As consumers become more interested in how their food is produced, the demand for new research has presented many opportunities. Published in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Glynn Tonsor and Christopher Wold talk about the Effect of Video Information on Consumers: Milk Production Attributes. The authors were interested in whether watching You Tube videos about milk production in the United States affected consumers perceptions of conventional milk. The survey of 800 consumers was conducted online and designed to ask consumers what percent of conventional milk they thought came from cows given growth hormones, given antibiotics, that were fed organically, had access to pasture, lived on farms with less than 50 cows, and lived on farms that cared about the well-being of their animals.
The perceptions of consumers who watched the first video, "Happy Cows" developed by California Milk Advisory Board changed for the better. The percent of conventional milk they thought came from cows that were fed organically, allowed to pasture, and had owners that cared about their well being all increased (3.2%, 4.2%, and 4.2% increases respectively). The PETA video "Unhappy Cows" had the exact opposite effect in the same three categories(2.6%, 8.5%, and 4.8% decreases respectively). The last video from Farmers Feed Us, created by The Center for Food Integrity, had the greatest impact. After seeing the video, consumers thought less conventional milk came from cows that were given hormones and antibiotics (4.5% and 5.2% decreases) and came from small farms of less than 50 cows (2.5% decrease). Their perceptions of what percent of conventional milk was from cows who were organically fed and had owners who cared for their well-being went up (6.8% and 5.8%).
The other part of the study was an evaluation of the willingness to pay for these attributes. Although perceptions of how conventional milk characteristics changed in many categories after watching the videos, Tonsor and Wold found no difference in the willingness to pay for various attributes after watching the videos. This lack of a willingness to pay for these attributes represents challenges both for niche markets looking to expand and for producers in states who are facing new ballot measures with animal welfare initiatives.
*We spoke with Dr. Tonsor and since the publishing of the article the video "Happy Cows" is now longer available. A very similar video can be found here.