CORVALLIS - Regardless of their income, education or home town, most consumers in Albany and Corvallis think locally produced food is better, according to a survey by Oregon State University.
Last February, OSU agriculture extension economist Larry Lev and Benton County extension agent Garry Stephenson mailed 500 surveys to randomly selected residents of Albany and Corvallis.
The four-page survey was designed to discover more about the factors consumers consider when making food-buying choices. It focused on whether consumers would be willing to spend more time and money to buy local seasonal products.
The survey's goal was to determine if there was a consumer demand that local producers could meet through better production and marketing techniques. Such information could be valuable to the increasing number of local entrepreneurs who produce abundant varieties of produce and exotic specialty items, such as range-grown fresh chicken in Blodgett and goat cheese in Alsea.
Lev and Stephenson said the survey had a 63 percent response rate, which is considered good for a survey of this kind.
"The key message in those responses is that consumers are interested in purchasing local products because of their superior quality, because they want to support local growers, and because they just enjoy the buying experience," said Stephenson.
Of the three demographic variables considered - age, income and education - age made the biggest statistical difference.
Consumers younger than 29 reported they were less concerned about food safety, appearance, freshness and environmental friendliness and more concerned with convenience.
Both younger and retirement-age respondents reported they were unlikely to shop at specialty stores or food cooperatives and less likely to buy local wine.
"When you step back and think about it, it makes sense that age is such a key factor," said Lev. "Better than income or education, it captures the type of life that people lead. And the type of life influences the role of food within that life."
Middle-aged, higher-income consumers are a bit more likely to support local food producers for reasons of quality, social consciousness and the fresh-food-buying experience.
Lev said those with an interest in learning more about locally produced food are invited to a workshop this week in Corvallis, entitled "Is There a Market for Local Food Products?" Participants will discuss the survey findings and brainstorm possible ways they could be useful to consumers, food producers, restaurateurs and other interested persons.
This public meeting is scheduled 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. this Thursday, June 11, at LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus. Contact the OSU Benton County Extension Office at 541-757-6750 for more information.