A Qualitative Analysis of Sensory Experiences and Expectations in the European Organic Market: Findings from Italian and German Consumers

Daniele Asioli, Maurizio Canavari, Erika Pignatti, Tim Obermowe, Katia Laura Sidali, Christine Vogt, Achim Spiller


The organic food market grew steadily during the past decade (Hamm and Gronefeld 2004, Spiller 2006). This increase is accompanied by challenges in market structures, distribution channels as well as differentiation of expectations and buying motives of organic food consumers. On this regard, the “hedonistic” motives for purchasing of organic food, that also include sensory features like taste or appearance, gained importance in comparison to other motivations. Therefore, some scientists pointed out that sensory attributes are important elements that should be taken into account in the marketing strategies by organic food distributors (Brennan and Kuri 2002, Padel and Midmore 2005) than even before. The objective of this paper is to explore sensory experiences, expectations and perceptions of Italian and German organic consumers underlining differences between the two countries when purchasing and eating organic food. Ten focus group interviews composed by 6-10 consumers were performed during 2009 in different locations in Italy and Germany. The focus groups content was transcribed and then analyzed using qualitative content analysis.
Results indicated that, although sensory attributes are not the main purchase driver, taste and, especially for Italy, odour are the most important sensory features taken into account by organic consumers especially for the first purchase. However, it seems that the ability to differentiate between various categories of sensory perception is characterized by a low level of development which may limit the set of possibilities when trying to reach consumers by affecting their senses. Furthermore, consumers were able to mention several aspects such as intensity, naturalness and authenticity that they consider to be important when it comes to the sensory properties of organic products. Other findings suggests that sensory perception is a learnable ability which offers an opportunity for the actors of the organic food market to bring their customers closer to their products by a corresponding training of consumers’ sensory abilities.
Regarding the concept of standardisation consumers pointed out that sensory properties should not be standardized, especially for heavy users. In both countries, one part of the organic consumers seem to appreciate sensory marketing activities whereas another part apparently does not. For Italian consumers who appreciate sensory marketing, non-subjective as well as subjective marketing information is considered to be suitable, whereas in Germany non-subjective aspects seem to be predominant. Further research may be useful in order to detect the right marketing tools that are able to support a sensory-based strategy of product presentation and positioning.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18461/pfsd.2012.1204

ISSN 2194-511X


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