Consumer trust in different food provisioning schemes: evidence from Beijing, China
Zhang, L.; Xu, Y.; Oosterveer, P.J.M.; Mol, A.P.J.
Consuming safe and sustainable food requires trust. Consumer trust in food can be established in different ways, including through personal relationships or various institutional arrangements established by government, private companies and/or civil-society organisations. The recent increase in food-safety incidents and sustainability concerns in China suggests a dwindling trust in the current government-dominated food governance arrangement. This paper investigates whether emerging alternative trust arrangements and modes of food supply are better able to build consumer trust in contemporary China. Based on a survey of urban middle-class consumers in Beijing using various (i.e., alternative and conventional) food-supply modes, the role and importance of personal and institutional trust arrangements are compared. We found that even among the wealthier and more educated consumers in Beijing, only a small proportion regularly use alternative food-supply schemes; most rely on conventional wet markets and supermarkets. Buying food is primarily constrained by convenience, freshness and the price of food and less by food-safety concerns. In Beijing, trust in food-safety information remains largely derived from the government and less from the market (private certification schemes) or civil society. These findings contribute to the increasing body of knowledge on the embedded character of food consumption and on the relevance of designing policy strategies that connect institutional context and particular consumption practices. In our conclusion, we argue that to secure safe and sustainable food provision, the present government-based trust regime in China requires strengthening through linking up with market- and civil society-based trust regimes, complemented by elements of personalised trust.