Are consumers willing to pay more for biofortified foods?

Evidence from a field experiment in Uganda

Vitamin A deficiency is a major health problem in Africa and in many other developing countries. Biofortified staple crops that are high in beta-carotene and adapted to local growing environments have the potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency. One such example is the orange sweet potato (OSP). Because of its distinctive orange color, which is in contrast to the white varieties that are typically consumed in Africa, it is important to assess whether consumers will accept it. This paper attempts to address this question by using a choice experiment with the real product to quantify the magnitude of the premium or discount in consumers’ willingness to pay that may be associated with it. It also considers the extent to which the provision of nutrition information affects valuations. Finally, the paper addresses whether the use of hypothetical scenarios is justified in a developing country context, and quantifies the magnitude of hypothetical bias that results as a consequence. We examine whether a “cheap talk” script, which as elaborated in the paper, reminds respondents that hypothetical scenarios are to be treated as if they are real, is effective in mitigating hypothetical bias. The experiment was conducted in Uganda, a key target country for the dissemination of orange sweet potato. Our results suggest that in the absence of nutrition information, there is no difference between white and orange varieties in consumers’ willingness to pay, but there is a discount for yellow sweet potato (which does not have any beta-carotene). The provision of nutrition information does translate into substantial premia for the orange varieties, indicating that an information campaign may be key to driving market acceptance of the new product. Finally, there is a substantial hypothetical bias in both the willingness to pay (WTP), and the marginal WTP, for the new varieties; while “cheap talk” may mitigate this bias, it does not eliminate it.

Author: 
Chowdhury, Shyamal
Meenakshi, J. V.
Tomlins, Keith
Owori, Constance
Published date: 
2009
Publisher: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
3
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