only one out of seven in the first
group and two out of eight in the second group were organic shoppers, due to price
considerations. Some indicated they sometimes buy organic vegetables, but not other products.
Price was a factor for most participants, as well as differences in family members' food
preferences. One woman in group two offered, "My husband doesn't care ...if he wants it, he'll
eat it. But if I see two products on the shelf and they're the same price and one says all-natural or
organic, I'll buy that. But if it's a two or three dollar difference, I'll buy whatever is cheaper."
Said another in group one, "We try to buy the organic, but sometimes price enters the picture
...being that we don't have any children, most of the time we don't even bother."
Reactions to USDA Standards for Organic and Policy for Natural Claims
To gather participants' reactions to the USDA standards for organic meat production and
policy for natural claims, they were provided a one-page handout listing this information from
the USDA. The theme that emerged from the focus groups surrounding this objective was
confusion and unanswered questions/concerns about the differences between organic and all-
natural. Participants posed numerous questions throughout this part of the discussion.
Confusion Surrounding Differences between USDA Standards and Guidelines
Most participants in both groups said they did not understand the differences between the
organic and all-natural labeling guidelines prior to reading the handout. A common statement
was, "I kind of knew that organic was much more specific than all-natural, but I couldn't have
told you what all-natural included." Participants in group one were particularly confused and all
agreed they still had many unanswered questions after reading the handout.
Many questions were raised by participants in response to the handout, such as: "Now I'm
questioning what is 'artificial' really?" "Do they put coloring in organic fruits?"and "Do I have
to meet all of these guidelines [points to organic] and all of these [points to all-natural]?"
When discussing the differences between the two terms, one woman in group two said,
"Seeing what natural doesn't have, and what organic doesn't have, doesn't necessarily tell you
what the other guys do have." Another participant offered, "I buy a lot of chicken. So I usually
see that packages that say all-natural and I pick it up. I've never really paid attention to the
organic, but now I'll pay more attention, I think."
Participants in both groups brought up concerns for the animals' welfare in response to the
standards for organic, such as "concerned about the animals" and "the things I can't see
...because I can't go hang out at the farm it came from." Another participant said:
What struck me the most was that 'animals must have access to outdoors' and they don't
mention that under the [all-natural standards]. So does that mean that they naturally
confine all the animals, and otherwise, unless they're raised organic, they're kind of stuck
Participants in group one all agreed that if a product is organic it should also be all-natural,
but that it is not clear from reading the handout. A common statement being, "To me organic
should mean all-natural. Say 'not only are we organic, but we're also all-natural."
Group two brought up additional perceptions concerning their preferences for locally
grown food and buying local, which was not addressed on the handout or by the moderator. "I
think it's important to think locally when you buy anything," said one man from this group. An
organic shopper said she prefers to buy produce even if it is not labeled organic at a local grocer
because "they have the better quality food." Many perceived local food (in particular, fruit and
vegetable produce) as fresher and better tasting. One man said, "In my opinion [locally produced
food] is always better because it hasn't been handled as much or shipped as far."
Making the Information Clearer to Consumers
Participants were also asked to offer suggestions for ways to make the information about
organic standards and natural claims clearer to consumers like themselves. The overwhelming
response from both groups was to provide the information through advertising campaigns. Both
groups referred to a recent local advertising campaign (participants referred to billboards and TV
commercials) from Sanderson Farms, which, many said, was in terms they understand. A
common suggestion for advertising campaigns was, "If we're using an all-natural label, this is
what you can be assured it means. It means we're not pumping it full of X, Y, and, Z. You know
that it was free range."
Participants in group two suggested posting the information from the USDA in the grocery
store in a manner that is quick to read and easy to understand. One woman said:
I have to read quickly. So if I'm looking for something that doesn't have preservatives,
doesn't have chemicals, I need to see that fully. Because not only am I trying to compare
prices and do math, I'm trying to keep a five-year-old from running three aisles away.
The participants all agreed that having a separate section or aisles for organic food is
helpful. Since price typically came up as the dominant barrier preventing participants from
buying organic, one man offered: "Post [the information] on the butcher counter so people can
know why they're paying more."
Taste Perceptions of All-Natural Pork
To explore participants' taste perceptions of all-natural pork, they moved to another room
which had been set up with tableware and silverware. They then participated in a double-blind
taste testing of an all-natural roasted boneless pork loin sample produced by a local company as
compared to a similarly cut and prepared conventional product sample. The themes discovered
here were perceptions that all-natural boneless pork loin tastes better than conventional pork loin,
differing taste expectations of all-natural pork, and differing taste preferences.
All-Natural Boneless Pork Loin Tastes Better
The all-natural boneless pork loin samples produced by Madison Farms All-Natural Pork
and conventional boneless pork loin samples from a grocery store were prepared to the same
internal temperature with no added ingredients. An objective observer ensured the two pork
samples were prepared the same. Before the identity of the pork products was revealed, most in
both groups said they could taste a difference between the two pork dishes. Both groups
preferred the texture and flavor of the all-natural pork sample and said the conventional pork
sample was drier, not as flavorful, and "mushier." Typical comments from participants that fell
under this category included the following: "The second one just doesn't have the flavor the first
"The second portion just seemed to be a little bit more dense and dry."
"I noticed mostly the texture, 'cause I don't like mushy meat. I think it should be kind of
firm. So the second one tasted mushier."
"Yes, I thought the first sample was moist and flavorful; even the skin portion that I ate
was not greasy. And the second portion just seemed to be a little bit more dense and dry."
Differing Taste Expectations
There was some difference between groups with respect to their perceptions as to which
meat product was all-natural and which one was conventionally produced. Although both groups
preferred the flavor and texture of the all-natural boneless pork loin sample, they differed in how
they expected each type to taste. Before the identity of each sample was revealed, group one
associated what they perceived as good taste with the all-natural pork and labeled the all-natural
pork as all-natural when guessing which sample was which. Participants in group two noted a
difference in the leanness or fat content of the samples. Said one "I think that the first one had a
little more fat, which I know is not good for you." Group two associated poor taste and the
seemingly leaner pork with all-natural and labeled the conventional pork as all-natural.
After the moderator told the participants which sample was which, both groups said they
would buy the all-natural pork they had tasted. In the first group, a participant stated, "I would
now buy all-natural. I would look for a label that says all-natural." All participants in this group
then concurred. Group one noticed a color difference between the two and said that the
conventional one may have had artificial coloring added. Both groups noticed a difference in
texture, attributing this to outdoor production practices. "Because the (all-natural pork) was
firmer, maybe it's because those pigs got to run around more and have more muscle" said one
woman in group one.
Differing Taste Preferences
After the blind taste comparison, participants in both groups were given the opportunity to
taste several other all-natural pork products and record and state their reactions. Participants
tasted all-natural ground pork, and then spare ribs from the same company. Although most were
not familiar with the company's pork, and did not buy these cuts regularly, participants found
this product appealing on several fronts. They found the ground pork to be "not fatty or greasy,"
"less fatty than hamburger," and "tastes just like pork," although both groups thought it needed
seasoning. The majority of participants in both groups liked and would purchase this product.
Participants had differing taste perceptions of the all-natural spare ribs. The participants
said the ribs they tasted were too dry; however, both groups also noted that people have different
taste preferences for ribs in terms of how dry they are. Three members of both group one and
group two stated they liked the all-natural ribs. In the first group, the majority of members said
they would buy it; however, no one made this claim in the second group.
A woman in group one explained that being from Louisiana, she prefers "a lot of flavor" in
her pork. She often responded that the pork she sampled, specifically the ground pork and spare
ribs, needed more spices and flavor to suite her taste preferences.
Unaided, the participants in group one brought up the generic pork marketing campaign,
"Pork: The other white meat." One woman said, "I remember they used to have those
commercials saying 'the other white meat,' so I would look to see if [the pork] looks really
white. So it looks sort of like chicken to me." Several participants in this group noted the color of
the all-natural boneless pork loin compared to the conventional boneless pork loin sample. One
participant questioned if the conventional sample had added coloring to make it whiter in color.
Results from Taste Questionnaire
A survey feedback form (see Appendix E) was designed to gather each participant's
reaction to each pork sample before they discussed their reactions with the rest of the group. This
was done to help the participants think about the taste of each sample and record their thoughts
for discussion. The results from the brief survey forms differed from each group's consensus,
especially in group two. Overall, group one's written comments were in agreement with their
spoken comments about each sample of pork. The comments differed only in that most indicated
their likelihood of buying the all-natural ground pork product as average, whereas during
discussion all agreed they would buy this product. Group two demonstrated some major
differences between discussion and survey feedback. Written comments from the double-blind
comparison between the all-natural sample and convention sample indicated an equal number of
positive and negative taste perceptions. When asked to compare the samples they had just tasted
on the survey form, three indicated the conventional sample tasted better than the all-natural
sample, three indicated it tasted worse, and two indicated it tasted the same. However, during
discussion all participants came to the consensus that the first sample or all-natural sample tasted
Taste Perceptions and Willingness to Pay for All-Natural Pork Products
To explore how participants' taste perceptions of all-natural pork affect their attitudes
toward the price of these products, a willingness-to-pay exercise was conducted. The moderator
used index cards marked with the price per pound of four cuts of pork (loin, chops, ground pork,
and ribs), three of which participants had tasted. The moderator showed the prices for both all-
natural and conventional products, and then asked participants about their willingness to pay.
Themes that emerged here were, first, that tasting a product influences their willingness to pay a
premium for all-natural pork products and second, that marketing how these products taste is
important to get consumers to buy these products.
Taste Influences Willingness to Pay
Starting with the boneless pork loin, all participants in both groups (except for one in
group two that preferred to buy meat from a butcher) said they would buy the all-natural product
because they had tasted it and liked the taste. The per pound price differential on this cut was
$4.25 for the conventional product, as compared to $5.69 for the all-natural product. Both groups
also said that because they liked the taste, they didn't really care how much more it cost after
comparing conventional to all-natural, although they did note the higher price. As one participant
stated, "So I would pay it. And because it's all-natural. But it is quite a bit more." Said another,
"I tasted it and I'd rather, honestly, I'm like I don't care how much more it costs, I would pay the
Both groups said taste is the key to convince people the product is worth the premium
price. For this reason, both groups suggested a way to market this product would be to focus on
using samples at the grocery store.
Both groups were willing to pay more for the all-natural ground pork product, finding the
$1.85/$2.99 price differential not a barrier. With respect to the ribs, only three out of seven in the
first group and two out of eight in the second group would pay the $3.80 per pound for the all-
natural product, as compared to the $2.45 per pound for the conventional product. Finally, the
moderator held up prices for loin chops, which the groups had not taste tested, to determine how
taste affects attitudes toward price. The price per pound for conventional loin chops was $3.85
per pound; for the all-natural product, $5.99. Both groups said the price difference seemed too
steep. Seven out of eight in group two and four out of seven in group one would not purchase the
all-natural loin chops because it was too expensive.
The participants that defined themselves as regular organic foods shoppers were
consistently willing to pay the premium for all-natural pork, with the exception of one woman in
group two that indicated she would buy neither the conventional or the all-natural pork product.
This participant said she would only buy organic pork from a butcher and never buys pre-
packaged meat. None of the participants' mentioned their income as related to their willingness
to pay a premium for all-natural pork products.
Overall, participants had positive association with the terms "organic" and "natural."
Participants associated "all-natural" with perceptions of animal welfare, higher quality feed, and
no preservatives or chemicals in the final pork product and identified these perceived aspects as
potential health and animal welfare risks. They also expressed confusion with respect to
distinctions between all-natural claims and organic standards, and would like the information
about these terms posted in grocery stores and clearly defined in advertising and labeling. In the
affective testing of different all-natural pork cuts, personal taste preferences played a central role.
However, taste expectations toward all-natural pork products differed between the two focus
groups. Group one expected all-natural pork to taste better than conventional pork, while group
two expected all-natural pork to taste inferior. Participants said being able to taste the product
influenced their intent to purchase and willingness to pay a premium for all-natural pork
This chapter explains the key findings, conclusions, implications, and recommendations
drawn from the results of two focus group sessions. The purpose of this study was to describe
consumers' perceptions of pork products with an all-natural or organic label. To achieve this
purpose, focus group discussions addressed the following objectives: 1) participants' perceptions
of the terms "organic" and "all-natural" in reference to pork products, 2) participants' reactions
to the USDA organic standards for meat production and policy for natural claims, 3)
participants' taste perceptions of all-natural pork products, and 4) participants' attitudes toward
the price of all-natural pork products as affected by tasting all-natural pork.
Overall, participants had positive associations with the term "all-natural." However, both
groups initially expressed skepticism as to the validity of this claim on labeling and were not
convinced it held any meaning or was regulated. Despite these doubts, participants associated
"all-natural" with perceptions of no preservatives or chemicals in the final pork product, higher
quality feed, and improved animal welfare and identified these perceived aspects as potential
health and animal welfare risks. Similar perceptions and the absence of pesticides were also
associated with the term "organic," but most equated the term with produce rather than meat.
Participants revealed differing taste perceptions of organic foods, but all perceived these foods
are healthier. In response to the USDA standards for organic livestock production and policy for
natural claims, participants expressed confusion with respect to distinctions between the two
terms and had many unanswered questions. They said they would like the information about
these terms posted in grocery stores and clearly defined in advertising and labeling.
In the affective taste testing of different all-natural pork cuts, personal taste preferences
played a central role. However, taste expectations toward all-natural pork products differed
between the two focus groups during the double-blind comparison of all-natural boneless pork
loin and conventional boneless pork loin. One group expected all-natural pork to taste better than
conventional pork, while the other expected it to taste inferior. Participants said being able to
taste the product influenced their intent to purchase and willingness to pay a premium for all-
natural pork products. Participants who preferred the taste were more willing to pay a premium
for the all-natural pork products.
Perceptions of All-Natural and Organic
Participants had positive perceptions of both organic and all-natural pork products, with
some exceptions regarding taste, price, and trust in the information source, which are consistent
with factors that typically dissuade consumers from purchasing organic products (Yiridoe, et al.,
2005; California Institute for Rural Studies, 2005).
Perceptions surrounding all-natural
Participants perceived the use of the term "all-natural" on pork packaging as a gimmick or
marketing ploy. Frewer, Howard, Hedderley, and Shepherd (1996) point out that trust in
information from industry sources (such as marketing and labeling) is hindered by perceptions of
selfish, economic interests. Many did not believe the government regulated the use of this term
and were thus skeptical of its meaning or claims on packaging labels.
As found in a survey study about consumer perceptions of all-natural beef (Diel &
Associates, 2001), participants associated no hormones and no antibiotics with their perceptions
of all-natural pork. However, these focus group discussions brought out additional perceptions
participants associated with all-natural pork, including hogs that are raised outdoors, fed higher
quality food, and no use of preservatives or chemicals in the final pork product. Participants also
revealed that they do not understand why or how particular additives in meat are bad for them,
but when marketing makes claims about not having additives, they are more inclined to buy that
product or favor food products with the "no" labeling theme.
The "no" labeling theme participants related to all-natural pork products also revealed
insights into their risk perceptions associated with pork production and consumption. In terms of
potential risk to their health, participants brought up chemicals (both from production and
processing), additives, hormones, and antibiotics. However, participants never qualified or
quantified these perceived risks. This is consistent with Slovic's (1987) risk analysis theory in
that laypersons' perceptions and analysis of risk are based on perceived control and
understanding of the risk rather than probability or severity of its occurrence. Most participants
reported obtaining their food-related information from various media sources, which may be why
they did not understand the risks they perceived (additives, chemicals, hormones, etc.). Frewer,
Raats, and Shepherd (1993) found that the media focus on the unknown when communicating
food risk. Food additives, in particular, are reported as heuristically bad. Also, dependence on the
media, predominantly newspapers and television news, for food safety information is correlated
with greater food risk perception (Tucker, Whaley, & Sharp, 2006).
The absence of perceived risks associated with all-natural pork products can be considered
one of several perceived product attributes that has a functional consequence in terms of
consumers' life values, such as physical well-being and ethical treatment of animals. Based on
Gutman's means-end theory (1982), the perceived attributes of all-natural pork products, such as
no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no chemicals, and improved animal welfare, may translate
into fulfillment of life values. Most of the same perceived attributes and values from Bech-
Larsen and Grunert's (1998) means-end chain research (Figure 2-1) with Danish consumers
perceptions of organic pork surfaced during these focus group discussions about all-natural pork.
Based the similarity of perceived attributes, participants likely associated the perceived attributes
of all-natural pork with their life values of good health, ethical treatment of animals, and family
Perceptions surrounding organic
Participants' perceptions surrounding "organic" differed on whether or not these foods
tasted better than their conventional counterparts. However, all agreed that organic foods are
healthier. This is consistent with previous research with regular organic consumers who often list
higher nutritional value as a reason to purchase organic food. However, no scientific evidence
has shown a difference in nutritional content between organic and conventional foods (Kouba,
2003). Participants also expressed willingness to compromise on the physical appearance of
produce for the perceived healthier organic version as these foods look "more like what came out
of your garden."
Most participants did not equate "organic" with meat, saying, "I never thought of meat as
being organic." Although the discussion was focused on organic pork, participants equated
organic more to fresh produce, particularly tomatoes. This may be due to the limited availability
of organic meat products in supermarkets. Meat was not allowed to be labeled organic until a
provisional label was approved by the USDA in 1999, whereas organic gardening dates back to
the 1950s (Dimitri & Greene, 2002).
Despite positive perceptions surrounding organic foods, the price of organic foods was an
inhibiting factor for most participants' desire to purchase these products. Most would prefer to
buy these products, but if the premium is more than the value they perceived, then they said they
will buy "whatever is cheaper." This study and others agree that price of organic foods is
consistently a barrier for consumers who wish to purchase these products (California Institute for
Rural Studies, 2005).
In general, participants' attitudes toward all-natural and organic pork were based on beliefs
associated with the absence of risk to their health and the improved welfare of the hogs in the
production and processing of those products. The perceived risk factors were similar to those
cited by organic consumers (Hammitt, 1990).
Reactions to USDA Standards for Organic and Policy for Natural Claims
After reading the handout with the USDA standards for organic meat production and
policy for natural claims, participants were surprised to learn that "there's a big difference."
They admitted that they were generally unaware of the differences between the organic
regulations and natural labeling policies.
Before receiving the handout participants perceived the term "all-natural" to be a catchall
term not only meaning no chemicals and no additives, but also meaning no antibiotics, no
hormones, and raised outdoors. A study exploring consumers perceptions' of the "naturalness" of
organic farming in the Netherlands discovered that high standards of animal welfare were
associated with the naturalness in the production methods of meat (Verhoog, et al., 2002, p. 37).
Although participants expressed distrust in claims used on food packaging, they did not
express distrust in the USDA organic standards and natural claims on the handout. In the United
States, trust in government food regulators is high (Roe & Teisl, 2007; Waarden, 2006; Taylor,
Participants had numerous unanswered questions in response to the USDA organic
standards for livestock and policy for natural claims. It was clear the USDA definition for all-
natural did not corroborate with the participants' definition of the word on meat packages. Most
said that if a product is organic it should also be natural, but that was not evident in the USDA
standards and policy.
The participants in these focus groups said that the information about the differences
between these two terms would be clearer through advertising campaigns and consumer
education in grocery stores. Many were able to provide examples of recent advertising
campaigns for natural and all-natural foods, such as Arby's, Wendy's, and Sanderson Farms.
Sanderson Farms was cited as particularly effective, because the television ads and billboards
communicated examples of what the term "all-natural" means on their chicken products.
Participants also suggested posting the USDA standards for organic production and policy for
natural claims information on the butcher counter in a quick and easy-to-read format in grocery
stores, so consumers could understand the differences and potentially understand why they have
to pay more for these products. Another suggestion was to separate all organic food into its own
section of the grocery store, so consumers do not have to search for it.
Taste Perceptions of All-Natural Pork
Personal preference plays a large role in taste perceptions (Risvik, 1994). Some
participants expressed differing preferences for moistness, texture and flavor, and that influenced
their reaction to the taste of the pork product samples. Previous experience with the cuts of pork
may also have influenced their taste perceptions (Cardello, 1995a).
All participants in both groups perceived a difference in flavor and texture between the all-
natural and conventional pork loins in the double-blind taste test, preferring the all-natural pork
loin. Participants were aware they tasted an all-natural pork loin and a conventional pork loin, so
they were anticipating a difference. The anticipation may have amplified their perceived
differences. Previous studies conducted with trained taste panels vary in their findings of sensory
differences between organic and conventional foods (Dransfield, et al., 2005; Fillion & Arazi,
2002; Jonsall, et al., 2002). Studies pertaining to taste differences in pork products indicate either
no difference between organic pork and conventional pork, or inferior eating quality for organic
pork (Scholderer, et al., 2004; Edwards, 2005).
Interestingly, participants had different preconceived notions of how all-natural food
would taste, which influenced how they evaluated the provided samples. Group one associated
good flavor and texture with the all-natural product, but group two associated the leaner and less
flavorful sample with the all-natural product. This suggests that a segment of consumers may
perceive all-natural meat to taste better, while another segment may perceive it to taste inferior to
conventionally produced products.
The written comments and results from the brief taste survey forms (Appendix E) differed
from each group's consensus during discussion, especially in group two. This is the nature of
group dynamics in focus group methodology and also what occurs in a naturalistic setting.
Perceptions are shaped not only by personal experiences, but also by interactions with others.
The focus group discussion format encourages interaction among participants and allows people
to change their opinions based on discussion with other participants (Morgan & Kreuger, 1998).
The group dynamics of the focus group sessions may also have played a role in each
group's discussion. Group one had two self-proclaimed regular organic foods shoppers, whereas
group two only had one self-proclaimed regular organic foods shopper. The single regular
organic shopper in group two also considered herself a whole foods shopper in addition to a
regular organic shopper. She had negative perceptions of pre-packaged, labeled meat and said
she only buys meat from a butcher. Her opinions did not have as much influence on the group
the two participants in group one did. The two organic shoppers in the first group were vocal and
expressive during the discussions, which may have led to group-think, especially during the
double-blind taste test portion of the session. These participants were influential during the taste
testing portion, because they had positive taste expectations for all-natural pork. One of these
regular organic shoppers said, "organic food tastes better" during the discussion of the term
"organic." These participants held strong convictions in their positive perceptions of organic and
all-natural foods and may have influenced the other participants' conversations because of that.
Willingness-To-Pay as Influenced by Taste Perceptions
Intent to purchase all-natural pork products relied heavily on the fact that participants had
tasted the products. The majority of participants said they were willing to pay more for some all-
natural pork products because they had preferred the taste of them. Both groups were willing to
pay more for the all-natural pork loin and ground pork, because the price differential was not a
barrier to them and they liked the taste of these products. Even though the $1.44 price difference
between the conventional and all-natural boneless pork loin seemed high to the participants, they
were willing to pay that premium because they had preferred the taste. Bredahl and Poulsen
(2002) found that perceptions of high-quality pork are predominantly affected by its taste. The
researchers also discovered a perceptual link between production method and pork quality,
where consumers perceived pork labeled as from pigs raised outdoors to be of higher eating
quality than pork from pigs raised indoors.
Participants were decidedly split on their willingness to purchase all-natural ribs and all-
natural loin chops. Several participants said the all-natural pork chops were too expensive
compared to the conventional pork chops. In regards to the spare ribs, some revealed that they do
not typically buy spare ribs in the grocery store, because they do not know how to prepare them
or do not want to pay for the bone weight. In the end, the split willingness to pay a premium for
these products was due to personal taste preferences and differing price-value attitudes. Models
of price, quality, and value explain that perceived value affects how consumers view the quality
of a product and whether or not they will purchase it (Ziethaml, 1988).
The participants that defined themselves as regular organic food shoppers were
consistently willing to pay the premium for all-natural pork products when given the choice
between conventional and all-natural pork products. This is consistent with the role of self-
identity and the role of past behavior in the theory of planned behavior (Bentler & Speckart,
1979; Sparks & Shepherd, 1992). The regular organic foods consumers seem to be willing to pay
a premium for all-natural labeled pork, because it has become a central aspect of their self-
concept or a habitual behavior. However, a different conclusion may have been made if
participants were given the option to choose between conventional, all-natural, and organic pork
in the willingness-to-pay exercise. This research shows that all-natural pork is appealing to self-
proclaimed regular organic foods consumers. This segment is consistently willing to pay a
premium for these products if given the choice between conventional and all-natural pork
Perceptions of All-Natural and Organic
The variation in pork producer-set standards for all-natural and consumer confusion about
the meaning of the term is reminiscent of the patchwork of state and regional standards for
organic prior to the implementation of the National Organic Program (Fetter & Caswell, 2002).
One package of pork labeled as "all-natural" may only refer to the processing, as USDA policy
stipulates, while its shelf neighbor may use it to refer to various production techniques as well.
Understandably, producers want to use legitimate production/process claims to capture a piece of
the high-dollar market for such products. However, coupling those claims with the term "all-
natural" has led to consumer confusion surrounding all-natural as demonstrated in this research
and in Diel & Associates (2001) research with natural beef products. Another contributing factor
is that the concept of natural and naturalness is regularly used by producers, marketers, and
consumers of organic foods to characterize organic (Verhoog, Matze, Lammerts Van Bueren, &
Baars, 2002). This conceptualization of organic as natural has also blurred the distinction
between organic and natural labeling. Participants in these focus groups perceived all-natural
pork to be from hogs that are raised outdoors without the use of antibiotics and growth
hormones, fed higher quality food, and no use of preservatives, additives, or chemicals in the
final pork product. The results of this research implies that consumers perceive the term "all-
natural" as encompassing production practices integral to the organic standards.
The only prominent differing perceptions between organic and all-natural was that organic
also means no pesticides, is regulated by the government, costs more money, and is associated
more with produce rather than meat. Consumers' attitudes toward all-natural and organic pork
are based on beliefs associated with the absence of risk to their health and the improved welfare
of the hogs in the production and processing of those products.
The intense marketing and premiums associated with organic and all-natural food products
may be leading consumers to believe they have to pay a higher price for safer food. Participants
perceived chemicals (both from production and processing), additives, hormones, antibiotics, and
pesticides as risks to their health. Consumers may not understand how or why these are risks, but
are more inclined to favor or purchase foods with the "no" labeling theme. Organic and all-
natural are product attributes that consumers have come to value. These value perceptions may
lead to increased market diversity as more niche products emerge to fulfill consumers' needs.
Consumers have more choices with the increasing prevalence of organic and niche market food
products in grocery stores. When there was only one choice, consumers were willing to accept
more uncertainties and a lack of understanding about meat production to a greater degree,
because the benefit of nourishment outweighed those factors. The emergence of organic, all-
natural, and other production/processing claims on meat packages seems to have led consumers
to question the quality, value, and safety of cheaper, conventional meat products. However, the
perceived value in all-natural labeled meat is minimal if not compounded with other factors, such
as price, taste, and an understanding of how these products are different or better.
Participants did not understand exactly why organic and all-natural products are more
expensive, indicating the supposed value of these products has not been clearly communicated.
Unless the participant considered themselves a regular organic food shopper, most would not
purchase these products if they cost more than approximately $1.00 over the conventional
counterpart. Although most participants perceived conventional pork as containing the risks
organic and all-natural products claim not to have, the risks are not alarming enough to prompt
them to pay a premium for those products. Communicating the value of these products may rest
on the ability of marketers to show industry accountability in producing organic and all-natural
meat products. Accountability "has been defined in terms of being answerable to audiences for
fulfilling obligations, duties, and expectations" (Sinclair & Irani, 2005, p. 61). Consumers want
to see what they are paying for; as one woman put it, "I'm concerned about the things I can't see
...because I can't go hang out at the farm it came from."
These focus groups brought out consumers' risk perceptions surrounding pork production
and consumption. It may be the case that the prevalence of the "no" labeling themes (no
antibiotics, no growth hormones, no preservatives, etc.) associated with all-natural and organic
meat products has inadvertently communicated to consumers that the aspects that these products
do not contain are harmful to people's health and livestock's well-being. By default, consumers
may believe that conventional or unlabeled meat products contain these perceived risks, which
could potentially lead to the devaluation of these products in a market where they become the
"cheap" or "generic" products.
The USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service updated its website in August 2006 to
include a page defining production and processing claims, including organic and natural, on meat
and poultry packaging. As a result of this update, the information is easier to find. However, the
language used on the site is still the same as used on the handout provided to the focus group
participants. Consumers perceive all-natural and organic to be very similar, but the USDA
defines the two terms to be quite different from each other. Consumers may not be inclined to
research the definition of these meat and poultry labeling claims. Participants in these focus
groups did not mention the Web as a place or communication medium that would effectively
reach most consumers like them. A better understanding of organic and all-natural could increase
consumers' confidence in the integrity and value of these products.
Participants' lack of understanding of the difference between all-natural and organic, and
the perceptions of fewer food risks associated with these labeling terms suggests a major
knowledge gap between experts and consumers. Klonsky and Tourte (1998) assert that the
organic label is not meant to differentiate those foods as safer, but unintentionally it may have.
As the results of this study suggest, all-natural and production technique claims may also be
differentiating those foods as safer.
Taste Perceptions and Willingness to Pay for All-Natural Pork
Participants perceived a minimal amount of value in the term "all-natural" in isolation, but
certainly favored and were willing to pay a premium for all-natural pork products if they
preferred the taste. Perceptions of the taste of pork are affected by a number of factors including
previous experience, personal preferences, ethnic/cultural background, and the pork's appearance
and preparation. Participants in these focus groups were influenced by the National Pork
Checkoff s "Pork: The other white meat campaign." As a result of this campaign, consumers
prefer pork products to be white in color when cooked.
Being able to taste the all-natural pork product was an important factor to motivate
consumers to purchase the product. As a result of trying the product, participants were able to
experience the consequences without the investment, thus reducing the perceived risk in the
consumer decision-making process. Through experiencing both intrinsic (taste) and extrinsic
(labeling, marketing) attributes, the quality of a food product is seemingly easier for consumers
to evaluate (Zeithaml, 1988).
Scholderer et al. (2004) found that consumers have high taste expectations of pork labeled
"organic" or "free range." This study indicates that expectation may not always be the case. One
segment of consumers may perceive organic and all-natural pork to taste good while another
segment may perceive it to taste inferior or "healthy" (not flavorful). Participants in the group
that expected all-natural pork to taste poor predicted the perceived drier and seemingly leaner
conventional sample to be the all-natural pork. The negative taste stigma seems to be related to
the perception that all-natural pork products are healthier and leaner than conventional pork
This research yields recommendations for practice, as well as future research. Based on the
conclusions and implications of this study, agricultural communicators, educators, and extension
agents need to communicate the reasons for and the differences between the organic label and
natural claims, especially if they are only meant to be marketing labels and not discern them as
safer. Participants perceived these products as absent of risk to their health and animal welfare.
The market for conventional agricultural products could be negatively impacted if consumers do
not understand why organic and all-natural labeled foods are supposedly better or why they cost
more money. If organic and all-natural labeled foods continued to be perceived as the safer food
choice, the market for conventional foods could potentially suffer. Labels are used by the USDA
to balance the market for agricultural products, so this organization is the decision-maker when it
comes to food labels. The USDA would be a credible resource for information about the reasons
for all-natural and organic food labeling, because the study participants perceived information
from industry and marketing sources as marketing ploys.
Communication about the organic label and natural claims needs to go beyond a website.
Agricultural communicators should consider websites as a small part of a larger effort to reach
consumers with information about organic labels and all-natural claims. The efforts to inform
consumers about the use of these terms must be strategically available since they are unlikely to
pursue this information on their own. Participants recommended posting this information in
grocery stores in a separate organic foods section of the grocery store or near the butcher
Participants could not clearly differentiate between all-natural and organic. All-natural, in
particular, was not regarded as a credible or regulated claim on meat labeling. Producers and
marketers could continue to take advantage of these misperceptions, or policy makers could step
in and rewrite the policy for natural claims. The policy could add some of the common
perceptions of the term, such as no antibiotics, no growth hormones, and livestock raised
Regardless of whether the USDA steps in to make some of these recommended changes,
agricultural communications professionals need to focus on communicating the meaning of all-
natural claims in a manner that consumers can quickly receive and easily understand.
Participants in both focus groups said they would prefer this information in advertising
campaigns. In particular, they preferred specific examples of what is and what is not in pork
products with all-natural labels. It is strongly recommended that the meaning of all-natural be
closely tied to the brand or producer, so when a consumer buys that brand they feel assured that
"all-natural" always means what the marketing states. In order for consumers to perceive value
in all-natural claims, demonstrating accountability is important. Agricultural communicators and
marketers should communicate how producers' production and processing practices ensure the
safety and quality of the food. Demonstrating that producers go above and beyond what laws and
regulations require of them would increase perceptions of accountability.
The majority of consumers are probably unaware that growth hormones, one of the top
perceived food risks in the United States (Hwang, Roe, & Teisl, 2005), is prohibited in pork and
poultry production. However, niche pork producers continue to attempt to add value to their
products by identifying "no hormones" on the label and it is now an aspect perceived integral to
the meaning of "all-natural" as brought up in these focus group discussions. It may be the case
that this type of marketing is perpetuating this perceived risk. The study participants were
confused about the exact meaning behind all-natural labeling claims. They emphasized the
importance of educating consumers like themselves about all-natural and organic labeling on
meat products in order to communicate the value and quality of these products and increase
perceptions of credibility for such claims. Arguably, the same needs to be done for meat
production in general, regardless of the claims or labeling the producer qualifies for or uses.
Demonstrating producers' commitments to ensuring meat quality and safety will be important to
protect the market for unlabeled or conventional meat products. Agricultural extension agents
and family, youth, and consumer science extension agents have an important role to play in
working together to continually educate consumers about meat production and labeling. These
efforts are important to maintain credibility in food labeling and claims.
Agricultural extension agents should use the results of this study to help pork producers
identify aspects of their production techniques that would add value to their products. The focus
groups participants perceived value in several production and processing techniques that
increased their perceptions of quality in pork products. Extension agents should also provide this
information to pork producers seeking to enter niche markets, so that they may develop
production plans and effective marketing strategies.
As Jaeger (2006) found, it is valuable to integrate taste in marketing communications
strategies. An implication for agricultural marketers is that the success of communications aimed
at marketing niche food products may rest on the ability to include product sampling strategies
while appealing to consumers' taste perceptions with marketing materials. Participants indicated
that tasting the all-natural pork was the most important factor to convince them to pay a premium
for it and purchase it. Based on the results of this study, food marketers should consider
integrating point of purchase sampling, or developing labeling and marketing materials that
appeal to and emphasize how the product tastes. Lighting, shelf placement, display, packaging,
photos of the prepared product, and recipes are all possible ways to appeal to consumers' senses
in the grocery store.
It is important to note that personal taste preferences and previous experiences with pork
influence perceptions of taste. The sample all participants had obvious positive taste perceptions
for was the all-natural boneless pork loin sample. They were split on taste preferences for the all-
natural spare ribs and many had not had ground pork outside of the focus group session. Using
boneless pork loin cuts in point-of-purchase sampling may be most effective to appeal to as
many consumers as possible. Participants also said they would be more likely to buy the pork
they taste in the grocery store if they are given a recipe and/or coupon.
The intention of this research was to explore perceptions and opinions of the sample
audience in detail. Based on the results of this study, more studies are needed to examine
consumers' perceptions of the terms "organic" and "all-natural," especially in the area of meat
production and processing. The participants in these focus groups had some preconceived
notions about the terms, but could not clearly differentiate between them. It would be beneficial
to replicate this study in other parts of the United States. Quantitative studies also need to be
developed on a larger scale to make the results generalizable to United States consumers.
Participants in this study revealed insight into the absence of perceived food risks
associated with all-natural and organic pork. More studies are needed to determine if similar
perceptions emerge surrounding other agricultural commodities. Further research should
investigate causality between food production and processing labels, such as organic and all-
natural, and perceptions of risk. Other studies should examine consumers' trust in the USDA
since risk perceptions are closely related to perceptions of trust. Another related area to examine
would be the USDA's public relations and consumer education efforts. Participants vaguely
knew what organic and all-natural meant on meat labeling and also indicated that they did not
believe that "all-natural" was regulated by the government.
The study participants indicated that they get their information about food from various
media sources. However, this question was asked to prompt discussion among participants about
the topic and was not pertinent to the purpose of the study. Future research should investigate
where they get information about meat production and processing specifically, and how the
media frames natural and organic foods.
One of the recommendations for practice, in regards to marketing all-natural pork products,
is to develop marketing materials that appeal to the taste senses. After all, point-of-purchase
sampling is not always feasible for marketers to do within budget. What else, besides actually
tasting a food, triggers and appeals to consumers' palate? Future studies should explore the
effectiveness for various marketing tactics and communication materials that emphasize how the
all-natural pork product tastes. More studies are needed to explore agricultural communications
strategies for all-natural meat products and determine whether or not the strategies enhance
Pork producers' perceptions of using the term "all-natural" on pork product labels should
also be explored in future research. Do they believe its use adds value to their products?
Exploring their decision-making process for using particular production practices and making
those claims on labeling would complement the results of this study. The results of this study
could be used to develop in-depth interview questions or surveys to reach a sample of producers.
Future studies should triangulate data from related populations, such as restaurant owners
and chefs, because they influence the available food choices for consumers. Understanding food
professionals' perceptions of the use of natural and organic pork in restaurants would
demonstrate the perceived value of these products in the restaurant setting.
Summary of Conclusions, Implications, and Recommendations
Participants generally had positive perceptions of both organic and all-natural pork
products, with some exceptions regarding taste, price, and trust in the information source. In
regards to "all-natural" specifically, participants expressed skepticism as to the validity of the
manufacturer's claim and perceived its use as a marketing ploy. Food marketers would benefit
from creating advertising campaigns that clearly tie the producer's definition of all-natural to the
brand name. Participants recalled recent marketing campaigns for all-natural meat products and
said that examples of what was and what was not in their products helped them remember those
brands. If the producer is going above and beyond the government standards for natural claims,
emphasizing that in marketing would increase the brand's credibility, accountability, and
The only obvious differing perceptions between organic and all-natural was that organic
also means no pesticides, is regulated by the government, costs more money, and is associated
more with produce rather than meat. All-natural and organic pork products were perceived as
absent of risks to human health and animal welfare. Agricultural communicators at the USDA
need to better communicate about their meat production and processing labeling policies and
regulations. Policy-makers at the USDA should also revise the policy for natural claims to
increase consumer confidence in the use of such claims on meat and poultry packaging.
Participants perceived the term "all-natural" as pertaining not only to some meat processing
aspects, but also to livestock production practices integral to the organic standards. The policy
should prohibit the use of antibiotics and hormones and require livestock to have access to
outdoors, or make the distinction between organic and natural/all-natural more clear.
Good taste is highly regarded in judging the quality of all-natural pork and convincing
consumers that it is worth a premium. It may not always be the case that consumers expect all-
natural pork products to taste good. Group two of the focus group sessions expected all-natural
pork products to taste inferior to conventional pork. Communicating good taste is important to
attract those who have negative taste expectations. Participants said it is important to emphasize
these products' taste either through point-of-purchase sampling or through marketing messages
that focus on appealing to taste.
The fundamental importance of good taste is salient among consumers' perceptions of
high-quality pork worth a premium price, like all-natural pork products. Participants clearly
perceived value in other perceived attributes of all-natural pork, but doubted the credibility of
all-natural claims on package labeling. Emphasizing taste, communicating accountability, and
clearly differentiating all-natural pork from other pork products is important to increase
perceptions of value and credibility in the use of such claims. Agricultural communication and
marketing strategies incorporating these factors would be well-received if they demonstrate
accountability to consumers' perceptions of these products and how the brand or producer is
achieving consumers' quality expectations.
98A Psychology Bldg.
PO Box 112250
Gainesville, FL 32611-2250
Fax: (352) 392-9234
June 28, 2006
Traci Irani, PhD
213 A Rolfs Hall
Ira S. Fischler, Chairee a
University of Florida
Institutional Review Board
SUBJECT: Approval of Protocol #2006-U-0606
TITLE: All-Natural Pork Focus Group
I am pleased to advise you that the University of Florida Institutional Review Board has recommended
approval of this protocol. Based on its review, the UFIRB determined that this research presents no
more than minimal risk to participants. Given your protocol, it is essential that you obtain signed
documentation of informed consent from each participant. Enclosed is the dated, IRB-approved
informed consent to be used when recruiting participants for the research.
It is essential that each of your participants sign a copy of your approved informed
consent that bears the IRB approval stamp and expiration date. I
If you wish to make any changes to this protocol, including the need to increase the number of
participants authorized, you must disclose your plans before you implement them so that the Board
can assess their impact on your protocol. In addition, you must report to the Board any unexpected
complications that affect your participants.
If you have not completed this protocol by June 28, 2007, please telephone our office (392-0433),
and we will discuss the renewal process with you. It is important that you keep your Department
Chair informed about the status of this research protocol.
An Equal OpporMnity lnsiwtionI
Institutional Review Board
Protocol Title: All-Natural Pork Focus Group
Please read this consent document carefully before you decide to participate in this study.
Purpose of the research study: The purpose of this study is to discuss all-natural pork products.
What you will be asked to do in the study: The focus group will allow you to discuss your
opinions in an open and receptive setting. You will be asked to share the things you consider
when purchasing pork. You will also taste some prepared pork and provide feedback on your
experience. Your comments and suggestions will be used to determine the market for all-natural
Time required: The session will last no more than two hours.
Risks and Benefits: There are no anticipated risks or benefits to participating in the study.
Compensation: You will be paid $50.00 compensation for participating in this focus group.
Confidentiality: Your identity will be kept confidential to the extent provided by law. You will
be assigned a code number. Your name will not be connected to any comments. The list
connecting your name to this number will be kept in a locked file. The discussion will be audio-
and video-tape recorded. An assistant moderator will take detailed notes. Only the researcher and
research assistants will have access to the tapes, notes, and transcripts. They will be kept in a
locked file. When the study is completed and the data have been analyzed, the list and the tapes
will be destroyed. Your name will not be used in any report.
Voluntary participation: Your participation in this study is completely voluntary. There is no
penalty for not participating.
Right to withdraw from the study: You have the right to withdraw from the study at anytime
Whom to contact if you have questions about the study: Dr. Tracy Irani, Associate Professor,
Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, 213A Rolfs Hall, (352) 392-0502,
ext. 225, email@example.com
Whom to contact about your rights as a research participant in the study: UFIRB Office,
Box 112250, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-2250; ph 392-0433.
Agreement: I have read the procedure described above. I voluntarily agree to participate in the
procedure and I have received a copy of this description.
Principal Investigator: Date:
University of Florida
Institutional Review Board 02
Protocol # 2006-U- 0606
For Use Through 06/28/2007
ALL-NATURAL PORK FOCUS GROUP SCREEN QUESTIONNAIRE
Hello, my name is %name and I'm calling from the Florida Survey Research Center at the
University of Florida. The Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, IFAS, at the University
of Florida will be conducting focus groups in Gainesville on Saturday, July 15, and we're
currently recruiting participants. May I please speak to the person in your household who is at
least 18 years old and responsible for purchasing food and groceries?
The focus group will take about an hour and a half to complete and participants will be paid $50
for their time.
1. Are you interested in hearing more about this research project? [YNDR]
IF NO: Terminate, Do not save. "Thank you. Have a nice evening (day)."
The focus groups are being conducted to find out people's opinions and perceptions of
all-natural pork. It's not a requirement that you've eaten all-natural pork in the past, but
you do need to be someone who purchases food for your household and who eats pork, at
least occasionally. You'll be ask to taste several pork dishes during the focus groups.
The focus groups will be held at the Florida Farm Bureau, on SW 34th Street in
Gainesville, on Saturday, July 15, at 10:30AM and 1:30 PM. Light refreshments will be
served, as well as all-natural pork, and a $50 stipend will be paid to those who
2. Do you have any dietary restrictions, or religious or personal beliefs that preclude you
from eating pork? [YNDR]
IF NO: Terminate, Do not save. "Thank you, but this research only involves
consumers who eat pork at least occasionally. Have a nice evening (day)."
3. Are you interested in being considered for participation in one of these focus groups?
IF NO: Terminate, Do not save. "Thank you. Have a nice evening (day)."
Thank you. I'll need to ask you a few demographic questions so that we can be sure that
participants are representative.
4. Do you live in the Gainesville area? [YNDR]
5. What is your 5-digit zip code? [#, DR]
6. In what year were you born? [year, R]
7. Just to be sure that we have a representative sample, would you please tell me your race?
[Black/African American, White, Asian, Other, R]
7A. And, would you say that you are of Hispanic ancestry or not? [YNDR]
8. Is your family's total yearly income before taxes $30,000 or less, or more than $30,000?
[less than $30,000, more than $30,000, DR]
9. Gender [Don't ask, just record] [Male, Female]
10. Do you ever purchase "organic" or "all-natural" food products? [YNDR]
If you are selected to participate in this focus group study, a University researcher will call you
and a confirmation letter containing details such as time, date, location, and driving instructions
will be mailed to you.
To facilitate that follow-up, can you please tell me:
11. Your first name: [text]
12. Your last name: [text]
13. Your preferred mailing address: [address]
14. And, can I confirm that your telephone number is [phone#]? [YNDR]
Thank you, that completes the first part of the process. If you are selected to participate, you will
receive a call within 7 business days.
INVITATION LETTER TO SELECTED PARTICIPANTS
July 8, 2006
Mr. John Smith
567 W. University Avenue
Gainesville, FL 32607
Dear Mr. Smith:
The UF Institute for Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS) is conducting a focus group to learn
more about people's opinions and perceptions of all-natural pork. Thank you for agreeing to
participate in this important focus group
The focus group will be held at the Florida Farm Bureau, on SW 34th Street in Gainesville, on
Saturday, July 15th at 1:30 PM. Light refreshments will be served, as well as dishes made with
all-natural pork, and you will receive a $50 stipend for your participation.
We appreciate your attendance since the participants have been selected to provide a diversity of
opinions about all-natural pork. A seat has been reserved for you in the focus group and your
responses are important. If for some reason you cannot attend, please call 352-392-5957 before
Friday, July 14th at 4 PM.
Thank you again for your participation.
Michael J. Scicchitano, Ph.D.
MODERATOR GUIDE AND QUESTIONING ROUTE
Moderator reads: Hello and welcome to our session. Thank you for taking the time to
join our discussion about pork. My name is Courtney Meyers and I am a graduate student at the
University of Florida. Assisting me today is Tracy Irani, Katie Chodil, and Ricky Telg also from
UF. Madison Farms Pork is sponsoring this focus group because they want your feedback on the
development of pork products.
You have been invited here because you have characteristics of interest to us. You are all
consumers who purchase meat for your household.
Before we begin, let me share some things that will make our discussions easier and more
productive. There are no right or wrong answers, but rather differing points of view. Please feel
free to share your point of view even if it differs from what others have said. Please speak up and
only one person should talk at a time. We're tape recording and video recording the session
because we don't want to miss any of your comments. We'll be on a first-name basis, and in our
later reports there will not be any names attached to comments. You may be assured of
My role here is to ask questions and listen. I won't be participating in the conversation, but
I want you to feel free to talk with one another. I'll be asking around 20 questions, and I'll be
moving the discussion from one question to the next. There is a tendency in these discussions for
some people to talk a lot and some people not to say much. But it is important for us to hear from
each of you today because you have different experiences. So if one of you is sharing a lot, I may
ask you to let others respond. And if you aren't saying much, I may ask for your opinion.
Our session will last about two hours and will also include time for taste testing. If you
have your cell phone or pager and need to leave it on, please leave the room when you get a call
and return as quickly as possible.
Let's begin by getting to know more about you. Let's go around the room and have
everyone introduce themselves. Please tell us your name, a little bit about yourself, and your
I'd like to begin today's discussion by learning more about how you shop for food.
* Are you the one in your household who normally buys food?
* Where do you do your grocery shopping?
* What sources do you use to learn about food products?
* How often to you buy meat and how much do you buy?
* What do you look for when you buy meat?
Okay let's talk more specifically about how you buy pork.
* When did you last buy pork? Do you remember how much you paid for it?
* On average, how often would you say you buy pork?
What do you look for when buying fresh pork?
Most food products have some type of label or packaging that try to convince you to buy that
product or inform you of its contents.
* How much attention do you give to food labels when making purchasing decisions?
* What does the term "all-natural" bring to mind?
* If you saw a label or sticker on a food package that said "all-natural" what does that mean
* What does it mean to you if it's on a package of pork?
* In reference to food products, what does the term "organic" mean?
Production standards for pork product labeling, Aided
I'm going to show you the standards that make conventional, all-natural, and organic
products different. [Definition of all-natural and organic standards for pork product labeling
provided on handout]
* Did you understand the differences between the standards for these products prior to
viewing this information? To what extent?
* How can the distinctions between these standards for food products be made clearer?
Taste Testing, Aided
Here's the fun part. We have prepared a few different dishes that contain all-natural pork.
Try to really taste the pork in each dish. After you taste the pork or finish the dish, answer the
questions on the slips of paper being passed around.
The first taste test we will do is to compare an all-natural pork loin roast to a conventional
pork loin roast. This is a blind taste test in that you will not know which type you are sampling.
Please write your reactions to each sample on the provided sheet.
* Now that you have tried both types, which do you think tasted better?
* Could you taste a difference between the two samples?
* was the all-natural pork product. Are there any further reactions to that?
We now have two other pork products for you to sample. These are both all-natural products.
I hope you all enjoyed doing the taste testing.
* What do you think of the pork you just tried?
* Now that you've tried the pork, how likely would you be to buy it? Why or why not?
* Would you be willing to pay more for this product with the all-natural label than one
without? Why or why not?
* The price points for is for conventional and for
all-natural (display prices on index cards) [Repeat for all three products]
* What do you think about the price difference?
Marketing Materials, Aided (dependent on two-hour time limit)
To inform people about their all-natural pork, Madison Farms Pork has these informational
pieces. [Pass around marketing materials]
* What do you think of these?
* Are you interested in reading these materials?
* Where should they be made available?
* Would you be likely to pick this information up at a grocery store?
* What other ways could this information be made available that you think would be more
* After learning USDA's definition of all-natural and organic products, what is your reaction
to the guidelines Madison Farms uses for its pork products?
As we've talked today and tasted some all-natural pork:
* Have you thought of anything else you'd like to say or bring up about pork that we have
I am now going to try to summarize the main points from today's discussion. (key messages and
big ideas that developed from the discussion) The main topics ....
* Is this an adequate summary?
Moderator reads: As was explained at the beginning of the session, the purpose of this focus
group was to get your feedback and opinions on pork. Your comments today will aid in the
development of pork products and labeling. Your input has provided us with a better
understanding of what other consumers may think about all-natural pork.
* Have we missed anything or are there any other comments?
Moderator reads: Thank you for taking time out of your day to share your opinions. Your
participation is greatly appreciated and has provided valuable insight into this topic. Thanks
Debriefing questions to be discussed between moderator and assistant.
* What are the most important themes or ideas discussed?
* How did these differ from what we expected?
* How did these differ from what occurred in earlier focus groups?
* What points need to be included in the report?
* What quotes should be remembered and possibly included in the report?
* Were there any unexpected or anticipated findings?
* Should we do anything differently for the next focus group?
TASTE TEST SURVEY FEEDBACK FORM
Try to really taste the pork in each dish. After each taste, or after you finish the portion
please answer the questions.
All-natural and conventional pork blind taste test
BONELESS LOIN ROAST (1):
a. How would you compare the taste of this product with your current brand?
[ ] Much better [ ] Better [ ] About the same [ ] Worse [ ] Much worse
b. What is the likelihood of you purchasing this product if it was available?
[ ] Very high [ ] Somewhat high [ ] Average [ ] Somewhat low [
c. What is your perceived value of this product?
[ ] Very high [ ] Somewhat high [ ] Average [ ] Somewhat low [
] Very low
] Very low
d. Comments and reactions
BONELESS LOIN ROAST (2):
a. How would you compare the taste of this product with your current brand?
[ ] Much better [ ] Better [ ] About the same [ ] Worse [ ] Much worse
b. What is the likelihood of you purchasing this product if it was available?
[ ] Very high [ ] Somewhat high [ ] Average [ ] Somewhat low [ ] Very low
c. What is your perceived value of this product?
[ ] Very high [ ] Somewhat high [ ] Average [ ] Somewhat low [ ] Very low
d. How would you compare this pork to the pork you just tasted?
[ ] Much better [ ] Better [ ] About the same [ ] Worse [ ] Much worse
e. Comments and reactions