Research news

Potential for organic exports to China

A research project conducted at Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences has identified what motivates Chinese consumers to choose organic food. The reasons and values are precisely the same as those motivating consumers in the Western world, making it easier for Danish organic producers to target the Chinese market.

Culturally, China is very different from Denmark and the West in general. But when it comes to choosing organics and food, new research shows that the Chinese resemble Danes to a surprising extent. Chinese consumers choose organic products based on precisely the same motives and values as Western consumers:

- Both Danish and Chinese consumers wishing to protect the environment and society in general see organics as a means to achieving this objective, says Professor John Thøgersen, who conducts research into green consumer behaviour at Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences.

In collaboration with Chinese Professor Yanfeng Zhou, Sun Yat-Sen Business School, Sun Yat-Sen University, John Thøgersen has examined why Chinese consumers choose organic food.

The findings will be published in the internationally acclaimed Journal of Marketing Management in the autumn.

Interesting for Danish producers
According to Professor John Thøgersen, the similarity between consumers in the two countries constitutes a potential for organic exports from Denmark to China.

In China, economic targets are set out in five-year plans. The latest plan, which started in 2011, for example lays down the goal that China is to develop into a consumer society and double the so-called consumption quota, i.e. the part of the country’s annual income spent on consumption. At the same time, the Chinese government is placing increasing focus on green activities and organic consumption.

In addition, a number of high-profile food safety scandals over the past years have undermined Chinese consumers’ confidence in domestic food producers.

- This makes China an interesting market for Danish food exporters, says John Thøgersen. Together with Yanfeng Zhou, on the basis of their research, John Thøgersen concludes that the marketing of organic products in China should include the same core messages as in Denmark. However, the form of the messages needs to be adapted to a Chinese context.

Five times more expensive
Organic food is a relatively new phenomenon in China. In Denmark, we have been familiar with the Danish label for organic products – Ø-mærket – since 1989. A national label for organic products was not introduced until 2005 in China, and only large supermarkets in major cities carry organic food.

John Thøgersen explains that the additional price in relation to organic food is considerably higher than in Denmark. Organic vegetables, for example, are up to five times more expensive than similar non-organic vegetables. For products with longer shelf life, however, the additional price is typically lower.

- The high additional price reflects that the market is still in an early phase. With increasing market share in the coming years, the price difference will narrow, which will lend further momentum to organic market growth, predicts John Thøgersen.

The researchers interviewed 771 Chinese consumers in Guangzhou in 2009 who had just finished shopping in five major supermarkets selling organic food.


  • The Chinese organic product label covers almost the same requirements as the Danish label.
  • 72% of the consumers asked knew what organics were in broad terms.
  • In Denmark, organic food has the world’s highest market share.


John Thøgersen, Professor

Aarhus University, Business and Social Sciences
Department of Business Administration

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