Who wants to pay the price for higher pig welfare?

Denver, S., Sandøe, P., & Christensen, T. (2017). Consumer preferences for pig welfare–Can the market accommodate more than one level of welfare pork? Meat science, 129, 140-146.

Concern for animal welfare has been steadily increasing in many developed countries. Even so, this does not necessarily mean that consumers are prepared to pay extra for meat to ensure a better quality of life for animals. This study investigated the willingness of Danish consumers to pay more for medium and high welfare pork, and if there is a market for both products. The results indicate that people are often prepared to pay extra for an increase in pig welfare up to a certain point. Once this level is reached, consumers are not willing to pay a little more, even if it means a large increase in pig welfare. Previous research carried out in the UK in 2012 came to the same conclusion as this study.

This study aimed to further investigate market potential for medium and high welfare pork and the risk of the latter being abandoned in favour of a cheaper alternative. Other studies found that consumers generally have a positive attitude towards improving animal welfare, particularly relating to (outdoor) space for livestock. To shed more light on these findings, the researchers focused on three pig welfare issues; sow confinement, outdoor access for sows, and space for finisher pigs.

An online questionnaire was used to gain more insight into consumer behaviour and attitudes relating to pork products and pig welfare. 396 respondents participated in the research study, which equates to a 15% response rate. While the request was sent out to a sample that reflects the Danish population in terms of age, gender and education, certain groups were found to be overrepresented. These groups, namely women, the elderly and highly educated people, tend to be more concerned about animal welfare issues than other groups. The questionnaire included questions about buying behaviour, brand knowledge and perceptions of the importance of different welfare issues; and also included a choice experiment with the aim of finding out which pork welfare issue participants found most important.

There is untapped market potential for higher welfare pork

Unsurprisingly, the 20% of respondents that answered they usually buy high welfare pork, have a strong preference for this product over medium welfare pork and value pig welfare more than other respondents. The remaining 80% do value pig welfare but are not willing to pay the same price. They are willing to pay a premium for medium welfare levels that offer pigs more space. But this is lower than what the respondents who often buy high welfare pork would pay for similar improvements. These respondents are also not willing to pay extra for high welfare pork, unlike the 20% that already buys this product on a regular basis. Participants valued more space for finisher pigs and access to outdoor areas as most important, while avoidance of tail docking and castration were found to be least important. This could partly be a consequence of the media attention these issues are given.

In conclusion, the research indicates that there is untapped market potential for higher welfare pork, and that a market exists for both medium and high welfare pork in Denmark. However, most consumers are not aware of the differences between the brands and are, potentially as a result from this, not willing to pay a premium for high welfare pork if they can opt for medium welfare products. Therefore, a risk certainly exists that the medium welfare pork market swallows up high welfare pork market share. In addition to limiting price differences between the two products, increasing brand awareness and knowledge among Danish consumers would be essential in helping to prevent this.

World Animal Protection’s view

This study provides valuable insight into the potential market for higher welfare pork. Its findings back up previous research and shed light on the small difference in consumers’ willingness to pay for medium and high welfare pork. However, the respondents lack knowledge about the welfare standards of the different brands. Raising brand awareness is a great opportunity for medium and high welfare pork brands. More research into the specific attributes that would convince people to buy higher welfare pork at an increased price would also be helpful.