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An online survey of 1,201 U.S. residents was conducted in April 2015 to better understand individuals’ perceptions of prominent areas of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the food supply chain. Demographic and household consumption information, including supermarket patronage, was collected. Each respondent completed best–worst tasks for CSR areas designed to elicit their relative importance of CSR areas. Overall, health and safety were perceived as the most important CSR area, and environment was prioritized second. Indicating gender as female and/or reporting age over 65 was positively correlated with the relative importance placed on health and safety, but negatively correlated with the size of preference share for nearly all other CSR areas investigated. Membership in the younger age categories was positively correlated with the size of the preference shares devoted to procurement, labor, fair trade, and biotechnology.
Consumer interactions with food corporations occur with high frequency given the inherent necessity of foodstuffs. This research sought to contribute to the understanding of the relative importance placed on CSR areas prominent in U.S. food and agriculture, and further to investigate the relationships between those preferences and various demographics and shopping preferences. Notably, health and safety was rated highest in importance relative to all other areas of CSR. Respondents consistently made the tradeoff for health and safety over all other areas of CSR presented in this study. Environment was rated as the second highest in terms of relative importance of CSR areas. Procurement was rated the lowest in importance, which could be indicative of consumers having little or no information about procurement practices and/or actually thinking procurement to be of low importance or not really understanding what procurement entails.
Relationships were seen amongst perceived importance of CSR areas and self-reported supermarket shopping. Indicating regular shopping at Costco, Trader Joe’s, and/or Whole Foods was correlated with having larger preference share sizes for procurement, fair trade, and biotechnology. Indicating regular shopping at Walmart was correlated positively with the relative importance placed on health and safety. The implications for supermarket management involve the notion that a clearer understanding of customers’ CSR perceptions may allow supermarkets to better meet their demands for social responsibility.