Food consumption and food choices are a vital part of humans’ lifestyles and food is one of the key consumption contexts in terms of environmental and social impacts in the World. Thus, sustainable food consumption and sustainably produced food products should be promoted actively to consumers. Corporate responsibility (CR), in turn, is the business sectors’ contribution to sustainable consumption. Motivating sustainable consumption can be therefore viewed as a part of CR of food chain actors.
The purpose of this paper is to provide information on consumers’ perceptions of the importance of the different dimensions of CR in the Finnish food sector. In addition, the paper will examine which information channels are perceived as effective and reliable when informing consumers about CR. This paper draws on data from a consumer survey with n=1326 respondents. The data were gathered in November 2011 with an online questionnaire from consumer representative of Finnish internet users aged between 18 and 79.
In order to take into account the contextual characteristics of the Finnish food industry, a seven dimension framework of CR created by Forsman-Hugg et al. (2009, 2012) is used. These seven dimensions of food chain CR are: environment, product safety, nutrition, occupational welfare, animal welfare, economic responsibility and local market presence.
Both CR and sustainability of the food chain and food products are credence attributes of the product. Thus, consumers have to trust the CR information given by others. Although the amount of information does not necessarily correlate with the consumers’ willingness to purchase food or other goods, informing consumers about different alternatives, does provide the prerequisites for consumer choice.
The results of this research lead to the conclusion that the most important dimension of CR is product safety followed by environment and animal welfare, local market presence and economic responsibility being least important. The respondents feel that they receive the most information about nutrition, product safety and local market presence. The least information is available on animal welfare and occupational welfare.
The majority of the respondents considered product packages and labeling as the most appealing as well as reliable means of CR communication. Social media or word of mouth was not perceived as appealing or reliable means of communication. In terms of reliability, advertisements and the web pages of food producing companies were considered the least reliable communication channels.
These findings suggest that in general consumers take an interest in CR of the food chain and want information about it. Consumers seem to be most interested in those dimensions of CR that are relevant to either themselves or the society instead of those dimensions that are relevant to the internal operations of companies. This study suggests that consumers take an interest in CR and want to be informed about it.
Further research is required to elaborate this issue. However, the findings of this research may have implications for planning CR communication to consumers and consequently promote sustainable consumption.