Predictors of organic tea purchase intentions by Chinese consumers: Attitudes, subjective norms and demographic factors

Mark X. James (Department of Management and Marketing, Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia, USA)
Zhimin Hu (Department of Geography, University of Bologna, Forlì, Italy)
Tesa E. Leonce (Department of Accounting and Finance, Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia, USA)

Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies

ISSN: 2044-0839

Article publication date: 25 June 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the factors that influence Chinese consumers’ purchase of organic products, with a focus on organic tea.

Design/methodology/approach

A structured questionnaire was used to survey 202 shoppers in Guangdong Province, China. The data were analyzed using multivariate regression.

Findings

The study suggests two significant predictors of organic tea purchase intentions: perceiving organic tea as a healthier alternative to non-organic tea; perceiving the purchase of organic tea as a status symbol. Younger respondents and respondents with higher educational attainment reported greater organic tea purchase intentions. Non-significant predictors of organic tea purchase intentions were respondents’ knowledge of organic tea through media exposure, their gender and income.

Research limitations/implications

The findings help further research on consumer preferences regarding organic foods providing key insights for researchers and marketers as they strive to make informed decisions in the emerging organic food retail environment. Specifically, Chinese consumers perceiving organic tea as a healthy option and as a status symbol are more likely to state organic tea purchase intentions. These results point to the need for extended research on key antecedents of Chinese consumers’ purchase intentions of organic products.

Originality/value

Little was known about the motivations of Chinese consumers for purchasing organic food products, as the psychological and demographic factors that are associated with organic food purchase behavior in China were not well researched. Specifically, there is still a notable gap in the understanding of how consumers in China make organic tea purchase decisions. With organic foods occupying a progressively larger portion of Chinese diets and budgets, this research fills in some of the knowledge gap by examining how the social norms of status symbols influence Chinese consumers’ purchase intentions of organic tea.

Keywords

Citation

James, M.X., Hu, Z. and Leonce, T.E. (2019), "Predictors of organic tea purchase intentions by Chinese consumers: Attitudes, subjective norms and demographic factors", Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 202-219. https://doi.org/10.1108/JADEE-03-2018-0038

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited


1. Introduction

Since 1978, economic changes in China have led to dramatic increases in per capita income and increased consumer spending on foodstuff, including organic foods. This study focuses on the market for tea because of the frequency and significance of its consumption in Chinese culture (Wang, 2005). As tea is a staple in Chinese households, respondents are expected to be sufficiently familiar with the product. This research seeks to gather insights concerning the purchase intentions of Chinese consumers regarding organic tea.

In 2010, China became the world’s second largest economy with a population of 1.2bn, and an emerging middle class of over 250m consumers (Barton et al., 2013). Disposable incomes have increased from approximately RMB 13,000 in 2005 to 33,000 in 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2016), and that increase in disposable income has given Chinese households more money to improve their diets and to demand healthier food products including organics (Ortega and Tschirley, 2017). With the steady elevation of living standards in recent years, organic agriculture and the organic foods market in China have been developing at a rate of 30 percent per year (Sheng et al., 2009). Several high-profile food safety scandals have contributed to the increased demand for organic foods over the last few years. For example, in 2008, Chinese authorities discovered that melamine – an industrial chemical – was being added to milk products, including infant formula, to artificially boost the milk’s protein reading, thereby increasing its value. Six reported infant deaths and over 54,000 infant hospitalizations resulted from the milk poisoning (Sharma and Paradakar, 2010; Zhou and Wang, 2011). More closely related to this study are the cases of lead contamination and the presence of other heavy metals, including copper and nickel, in tea crops (Han et al., 2006; Zhong et al., 2016). These scandals have increased consumer awareness of food safety and China has been experiencing a shift in consumer tastes toward organic foods as a result.

Because of poor statistical records and the fragmented nature of the market, data on organic food demand and consumption in China are hard to obtain. On the supply side, in 2014, 1.9m hectares (Willer and Lernoud, 2016) were devoted to organic farming which represents about 1.1 percent of the total 166m hectares of farm land in China. Though organic foods are a small part of the overall Chinese food market, it is a fast-growing segment generating interest among food producers as more Chinse consumers are purchasing organic foods.

1.1 Organic foods definition

The precise definition of organic food varies by country, but generally can be described as food which is: naturally produced; environmentally sustainable; a product of a system of farming that relies on organic fertilizers such as manure and uses techniques like crop rotation to help control pests and weeds (United States Department of Agriculture, 2012). Similarly, the China Organic Food Certification Center (2015) defines organic foods as those where “no harmful chemicals or pesticides have been applied for at least two years for annual crops and three years for perennial.”

In China, organic tea is made from tea leaves that are produced and processed without any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators or chemical food additives. The production complies with International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement standards and was issued the Organic Natural Food Certification Organization Certificate (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement, 2014).

1.2 The organic tea market

Annual organic tea production is increasing in China, but the total proportion of organic tea production is still below 2 percent (Willer and Lernoud, 2016) and organic tea makes up only a small proportion of overall Chinese tea sales. With the domestic organic tea market remaining currently untapped, sales of organic tea and other organic foods produced in China take place primarily in international markets (Yin et al., 2010). The main target markets are Western Europe, Japan, the USA and other developed countries. Despite the low proportion of regular purchasers of organic foods, previous studies have provided evidence that most consumers do have a preference for and interest in organically produced foods (Vindigni et al., 2002; Wandel and Bugge, 1997; Yiridoe et al., 2005). That discrepancy between stated preferences and behavior has been attributed to several factors including price premiums, consumer satisfaction with the conventional food supply, and limited availability of organic food products (Shepherd et al., 2005). This study goes further as it analyzes factors such as subjective norms and perceived health benefits which may affect purchase intentions of a specialized organic tea market. Based on the results of this study, adopting marketing strategies geared toward spreading awareness of organic tea health benefits, as well as its role as a status symbol in Chinese society, presents an effective means of reaching a potentially profitable untapped domestic organic tea market. The first step in the process of selling more organic tea is to understand the motivation of current organic tea consumers. If successful, the increased sales of organic tea will benefit existing producers as well as attract additional producers of organic products, benefitting the Chinese economy, environment and public health.

1.3 Purpose

The purpose of this study is to examine the factors that influence Chinese consumers’ purchase intentions of organic foods, with a focus on organic tea. Over the last few decades, most of the research on organic food purchasing has been conducted in Europe and the USA. Studies on developing economies are an increasing emphasis of researchers who focus on consumer behavior toward organic food products in emerging markets (Chen and Lobo, 2012; Chen et al., 2014; Thøgersen et al., 2015; Thøgersen and Zhou, 2012; Zhou et al., 2013). Little was known about the motivations of Chinese consumers for purchasing organic food products (Roitner-Schobesberger et al., 2008), as the psychological and demographic factors that are associated with organic food purchase behavior in China were not well researched. Specifically, there is still a notable gap in the understanding of how consumers in China make organic tea purchase decisions. With organic foods occupying a progressively larger portion of Chinese diets and budgets, this research fills in some of the knowledge gap by examining how the social norms of status symbols influence Chinese consumers’ purchase intentions of organic tea.

2. Research question and hypotheses

2.1 Research question

The needs of Chinese consumers are shifting due to growing incomes, changes in lifestyles and increased concerns about food safety. As these shifts occur, consumers search for information to meet their needs; they become aware of products and product attributes, and that information then influences subsequent purchasing decisions (Brucks, 1985; Shafiq et al., 2011). One factor this research examines is how basic awareness of organic tea influences consumer purchase intentions. Consumers obtain product information from a myriad of sources: manufacturers or producers; advertising in traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers; and word of mouth and social media. Knowledge and awareness of a food product can have a positive influence on the buying behaviors of consumers of organic foods (Beharrell and MacFie, 1991; Hill and Lynchehaun, 2002). However, is general awareness of organic foods through exposure to traditional media associated with greater purchase intentions? Is awareness of organic tea associated with Chinese consumer purchase intentions? It is unclear whether exposure to, or awareness of, an organic food product alone is enough to trigger purchase intentions. This research examines the impact of traditional media sources on organic tea purchase intentions; therefore, the following research question is posed:

RQ1.

Does media exposure influence organic tea purchase intentions?

2.2 Hypotheses development

Based on previous research (Aertsens et al., 2009), the theory of planned behavior (TPB) was used to model Chinese consumers’ organic tea purchase intentions. The TPB (Ajzen, 1991) draws a link between a person’s beliefs and their subsequent actions (see Figure 1). In the TPB model, there are three determinants of an intention to perform behavior, which are: attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control. Although the TPB has been applied in prior research of organic food purchasing behavior, often the role of subjective norms has been neglected. This research focuses on attitudes and subjective norms to provide a theoretical framework for Chinese consumers’ purchase intentions of organic tea.

Attitudes

Attitudes are the evaluations and beliefs people make about objects, ideas, events or other people (Robbins, 2001). Individuals’ beliefs and attitudes about organic foods are important antecedents for predicting and explaining consumers’ buying choices (Honkanen et al., 2006). Specifically, the more favorable the attitude concerning a behavior, the stronger is the intention to perform the behavior being considered (Ajzen, 1991). Previous research has shown that attitudes and beliefs such as health consciousness and environmental consciousness are associated with organic food consumption (Hughner et al., 2007; Narine et al., 2015; Thøgersen, 2009; Yin et al., 2010). Because of the perceived health benefits, health conscious individuals commonly evaluate organics as safer and healthier than non-organically grown foods (Michaelidou and Hassan, 2008), which can translate into purchase behaviors. In Thailand, for example, concern for chemical residues on food products led to a perception that organic was healthier, resulting in increased purchases of organic foods (Roitner-Schobesberger et al., 2008). A favorable attitude and a belief that organic food is healthier are likely to strengthen an individual’s intention to purchase organic tea. Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H1.

The belief that organic tea is healthier will be positively associated with greater purchase intentions of organic tea.

Subjective norms

The subjective norms of society are the culturally appropriate behaviors a society expects from its citizens. Subjective norms include the pressures an individual feels to engage in or refrain from socially appropriate behaviors (Ajzen, 1991). An individual’s subjective norms include beliefs about how others perceive them as they engage in particular behaviors. Subjective norms serve as powerful internal controls that shape behavior. The McClelland (1985) Theory of Motivation suggests that individuals tend to perform behavior that is deemed desirable by a referent group, due to their need for affiliation and group identification. From this perspective, consumer choices are made in the context of societal norms and values. Individual consumer choices reflect the values of society and they are symbols to ourselves and others about who and what we are, and to which group we belong. We are what we buy, and we are what we eat.

The cultural values of China have for over 2,000 years been rooted in Confucianism, which is in part a system of social ethics based on filial piety, kinship, loyalty and righteousness. It is a cultural system that values hierarchy and group orientation. One central tenet of Confucianism prescribes that each person should know or ascertain their status in a group or society and behave in a way reflective of the obligations and rights dictated by their status. Though Mao’s communist China (the “workers’ paradise”) aimed to create a classless society, that goal has not been realized. Chinese people are acutely aware of their status in society relative to one another.

A manifestation of the emphasis on status is the idea of “Face,” or Miàn zi (面子). It is the display of dignity and self-respect when interacting with others. Face represents a person’s reputation and feelings of prestige within the context of family, friends, work and society (Hwang and Han, 2010; Qi, 2011). It is an individual’s social standing and manifests as a desire to be respected by others in social discourse (Ting-Toomey and Kurogi, 1998). A strong “face consciousness” is associated with the pursuit of money, and the display of material wealth as a means of enhancing reputation and social status (Lin et al., 2013; Nancy and Aaron, 1998). Displaying material wealth can be thought of as a signaling attempt to others about one’s status or desired status.

The consumption of luxury status goods fulfills the need of consumers to meet their familial obligations, impress others and establish their equal social standing and/or superiority among others (Lin et al., 2013; Nancy and Aaron, 1998). For example, an image of financial success might be projected to business partners or others in society through the consumption of luxury goods (Ahuvia and Wong, 1998; Vigneron and Johnson, 1999). In a business setting, a person might purchase and consume very expensive imported whiskey as a signal to associates that the purchaser is financially well off and possesses high standards and good taste. Similarly, in this paper we believe that the consumer’s ability to access organic tea may also function as a status symbol. The purchase of organic tea signifies that the consumer has adequate financial resources to be highly selective when making food choices. This validates the purchaser’s ability to take care of family or signals prosperity and higher status, thereby meeting the Confucian obligation. Therefore, it is hypothesized as follows:

H2.

The greater the perception of organic tea as a status symbol, the greater the purchase intentions of organic tea.

Influence of demographics on organic tea purchase intentions

A variety of demographic variables have been shown to influence the purchase intentions of organic foods. To understand how demographic variables influence Chinese consumers’ organic tea purchase intentions, the following control variables are included in the model.

Higher education/income

Higher education has been shown to be related to willingness to pay higher prices for organic foods, and higher education is a strong predictor of awareness of health issues as they relate to organic products (Tsakiridou et al., 2008). Additionally, higher income and education levels are positively associated with greater concerns over food safety (Smith et al., 2009).

Therefore, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H3.

Higher education will positively influence purchase intentions of organic tea.

H4.

Higher income will be associated with higher levels of organic tea purchase intentions.

Gender

Gender has been shown to influence organic food purchase intentions (Ureña et al., 2008), with women being more likely to indicate organic food purchase intentions. The argument is that women in many societies bear greater responsibility for the family including family health and nourishment, and are more sensitive to the perceived health and safety benefits of organic foods. Studies outside of China have shown that women have favorable attitudes toward organic food, which results in greater purchase intentions for organic foods (Krystallis et al., 2006; Ureña et al., 2008; Wee et al., 2014). Therefore, it is hypothesized as follows:

H5.

Women will be more likely than men to report organic tea purchase intentions.

Age

Younger consumers are more likely than older consumers to purchase and state organic food purchase intentions (Onyango et al., 2007). Younger consumers are more socially aware and concerned about the effects of non-organic farming on the environment. Therefore, the following hypothesis can be derived:

H6.

Age will be negatively associated with organic tea purchase intentions

3. Data and method

3.1 Questionnaire construction

The survey was originally created in English and then translated into Chinese and finally back-translated to English. The survey was then checked for translation errors. The survey instrument comprised 20 survey items plus demographic information questions and was adapted and modified based on previous seminal and related research (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1980; Lockie et al., 2004; Misra et al., 1991) and tested for reliability and validity. The questionnaire, comprising several multi-item construct measurements on seven-point scales, was used to survey the knowledge, ideas, feelings, purchase intent of organic tea and demographic traits of potential organic tea consumers.

3.2 Data collection

The survey was administered to 266 people in Guangzhou and Zhuhai, China. These cities are located in southern China, the country’s most developed economic zone, and form part of a large organic food market in mainland China (Yin et al., 2010). Employing the Convenience Sampling method, patrons were approached at local shopping venues and asked to fill out a 30-question survey. See Table I for the demographic profile of the respondents. 202 valid questionnaires were retrieved (valid recovery rate of 76 percent) from people of different ages, gender, incomes and educational backgrounds. Shown below is a list of the final variables used in the study.

3.3 Model

A linear multivariate regression model was used where the consumers’ purchase intentions (Y) of organic tea is determined by a vector (X) of explanatory variables and demographic controls.

Y can be described using the following model:

Y = b 0 + β X + ε ,
where b0 is the parametric intercept, β is the coefficient vector and ε is a random error component.

Dependent variable

Purchase intentions

Self-reported organic tea purchase intentions were measured using three questions adapted from Thøgersen and Zhou (2012) and Tilikidou (2007). A seven-point Likert scale was used, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 7 being “strongly agree.” The average of the values was used, and higher values indicate greater organic tea purchase intentions.

For the construct capturing intention to buy, three dependent variable questions were used: first, “I will buy organic in the future.” Second, “I am willing to buy organic tea.” Third, “I prefer to buy organic tea.”

Independent variables

Media exposure

Media exposure to organic tea was measured using five item questions adapted from Jaidi et al. (2011) and Zhang (2003). A seven-point Likert scale was used, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 7 being “strongly agree.” The average of the values was used, and higher values indicate greater media exposure to organic tea.

Healthy

The attitude of respondents perceiving organic tea as a healthier option was measured using four questions adapted from Nie and Zepeda (2011) and Levin et al. (1988). A seven-point Likert scale was used, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 7 being “strongly agree.” The average of the values was used, with higher values indicating greater understanding that organic tea is grown without chemicals.

Status symbol

Within the context of examining the importance of subjective norms in purchase decisions, the perception of organic tea as a status symbol was measured using four questions adapted from Dubois et al. (2005) and Sanyal et al. (2014). A seven-point Likert scale was used, with 1 being “strongly disagree” to 7 being “strongly agree.” Using average values for this measure, higher values indicate greater belief that organic tea is a status symbol.

Education

Education was measured using a single item question asking the respondent to identify the highest level of education attained. The education responses were then divided into five categories: primary education=1; Jr high school=2; Sr high school=3; vocational school=4 and college=5.

Income

Income was measured using a single item question asking the respondents to identity their monthly income level. Four income bands were identified: less than RMB 2,000=1; RMB 2,000–5,000=2; RMB 5,001–10,000=3; greater than RMB 10,000=4.

Age and gender were each measured using a single item question. Respondents were asked to indicate their current age and their responses for gender were coded: 1=male, and 2=female.

3.4 Data analysis

The collected data were digitized using SPSS and a factor analysis was performed on the data set. The principal component analysis was performed using VARIMAX rotation criterion. Using a cut-off of 1 for the eigenvalues, three components emerged from the factor analysis. An examination of the factor loadings indicated problems with the scales including poor scale development, cross-loadings and low factor loadings; therefore, a total of ten questions were deleted from the data analysis. The original survey design included questions that were intended to measure the perception that organic tea is healthy, and the knowledge that organic tea is grown without manmade chemicals. These were envisioned as two separate constructs; however, the two question sets loaded on the same factor. Further testing revealed that there was a correlation of 0.75 between the two constructs when the question sets were averaged. It was concluded that the two sets of questions were measuring a very similar construct. Aligning with the principle of parsimony in factor analysis and to avoid multicollinearity issues, the five questions asking about the respondents’ knowledge of organic tea being grown without manmade chemicals were eliminated. The implications of this decision are discussed in the “Results and discussion” section.

In the survey, three questions asked about the perception that organic tea was more expensive than non-organic tea. A factor analysis was performed on the question set, and the questions measuring the perception that organic tea is more expensive loaded on the same factor as the questions measuring the commodity as a status symbol. The average of the two question sets was taken and their correlation measured. A 0.65 correlation was found between the two question sets signaling they were measuring a very similar construct. An unexpected outcome from this survey design is the conflation of the two constructs. The literature on perceiving organic products as status symbols and the influence of that perception on purchase intentions is scant, so it was decided to focus on those questions. Therefore, the three questions measuring the perception that organic tea was a more expensive option compared to its non-organic counterpart were eliminated.

The respondents were surveyed on their marital status, whether they had young children, and the ages of their children. An examination of the data showed a high correlation between these variables. In the sample, respondents who were married tended to be younger, and younger parents have younger children. With the constructs measuring very similar things, the items on marital status and presence of young children in the household were omitted to avoid the issue of multicollinearity. The paper then focuses on how age influences organic tea purchase intentions among Chinese consumers.

The final data set was analyzed using 20 questions. Three questions measured the dependent variable, 13 questions measured the independent variables of interest and four questions measured the demographic characteristics of the respondents. Table II shows the factor loading for the independent variables questions.

To check the internal consistency of the measures, the Cronbach’s αs were calculated and are reported (shown on the diagonal) along with the means, standard deviations and correlations in Table III. The correlations between the continuous variables were calculated using a Pearson’s correlation coefficient. The correlations between the categorical variables, and the categorical and continuous variables were calculated using Spearman’s correlation coefficient.

Using SPSS, a summary of the regression results is shown in Table IV. An analysis of the individual hypotheses and results provide a springboard for rich discussion on the factors which affect purchase intentions in the organic tea market.

4. Results and discussion

4.1 Media exposure

The research question examined the relationship between the respondents’ exposure to information on organic tea via traditional media sources and their purchase intentions of organic tea. It was found that media exposure to organic tea was not a significant predictor (β =0.00, ρ=0.91) of organic tea purchase intentions. This finding is supported by studies which suggest that consumer purchase intentions are shaped more fully by knowledge of product attributes that are valued by the consumers and other underlying attribution processes, such as the perceived credibility of celebrity endorsers used in advertising media (Tripp et al., 1994).

4.2 Healthy

H1 predicted that the perception of organic tea as a healthier product would positively influence purchase intentions. The data supported this hypothesis (β=0.44, ρ=0.00), suggesting that the perception of organic tea as a healthy alternative was a significant predictor of organic tea purchase intentions.

The results of the study suggest that individuals who were aware that organic tea was grown without manmade chemicals were more likely to believe organic tea was healthy. As discussed in the “Data and method” section, the questions about knowledge that organic tea is grown without manmade chemicals were omitted from the analysis. These are important findings, as they show that Chinese consumers perceive a link between chemical-free agriculture and healthier food. This finding of a significant positive relationship between the perceived wholesomeness of organic foods and purchase intentions could potentially influence how organic products are marketed in China. Advertisers might emphasize the perceived health aspects of organic foods by referencing that they were grown without manmade chemicals.

4.3 Status symbol

H2 predicted that the perception of organic tea as a status symbol would be positively associated with organic tea purchase intentions, and this was supported by the results of the study (β =0.26, ρ=0.00). This is the most important and interesting finding in the study. It was noted that the survey questions about organic tea price premiums loaded on a single factor with the status symbol questions. In some studies, higher prices associated with organic foods reduce consumer purchases of organic foods (Zanoli and Naspetti, 2002). Other research has shown that higher prices are perceived as a signal of higher quality goods (Milgrom and Roberts, 1986). For example, Hill and Lynchehaun (2002) found that higher priced organic milk was associated with the perception that organic milk was higher quality and tasted better. Tea drinking is an important part of the culture of China and is consumed at most meals. It might be seen as a luxury drink, yet affordable due to relatively small average portion sizes. This research engenders speculation that the respondents in the survey perceived organic tea price premiums as both a signal of higher product quality and an indicator of social status.

Tea leaves are often given as a gift and the choice of organic tea may be seen as a signal to the recipient that the gift giver is a person of taste and refinement. There may be additional psychological motivations for organic tea purchase among consumers, such as an association to one’s sense of identity. It must be noted, however, that these are speculations about the link between the perception of organic tea as a status symbol and the expression of higher organic tea purchase intentions. Ultimately, these are empirical questions, and this paper provides important insights which can be used in future research to explore the fascinating psychological aspects of subjective norms and organic food pricing in China.

4.4 Education

H3 which predicted that higher levels of education are associated with greater organic tea purchase intentions was supported by the data (β =0.16, ρ=0.01). The findings show that higher education was positively associated with higher organic tea purchase intentions among the respondents in the sample. The findings contribute to the research on organic foods in China by showing that consumer behavior in this region is consistent with most of the research conducted in the West, showing a positive association between higher education and organic food purchase intentions.

4.5 Income

H4 predicted that higher income is associated with greater organic tea purchase intentions. H4 was not supported (β=−0.04, ρ=0.62). The research did not show an association between higher income levels and organic tea purchase intentions; however, it is critical to note that conventional microeconomic theory supports the notion that income is an important variable affecting the actual purchase decisions of consumers.

Much of the research on organic foods has been done in the West where disposable incomes are much higher. In the data, there was no clear association between the income of the respondents surveyed and organic tea purchase intentions. It is also possible that a sub-optimal survey design of the specific question set may have impacted the results. The survey had four monthly income bands: first, less than RMB 2,000 (US$296 at an exchange rate of US$1= RMB 6.75); second, RMB 2,000–5,000 (US$296–US$741 at an exchange rate of US$1=RMB 6.75); third, RMB 5,001–10,000 (US$741–US$1,482 at an exchange rate of US$1=RMB 6.75); four, greater than RMB 10,000 (US$1,482 at an exchange rate of US$1=RMB 6.75). The income bands in this study may be too broad, leading to non-significant results.

An examination of the frequency of the responses showed that 23 percent of the respondents self-reported income in Band 1, 40 percent in Band 2, 16 percent in Band 3, and 21 percent in Band 4. Designing questions often involves a tradeoff. If respondents had been asked to write in their actual salary instead of selecting an income bracket, there may have been a higher occurrence of missing data due to the sensitive nature of this type of information. Therefore, salary bands were used, which may have led to a lack of variance resulting in insignificant results. This is an important perspective on income as a research variable; it is often included as either a control variable, or the researcher is interested in exploring the causal link between income and some variable of interest. To increase the variance and accuracy of income as a research construct in China, it is suggested that researchers increase the number of income bands.

4.6 Gender

H5 predicted that gender would be associated with greater organic tea purchase intentions. H5 was not supported (β=−0.02, ρ =0.74). In this sample, women were not more likely than men to report organic tea purchase intentions, and as such there was no significant gender effect for organic tea purchase intentions. This is an unexpected finding as much of the previous research on organic foods shows that women are more likely to either purchase or express purchase intentions for organic foods. This result could be linked to standard limitations associated with convenience sampling techniques including selection bias. These results could also indicate that organic tea, being a beverage with a long historic cultural connection to China, has unique perceived product attributes compared to other organic food products. This presents implications for how organic tea might be positioned or marketed in China.

4.7 Age

H6 predicted that age is negatively associated with greater organic tea purchase intentions. H6 was supported (β=−0.24, ρ=0.00). The results show that age is negatively associated with higher organic tea purchase intentions where younger respondents in the sample were more likely to report organic tea purchase intentions. Studies on the impact of age on organic foods purchase intentions have shown a mixed relationship between age and organic tea purchase intentions which highlight the need for a greater understanding of the impact of age on organic foods purchase intentions.

4.8 Post hoc analysis

A comprehensive post hoc analysis was conducted with the goal of exploring the potential impact of alternative modeling approaches and other pertinent considerations on reported results.

Categorical variables

First, the treatment of categorical variables – education, income and gender – was revisited to incorporate dummy variables in the data analysis to gather further insights. The education variable was measured using a single item question asking the respondent to identify the highest level of education attained. The education responses were then divided into five categories: primary education=1; Jr high school=2; Sr high school=3; vocational school=4 and college=5. Four levels of education were identified among the respondents – categories 2 through 5. Education 2 (Jr high school) was the base. Education Dummy 1 was Sr high school; Education Dummy 2 was vocational school and Education Dummy 3 was college. The individual level of education did not have statistically significant predictive power on organic tea purchase intentions as reported in Table V.

The impact of income on purchase intentions was also analyzed with the use of dummy variables. Income Level 1 (monthly income less than RMB 2,000) was the base. Income Dummy 1 was assigned to the monthly income bracket RMB 2,000–5,000. Income Dummy 2 was assigned to monthly income of RMB 5,001–10,000 and Income Dummy 3 to monthly incomes of over RMB 10,000. The individual level of income did not have statistically significant predictive power on organic tea purchase intentions as reported in Table VI.

Omitted variables

In section 3.4, based on preliminary data analysis, it was reported that certain question sets from the survey instrument were found to be measuring a common construct. More specifically, questions related to consumer perception of organic tea as healthy and those related to the use of manmade chemicals were found to be measuring the same construct. The same was true for the question sets capturing the respondents’ perception of the price of organic tea and their views of organic tea as a status symbol. As a result, question sets associated with manmade chemicals and the relative price of organic tea were eliminated from the analysis. A post hoc analysis was performed to determine if this decision was still applicable when subgroups were considered. The sample was divided into two education groups – low and high education levels. The low education group consisted of 44 individuals who reported an education level of Sr High School or below (education categories 1–3 on our survey). The high education group consisted of one hundred and 58 individuals who reported an education level of vocational school or higher (education categories 4–5 on the survey). A factor analysis on the question set was performed comparing the results between the low and high education groups. The results showed that in both the high and low education groups, a single factor emerged from the factor analysis: The questions pertaining to the knowledge that there were no manmade chemicals in organic tea and that organic tea was a healthier option loaded on the same construct. It is notable that the sample was collected mostly during the day at local shopping venues resulting in the responses being skewed toward higher education levels in these relatively affluent areas. This overrepresentation of the high education group potentially poses some limitation on the generalization of the results and will be discussed in the limitations section of the paper.

A similar approach was used to revisit respondents’ perceptions on organic tea pricing and the view of it as a status symbol. A post hoc analysis was conducted across different income levels. The sample was divided into two groups: low- and high-income levels. The low-income group consisted of 126 individuals (62 percent of the sample) who reported a monthly income of RMB 5,000 or less (income categories 1 and 2 on the survey). At an exchange rate of RMB 6.75 to the USD that would be approximately US$740 per month. The high-income group consisted of 76 (32 percent of the sample) who reported an income level of RMB 5,001 or higher (income categories 3 and 4 on the survey). At an exchange rate of RMB 6.75 to the USD that would be about US$741 or more USD per month. A factor analysis was performed on the question set comparing the results between the low- and high-income groups. The results showed that in both the low- and high-income groups, a single factor emerged from the factor analysis. The questions pertaining to the belief that organic tea was more expensive than non-organic tea and that organic tea was a status symbol loaded on the same construct.

Interaction terms

The most interesting finding in this study is the effect that perception of the product as a status symbol has on purchase intentions. As part of the post hoc analyses, three interaction terms were examined to determine if the perception of organic tea as a status symbol is a more important predictor for our respondents depending on their age, income or education levels. Table VII shows the regression model with an interaction term between the education and status symbol variables. An examination of the interaction results indicates that for this data set there is no significant interaction effect between education, organic tea as a status symbol and organic tea purchase intentions.

Table VIII shows the regression model with an interaction term between the income and status symbol variables. An examination of the results indicates that for this data set there is an interaction effect between education, organic tea as a status symbol and organic tea purchase intentions. The interaction term is significant so, we can infer that higher income individuals tend to perceive organic tea as a status symbol and report higher organic tea purchase intentions. We speculate that as income goes up, Chinese consumers are more status conscious and are willing to pay more for higher status consumer goods. This finding has potential marketing implications which may include the incorporation of celebrity endorsements or strategic product placement in advertising as they target specific groups.

Table IX shows the regression model with an interaction term between the age and status symbol variables. An examination of the results indicates that for this data set, there is an interaction effect between age, organic tea as a status symbol and organic tea purchase intentions. The interaction term is significant, so we can infer that older individuals who view organic tea as a status symbol tend to report higher organic tea purchase intentions. We speculate that as Chinese consumers get older they become more status conscious and are more likely to express purchase intentions for organic tea. This result offers interesting insights particularly in relation to the findings in the original model where the coefficient on the age variable was negative, implying that older people were less likely to express purchase intentions for organic tea. Further study would be needed to gain additional insights into the specific underpinnings – which might include cultural mechanisms – driving the age-status symbol interaction effect. Even so, these interaction results could potentially influence the way marketers promote organic tea as a prestigious item to specific target consumer groups.

5. Concluding remarks

This paper makes a significant contribution to understanding key psychological and demographic factors that influence purchase intentions in China with respect to organic tea. Regarding the major research question, the study found that exposure to organic tea via media outlets was not a significant predictor of organic tea purchase intentions. In exploring psychological factors that affect purchase intentions of organic tea, the study provided evidence that perceiving organic tea as a healthy alternative is a significant predictor of organic tea purchase intentions. The most interesting finding in the study was the positive association between the perception of organic tea as a status symbol and stated organic tea purchase intentions. This result could potentially shape pricing and promotion strategies for organic tea in Chinese markets.

The study also examined demographic factors which may impact purchase intentions of organic tea. A positive correlation between higher education and organic tea purchase intentions was found, but there was no clear association between the income of the respondents surveyed and their organic tea purchase intentions. Further, women were found to be no more likely than men to report organic tea purchase intentions. However, younger respondents in the sample were more likely to report organic tea purchase intentions. Economic agents including government officials, producers and advertisers can use the results from this paper to formulate strategy and other critical decisions as they seek to achieve their objectives.

5.1 Limitations

Every paper has limitations and this paper is no exception. A valid sample of 202 Chinese consumers was collected. A power analysis for multiple regression shows that a model with seven predictors, a modest anticipated effects size of 0.10, and a probability level of 0.05, the minimum required sample size is 150. Although, the sample in this study exceeded the minimum size criteria, a larger sample would add more certainty to the analysis.

The survey data in this study were generated from respondents by using convenience sampling, and there is always the potential for selection bias. Individuals who are at shopping centers in Guangzhou and Zhuhai, China may have different behavioral characteristics than other consumers. Further, the restricted geographical range of the study may be a limiting factor in generalizing the results to the rest of China.

Additionally, the sample is skewed toward individuals with higher education levels and women. As discussed earlier in the paper, 44 of the individuals surveyed reported an education level of Sr high school or below and one hundred and 58 individuals reported an education level of vocational school or higher. This oversampling of individuals with higher educational levels may have skewed the results as higher education is assumed to influence choice of organic food product positively and will result in a positive bias in favor of organic rea purchase intentions. Similarly, one hundred and 26 women representing 62 percent were surveyed which is an oversampling of women. Past research has shown women are more likely to express organic food purchase intentions because of the perceived health benefits which should have resulted in a positive bias in favor of organic tea purchase intentions. We did not find that result which may indicate that organic tea is dissimilar to other organic food products. Therefore, our results may not be generalizable to other organic food products. If so, then additional research needs to be conducted to further understand these results.

The authors are grateful to the reviewers for providing insightful recommendations which were, in part, addressed in the post hoc analysis resulting in a more thorough analysis of the data and more robust conclusions. This study makes a significant contribution to existing literature in the field by examining psychological and demographic factors which affect purchase intentions for organic tea, highlighting the role of organic tea as a status symbol. These findings can be used to guide future research in the area of consumer attitudes and behavior associated with organic foods in China.

Figures

Theory of planned behavior

Figure 1

Theory of planned behavior

Demographics of respondents

Variable n Percentage
Gender
Male 76 38
Female 126 62
Total 202 100%
Education
Primary school 0 0
Jr high school 22 11
Sr high school 4 2
Vocational 18 9
College 158 78
Total 202 100%
Age
Average age 31
Monthly income
Less than RMB 2,000 46 23
RMB 2,000–5,000 80 40
RMB 5,001–10,000 32 15
Greater than RMB 10,000 44 22
Total 202 100%

Factor analysis of organic tea purchase motivation

Motivation 1 2 3
Media exposure
I have seen organic tea on TV 0.88
I have seen organic tea on the internet 0.87
I have seen organic tea in newspapers or magazines 0.86
I have heard about organic tea on the radio 0.83
I have seen organic tea in books 0.73
Healthy
Organic tea is healthy 0.93
Organic tea is healthier than normal tea 0.91
Organic tea is safer to drink than normal tea 0.90
Organic tea is a natural food 0.88
Status symbol
Drinking organic tea is a rich people’s choice 0.80
I would feel important if I drink organic tea 0.79
Rich people prefer organic tea 0.77
Organic tea is a symbol of status 0.71
Cronbach’s αs 0.89 0.82 0.81

Means, std. dev., correlations and Cronbach’s αs on the diagonal

Variable Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Organic tea purchase intent 4.4 1.2 (0.79)
2. Organic tea media exposure 3.8 1.5 0.10 (0.95)
3. Organic healthier 4.4 1.0 0.58*** 0.22*** (0.89)
4. Organic tea as status symbol 3.8 1.2 0.54*** 0.05 0.57*** (0.81)
5. Education 3.9 0.9 0.03 0.02 −0.04 0.09 NA
6. Income 2.4 1.1 −0.13 0.09 0.00 −0.09 0.52*** NA
7. Gender 0.62 0.49 −0.03 −0.08 −0.16* −0.13 0.00 −0.09 NA
8. Age 31 12 −0.24*** 0.02 0.04 0.01 0.17* 0.67*** −0.18** NA

Notes: n=202. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

Standardized β coefficients organic tea purchase intentions

Independent variables Standardized β coefficients
Organic tea media exposure (RQ1) −0.00
Organic tea healthy (H1) 0.44***
Organic tea status symbol (H2) 0.26**
Education (H3) 0.16**
Income (H4) −0.04
Gender (H5) −0.02
Age (H6) −0.24**

Notes: n=202. Adj. R2=0.46; F=25.8***. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

Standardized β coefficients organic tea purchase intentions with education dummy coded

Independent variables Standardized β coefficients
Organic tea media exposure −0.01
Organic tea healthy 0.45***
Organic tea status symbol 0.26***
Education Dummy 1 0.01
Education Dummy 2 0.15
Education Dummy 3 0.19
Income 0.01
Gender −0.02
Age −0.26***

Notes: n=202. Adj. R2=0.48; F=19.9***. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

Standardized β coefficients organic tea purchase intentions with income dummy coded

Independent variables Standardized β coefficients
Organic tea media exposure −0.01
Organic tea healthy 0.44***
Organic tea status symbol 0.26***
Education 0.15*
Income Dummy 1 0.01
Income Dummy 2 0.00
Income Dummy 3 −0.02
Gender −0.02
Age −0.25***

Notes: n=202. Adj. R2=0.48; F=19.9***. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

Standardized β coefficients organic tea purchase intentions with education and status symbol interaction

Independent variables Standardized β coefficients
Organic tea media exposure 0.00
Organic tea healthy 0.43***
Organic tea status symbol 0.04
Education 0.00
Income −0.03
Gender −0.02
Age −0.25***
Education × Status interaction 0.30

Notes: n=202. Adj. R2=0.49; F=22.8***. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

Standardized β coefficients organic tea purchase intentions with income and status symbol interaction

Independent variables Standardized β coefficients
Organic tea media exposure −0.01
Organic tea healthy 0.45***
Organic tea status symbol 0.01
Education 0.17**
Income −0.35*
Gender −0.02
Age −0.28***
Income × Status interaction 0.42*

Notes: n=202. Adj. R2=0.49; F=23.5***. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

Standardized β coefficients organic tea purchase intentions with age and status symbol interaction

Independent variables Standardized β coefficients
Organic tea media exposure −0.03
Organic tea healthy 0.48***
Organic tea status symbol −0.11
Education 0.16**
Income −0.07
Gender −0.02
Age −0.61***
Age × Status interaction 0.54**

Notes: n=202. Adj. R2=0.48; F=23.9***. *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.001

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Corresponding author

Tesa E. Leonce can be contacted at: leonce_tesa@columbusstate.edu