[Editor’s Note: Jayson Lusk is a food and agricultural economist and head of the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University.]
[How] do food values differ across consumers with different incomes? This question is important because not all consumers have the same preferences, and the people with the ability and connections to affect public policy (and grocery store bottom lines) may give priority to food issues that are less relevant to people in the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.
To address this issue, I used some statistical analysis to control for differences in age, gender, education, etc. and then compare how people in different income categories rate each food value.
There were three food values for which importance tended to decline with income: price, safety, and taste. The big one is price.
Compared to consumers in the highest income category (more than $160,000/year in household income), consumers in the lowest income category (less than $20,000/year in household income) place 42 percentage points higher level of importance on the price they pay for food.
There were five food values for which importance tended to increase with income: naturalness, nutrition, environment, novelty, and origin.
As the figure above shows, the highest income consumers placed about 12-14 percentage points higher importance on naturalness than lower-income consumers; for nutrition and environment (see below), the results are similar.
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