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Information search behaviour and its determinants: the case of ethical attributes of organic food


Katrin Zander, Department of Agricultural and Food Marketing, University of Kassel, Steinstrasse 19, 37213 Witzenhausen, Germany. E-mail:


Daily decisions on food purchase are known to be undertaken using limited information search. However, when confronted with ‘ethical’ products, consumers often become more involved, and this results in a more extensive search for information. This research focuses on the information search behaviour of European consumers with regard to ethical attributes like animal welfare or environmental aspects of organic food by means of an Information Display Matrix. Row-wise information search by product characteristics (attributes) was widely preferred over information search by product alternatives (column-wise). Therefore, information (e.g. in the Internet) should increasingly be provided by attributes. The majority of consumers use simplifying and selective search strategies when looking for information on organic food with additional ethical attributes. Consumers tend to start information search in the top, left hand corner and move towards the bottom, right hand corner. Thus, principal attributes should be placed in the upper left corner and be followed by the next most important and so on when presenting information on an array of different products. Our results show that information search patterns of consumers depend on socio-demographic characteristics like gender and age and, to a lesser extent, also on attitudes regarding environmental or social aspects of food production. Thus, marketers, particularly those using the Internet, should revise their systems of information provision and focus increasingly on consumers' needs.