Blog | Foodscapes in times of uncertainty | #1

Members of the foodscapes cluster supervise a number of students who are looking at changing food(scapes) in times of corona. We therefore introduce a blog series in which these students can share their work. This first blog is written by Lisa Marijke van den Berg.

How COVID-19 changed consumers’ motivations for local consumption

Since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March (WHO, 2020) countries around the world had several ways to cope with the disease. Despite negative influences of COVID-19 on daily life, some sectors benefit from the pandemic. One of these sectors is the Alternative Food Network (AFN) sector, as you might have seen in the media the past months. AFNs aim to counteract the environmental, social, and economic conflicts that results from the dominant food system (Renting et al., 2003). They aim for local consumption and are characterized by a close producer-consumer interaction (Zoll et al., 2017).

AFNs are an alternative to the global, ‘common’, food system: the majority of the population does not participate in AFNs. However, as said, during the corona crisis the Dutch national interest in AFNs increased (Kamsma, 2020; Smit, 2020). Local initiatives throughout the Netherlands, like ‘Rechtstreex’, ‘Support your locals’, ‘Streekboer’ and ‘Bioweb’ argued that their number of orders more than doubled when compared to the days before the corona crisis (Smit, 2020). Furthermore, chain shortening initiatives received attention in several talk shows and in the news. For example, an episode of Jinek discussed the initiative “Support Your Locals” (Jinek, Baarsma & Levie, 2020), which promotes the idea that consumers should support local farmers during the corona crisis.

In my thesis I studied the motivations of consumers to start participating in an AFN during the COVID-19 pandemic, to better understand the mechanisms behind this increased interest. I interviewed AFN participants who started their participation during the pandemic, and compared their motivations to those of consumers who participated in AFNs already before COVID-19 hit, as found in the literature. The comparison showed that motivations for AFN participation during the COVID-19 pandemic mostly emphasise factors close to home: new AFN participants wanted to support local farmers or to treat themselves, but they did not mention structural societal reformation as a reason to participate. In other words, their motivations were focused on their local area. Reasons for AFN participation as found in the literature – from people who started participating in AFNs before COVID – were to a higher extend focused on a global level. For instance, these people often mentioned environmental concerns. Those concerns were not identified in the interviews with new consumers. Also freshness as a driver for participation before the pandemic had moved to the background. This was replaced by the importance of healthy and safe food to increase personal and family health.

The interviews showed that there is a demand for better availability and accessibility of information about local food purchasing. Several participants mentioned that they did not know that certain types of food were grown locally too. The awareness raised in the media to support farmers encouraged them to take a first step into local grocery shopping. The media showed consumers what they could do to support farmers and where to get specific produce. Hence, while AFN participation is often marketed as a sustainable alternative to the supermarket, this thesis reveals that this is not necessarily the most influential attraction for new consumers to participate in an AFN, especially during a pandemic. These new insights enable better responses to the needs of consumers.

References

Jinek, E., Baarsma, B., & Levie, S. (Presenter, Economist & Guest Speaker). (2020, 19th March). Aflevering 55 [Talkshow]. E. Van der Horst (Producer). Jinek, Amsterdam, Netherlands: RTL Group.

Kamsma, M. (2020a, 30 maart). Terug naar de boer, ook na corona. NRC. Retrieved on 5 April, from https://www.nrc.nl

Renting, H., Marsden, T. K., & Banks, J. (2003). Understanding alternative food networks: Exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development. Environment and Planning A, 35, 393–411.

Smit, P. H. (2020, 6 april). Nu zien we wel kans om boeren in de buurt op te zoeken. De Volkskrant. Retrieved on 6 April, from https://www.volkskrant.nl

World Health Organization: WHO. (2020, 10 January). Coronavirus. Retrieved on 5 April 2020, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1

Zoll, F., Specht, K., Opitz, I., Siebert, R., Piorr, A., & Zasada, I. (2017). Individual choice or collective action? Exploring consumer motives for participating in alternative food networks. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 42(1), 101–110. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12405