Irish Organic Sector: Consumer Purchasing Behaviors


Consumer buying behavior entails the buying behaviors of the final consumers or households who usually purchases products or services for personal use. In this type of behavior, marketers are concerned in unraveling how consumers respond to various marketing strategies the company may plan to undertake. Consumer behavior is usually influenced by several factors such as culture. In this aspect, several determinants play major roles in the consumer behavior pattern exhibited. For instance, the sub- cultures of the consumer as well as their social class are major determinants. Social factors such as family, reference groups and family roles are very influential and they determine the consumers’ buying behaviors. Personal and psychological aspect portrays how consumers behave in the market when purchasing the products or services.

Irish organic sector

There are around 50,000 hectares of land in Ireland which are certified by the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. This is about 1.5% of the total agricultural land in Ireland. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is mandated to regulate Irish organic sector. The key players in the sector such as Framers, grower, and those in the processing industries go through a rigorous inspection before they are licensed to trade in organic products and production.

Agriculture and food industry in Ireland is a major boost to the Irish economy. It is the largest sector employing more than 19% of the population both in the industrial sector and the export department. More than 65% of the exports in Ireland come from the firms in this sector.

Irish Organic Market overview

There has been an increase in the consumption of organic products in Ireland since 2008. Research conducted by Irish Food Board in 2010 revealed that fruits and vegetables account for the most accepted category of organic products purchased by Irish people. However, a decline in the value of sterling pound together with the economic downswing and other unfavorable conditions in the international dairy market have presented many challenges to the exporters since 2009 (Chen, 2007 p. 1017).

In 2008, TNS Research Company revealed that the value of the organic market in Ireland was more than 1004M Euros which was an increase of around 82% compared to the year 2006’s figures. TNS also revealed that majority of consumers in Ireland had begun to appreciate organic products. The most exported organic products in Ireland include meet, dairy products, cheese and yoghurt as well as fish. There are numerous organic products imported in Ireland, they include vegetables and fruits as well as dried and ambient products (Chen, 2007 p. 1019).

In Ireland, marking for organic products is organized through a chain of retailers; however, there has been direct marketing of these products. Direct marketing is more common in the rural areas whereas special shops for these products do most of the marketing. Irish people’s behavior towards consumption of these products has been the guided by the concern for health and food safety. There have been food scandals in many countries recently and consumers have become more conscious of the food they buy. Better taste has been a common reason for purchasing organic products by the Irish consumers (Henchion, O’Reilly, and Cowan , 2001 p.2).

It has been observed that organic products are sold at higher prices than conventional products. However, product prices vary with the region as well as the category of the product. Many analysts have laid emphasis on the need to cut down the prices for these products In order to attract demand for the products.

Animal feeds accounts for the largest section of the market for cereals and vegetation with high proteins in Ireland. However, there has been an increasing concern for products suitable for human consumption. Breakfast cereals in Ireland are the most common type of serials consumed by the majority of people. In the year 2006 alone there was about 1,100 tonnes of organic oats which was imported for the production of these cereals. It is clear that the cereals which are meant for human consumption is less than compared to those imported as animal feeds. Realizing these, there has been emphases in the Ireland concerning the need for fore stakeholders to venture in this sector (Chen, 2007 p 1020).

Interviews reports

Interviews were conducted to unravel both internal and external factors influencing people’s consumption of organic products in Ireland. Factor which where focused by the interviews are explained as follows:


In an interview which involved 211 respondents, various motivation factors were cited which influence the consumption of organic products. During the interview, customers mentioned that the main motivating factors for purchasing organic food were as shown in the diagram bellow.

Reasons for Consuming Organic Products
Figure 1.0: Reasons for Consuming Organic Products

Majority of those who participated in the interview (22%) cited food safety as the major motivating factor to their urge of consuming organic products, many respondents for instant, praised Portabella Marsala Pasta terming it as safe product with low fat content. Close to that number 19% of the respondents cited health concern in the consumption of these products as their influencing factor. They argued that organic products contain a lot of nutrients that are vital for their health. Many of the respondents expressed their concern for their health as a vital aspect while contemplating on the use of these products. Majority of them gave an example of a product braded as Rice Dream Rice milk to have a mixture of both carbohydrates and proteins. They argued that this product is more health oriented compared to other brands in the market. There are those who felt that organic products offer better taste compared to other products in the market. Limited use of insecticides in the production of these products seems to influence some of the people into purchasing these products. Others said their consumption of organic products is based on the fact that the products are not genetically modified, therefore, they pose no risk in their health.

The respondent’s views seem to tally with TNS’s report in 2003. The report contained details of the findings from a study which the company had carried out concerning motivating factors which influence consumption. It scrutinized motivations for buying these products across eight organic food sectors which included eggs, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, grocery, as well as drinks. The findings found out that among the most influencing factors for the consumption of organic foods were concern for good health, taste, freshness, pesticide free, environmental benefits and sustainability. It appeared that concern for good health and better taste was among the top most mentioned factors in that report (Vermeir & Verbeke, 2006 p 188).


Concerning information regarding barriers of their purchases, majority of the organic products consuming customers pointed out that price still remain a major influence in the consumption of these products. For instance, majority of the respondent gave an example of a brand known as A La Perruche Sugar. They praised this brand for its better quality, whoever, they expressed their concern for its affordability. This was in line with the TNS research in 2003 which found out that more than half of those who do not buy organic products states price as a major hindrance to purchase the products. Another survey conducted by Aberystwyth University in the year 2009 among the habitual, occasional, and non-consumers of organic food revealed that price was perhaps the most named hindrance to consumption of the organic products. Amongst the non-consumers, high prices were mentioned as a major challenge that drives them off from the consumption of organic products (Chen, 2007 p. 1016).

Interviews conducted on the stakeholders, prices appeared in the top list among the barriers they mentioned. However, the stakeholder termed prices as a lesser challenge in some markets. They stated that in such market, differentiation works out well for the sellers. The most observed barrier in such market according to the stakeholders during interview was perception towards the products rather than prices.

Attitudes towards organic food

An interview involving 200 participant was conducted to examine attitudes that purchasers have towards organic products

The results are as follows:

Attitudes towards consumption of organic products
Figure 2.0: Attitudes towards consumption of organic products

From their responses, it appeared clearly that the majority of them do not consume the product due to its high prices, however, there are those who stated that even if the prices were lowered, they would not opt to consume these products. A huge percent agreed that organic products are of good quality and suitable for very ones’ consumption.

Internal factors influencing the consumption of organic products

Demographic factors

There are many demographic factors that influence the purchase of organic products. Population is changing in Ireland as well as in other countries in the whole world. Gender distribution, age competition, economic situations as well as rise in the birth rates significantly influence the consumption of organic products. For instance, in Ireland, women are more than men in number. Research has shown that women purchase organic products much more than men. When we look at the economic situations, the distribution of income significantly portrays the buying power of consumer as well as showing the market potential of the targeted buyers. Women in Ireland and all over the world have increasingly undertaken economic activities recently. Their income is rising as well which means they have more buying power in the current modern world. Owing to the fact that many studies shows that high prices makes many people unwilling to purchase these products, women are better placed in the current world to affords these products more than men (Vermeir & Verbeke, 2006 p. 182).

Structures of the family, marriage and high rates of divorce have significantly distorted the consumption pattern of these products. It has been found out that families with children prefer more health concern food as opposed to people who are single who prefer genetically modified. Children on the other hand may sometimes change the consumption pattern of their parents by demanding junk foods which are highly advertised in the media. This affects the purchases of organic products.

Age differences significantly influence the consumption of organic products. Youths and children are more lured to consume genetically modified food mere than organic products. On the other hand, old people prefer that is more health oriented, they therefore prefer to consume organic products.

Rise in the birth rates enhances consumption of products. There has been an increase in the birth rate in Ireland and many families have increasingly shown concern for the use of organic products. As the birth rate increases, the population continues to increase. This means that more people are likely to consuming organic products.

Consumers attitudes

Attitude refers to the amount of influence or feeling for or against a certain stimulus. They are usually stored in the long-term memory in the human brain. Consumers’ Attitudes go hand in hand with consumers’ beliefs, that is, the knowledge and inferences that a consumer forms about a products, their attributes and their positive outcomes.

Consumers’ buying behavior regarding consumption of organic food is significantly determined by their attitudes which are connected to a set of ideas, motivations as well as their experiences. Attitudes are formed selectively to fit consumer’s needs and they can be altered by external effects such as joining a different society or community as well as acquiring knowledge and embracing new environments. Attitude towards a commodity or a brand significantly portrays a buyer’s purchasing behavior. It is common for instance to like some brand such as Rice Dream Rice milk in Ireland since people perceive this brands as having high level of nutrients (NíGhraith, and Cowan, 2001 p. 27).

Research on consumer perceptions and attitudes has shown that the guiding factors to consumer behaviors are determined by what consumers think is true or rather, the beliefs, likes and dislikes of certain products. Attitudes and perceptions play a major role especially when consumers are comparing between consuming conventionally produced food or organic products. Majority of the consumers make decisions on which products to purchase based on what they like and what they dislike.

Consumer motivations

Various consumer psychologists have been interested to unravel the reason behind consumer motivation. Motivation is a very important aspect in human behavior including the consumption behavior. Abraham Maslow as well as Sigmund Freud analyzed into details the concept of human motivation.

Abraham Maslow came up with a hierarchy of needs which every human being seeks to fulfill. This acts as a driving force. It is interesting that in each subdivision there are some sub-divisions, taking physiological needs for instant, every human being need food to survive, however, the kind of products each individual selects is subject to the motivation factors that one has. Some people organic products with high nutrients to cater for their health needs, others consume conventionally made product due to other reasons. Sigmund Freud on the other hand construed that people are conscious of their buying behaviors which are shaped each individual’s physiology. For instance, majority of people who take organic food such as Creamy Basil Pesto in Ireland are motivated by the need to maintain food health (Vermeir, & Verbeke, 2006 p 192).

Learning and knowledge

Learning is acquired through experience and affects behavior in a significant way Behavioral psychologists construe that almost all human behaviors are learnt. Consumers buying habits on the other hand is significantly determined by the knowledge they have about a product as well as their experienced. Factors such as where they buy commodities, the category of products they buy and the quantity they buy of a product are determined by their learning process. The intentions to consume organic products are largely determined by an individual’s learning experience as well as the knowledge. Those individuals with the knowledge about the benefits of consuming organic products are more likely to consume them as opposed to those who lack information.

External factors that influence purchasing decisions

Culture and sub cultures

Culture is defined by sociologists as individual’s total way of life. Culture is a major external factor that influences consumption decision making process. Just like the way behaviors are learnt, culture is acquired through h the learning process and it has control over behaviors of majority of consumers. Culture is passed from one generation to another. It involves handing over the norms, values and traditions of people in a society from one generation to the next. Products in the markets which have culture specialties are easily embraced by the communities with their particular characteristics. Consumers purchase a product which meets their needs. Needs are usually vary with cultures. Consumers who stick to their particular cultural specification of needs are more likely to refrain from taking products which are not common in their cultures. It is common that society which is accustomed to eating conventionally made food buy more of organic products (Vermeir & Verbeke, 2006 p. 171).

Subculture’s purchasing pattern is also different from the consumption pattern people who are from the same subculture usually influence one another in the buying process. Consumption of particular products is sometimes a function of the culture that one belongs to. For instance, youths usually form subcultures which are different from main cultures of their parents. It is worth to note that consumption of junk food among the youths is very common.

Most of the youths fail to consume organic products in order to conform to the norms upheld in their subcultures. Old people on the other hand are more concerned in the consumption of organic food to cater for their health needs. People who belong to the same religion usually influence each other’s purchasing decisions. Religions lay down its norms which every member is supposed to observe. Religion may put some conditions on consumption of particular products as well as influence the members to consume another product. People’s race or even ethnicity on the other hand plays a greater role in stipulating the consumption behavior that people embrace. Norms may be unspoken but the consumption behavior pattern will ultimately be exhibited portraying those norms (Chen, 2007 p 1018).

Social class

Consumer’s income level, family background, level of education as well as profession clearly stipulates his/her social class. The amount of money one has to buy a particular product significantly portrays his/her purchasing power. Social hierarchies exist in every society. One may be in a low, middle or high class. Each of these social class posses its particular characteristics which significantly influences consumption behaviors. Social class dictates the type of products purchased by people as well as the quantity bought. People in the same social class usually exhibit the same lifestyles, jobs and taste for products. If we look at the consumption of organic products, people in the high class have no problem in consuming a product with high prices. Wealthy consumers always have preference for the products which are of high values. Some brands too are associated with the classes due to purchasing power of that class (Michelsen, Hamm, Wynen, & Roth, 1999 p 199).

Family and group influence

A group is a collective of people who have something in common and distinguishing relations between each other. Family as the basic unit of a community is so far the most common and natural group in every society. People in the family need to buy products and services as well. Family is one of the most influential factors in determining the purchasing behaviors of the individual. As children grow, they are socialized into the families’ likes and dislikes. Their consumption behavior is significantly shaped within the framework of the family. Family acts as a reference when an individual is making purchasing decisions. Those families that are accustomed to taking organic products usually influence their children to follow the same consumption patter. Families usually bring the aspect of uniformity in the consumption pattern. Other groups also influence individuals in making consumption behaviors. For instance people’s associates in the place of work act as a major influence to their consumption of a product (Michelsen, Hamm, Wynen & Roth,1999 p. 199).

Future treads in this organic products sector

There are several factors which are forecasted to act as a catalyst for the demand for organic cereals. Organic fish feed production has been on the increase. Apart from that, organic dairying production plans have been laid down in Ireland and companies have started investing in the in this area. For instance, an American company known as Danone has shown interest and it’s putting up its equipments to start its operation in the production of organic dairies. Arrangements are currently being made to replace the imported products with Irish grains which are estimated to create demand for the products. Expansion of meat production has also been a central focus of the Irish government. Demand for beef, pork and bacon has significantly increased. The most consumed meat products come from poultry and pig. The market for the export of beef has been developing of late in Ireland. This shows that there are potentials for growth in this sector in the future (Chen, 2007 p 1016).


Ireland is one of the countries with the emerging markets for organic products. Recently, the sales from the organic products industrial sector have been on the increase in Ireland. Many farms in Ireland have been certified to undertake production of these products in the country. The growing demand for healthy food products has significantly stimulated the production of organic products. As the population grows in Ireland, many stakeholders are becoming interested in the production of these products. The market for the products has been responsive to the needs of the population. Many consumers are increasing their consumption of these products. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that no-consumers of organic products have declared their interest to consume these products in the future, this sheds some lights to those interested in venturing in this sector.

Consumer behavior is one of the most complex concepts to understand in the business field. Many analysts have tried to integrate the point of views from many theories in the verge of explaining this concept. In the interview, many factors that influence consumers’ choice for organic product were uncovered. Both internal and external factors influence consumption behaviors of the people in Ireland. During the interviews, majority of the respondents sited prices for the organic products as major hindrances to consumption of these products. Organic products’ prices are usually higher that prices for conventional products, consumers therefore opt to purchase convectional products which suit their purchasing power. There are many motivation factors which drive the consumers to buy these products; they include concern for health food, food safety, freshness, being free from genetic modification among other factors.

Internal factors which influence consumer purchasing behavior were elaborated to a greater extent. They include attitudes and perceptions of the consumers, motives, learning and knowledge. External factors which significantly influence consumer’s decision making process include family and groups, cultures, social class among others.


Chen, M-F. 2007. Consumer attitudes and purchase intentions in relation to organic foods in Taiwan: Moderating effects of food-related personality traits. Food Quality and Preference 18(7), 1008–1021.

Henchion, M., O’Reilly, P. and Cowan C, 2001. Organic food in Ireland: a supply chain perspective. Annual Conference: Irish Academy of Management, Magee College, University of Ulster

Michelsen, J., Hamm, U., Wynen, E. & Roth, E, 1999. The European Market for Organic Products: Growth and Development. Organic Farming in Europe: Economics and Policy. Volume 7, University of Hohenheim, Germany, 199 pp.

Ní Ghraith, D and Cowan, C.A, 2001. The Danish Market for Organic Food – Can Ireland Emulate the Developments? Farm and Food 11, (2): 28-29.

Vermeir, I. & Verbeke, W. 2006. Sustainable food consumption: exploring the consumer‘attitude-behavioral intention’ gap. J. Agric. Environ. Ethics 19, 169–194.

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