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IS ORGANIC FOOD A SUSTAINABLE CHOICE? EVALUATING ORGANIC FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE FRAMEWORK OF ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

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Abstract

Excessive consumption, deterioration of nature, and misusing the resources are problems of current humanity and future generations. Sustainability has started to become a priority for both practitioners and customers. In this respect, sustainable consumption and production practices stand out in almost all areas. Environmental sustainability concerns also affect food consumption habits. Sustainable agriculture and organic movement accelerated in recent times. In this context, the purpose of this study is to evaluate organic food in the framework of environmental sustainability by investigating literature and consumers' opinions. It is aimed to investigate organic food in terms of environmental sustainability with consumer perspective in this study. This study collected data through In-Depth interview method in line with this purpose. The results of the study signify that sustainable consumption and organic food purchase intention are interrelated. It's proposed that environmental sensitivity and environmental knowledge have positive roles, whereas scepticism has a negative role in organic food purchase intention.
BUSINESS & MANAGEMENT STUDIES:
AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL
Vol.:8 Issue:4 Year:2020, 685-700
Business & Management Studies: An International Journal Vol.:8 Issue:4 Year:2020, 685-700
ISSN: 2148-2586
Research Article
Bu makale, araştırma ve yayın etiğine uygun hazırlanmış ve intihal taramasından geçirilmiştir.
Citation: Köse, Ş.G., Is Organic Food a Sustainable Choice? Evaluating Organic Food
Production in the Framework of Environmental Sustainability, BMIJ, (2020), 8(4): 685-700, doi:
http://dx.doi.org/10.15295/bmij.v8i4.1579
IS ORGANIC FOOD A SUSTAINABLE CHOICE? EVALUATING
ORGANIC FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE FRAMEWORK OF
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Şirin Gizem KÖSE 1 Received Date (Başvuru Tarihi): 28/07/2020
Accepted Date (Kabul Tarihi): 28/09/2020
Published Date (Yayın Tarihi): 10/12/2020
ABSTRACT
Keywords:
Organic Foods,
Sustainable Consumption,
Environmental Sustainability
JEL Codes:
M10, M30, M31
Excessive consumption, deterioration of nature, and misusing the resources are
problems of current humanity and future generations. Sustainability has started to become
a priority for both practitioners and customers. In this respect, sustainable consumption and
production practices stand out in almost all areas. Environmental sustainability concerns
also affect food consumption habits. Sustainable agriculture and organic movement
accelerated in recent times. In this context, the purpose of this study is to evaluate organic
food in the framework of environmental sustainability by investigating literature and
consumers' opinions. It is aimed to investigate organic food in terms of environmental
sustainability with consumer perspective in this study. This study collected data through In-
Depth interview method in line with this purpose. The results of the study signify that
sustainable consumption and organic food purchase intention are interrelated. It's proposed
that environmental sensitivity and environmental knowledge have positive roles, whereas
scepticism has a negative role in organic food purchase intention.
ORGANİK GIDA SÜRDÜRÜLEBİLİR BİR SEÇİM MİDİR? ORGANİK GIDA
ÜRETİMİNİ ÇEVRESEL SÜRDÜRÜLEBİLİRLİK ÇERÇEVESİNDE
DEĞERLENDİRMEK
ÖZ
Anahtar Kelimeler:
Organik Gıdalar,
Sürdürülebilir Tüketim,
Çevresel Sürdürülebilirlik
JEL Kodları:
M10, M30, M31
Aşırı tüketim, doğanın tahribi ve kaynakların kötü kullanımı hem günümüz
insanlığının hem de gelecek nesillerin problemleridir. Sürdürülebilirlik hem
uygulamacıların hem de tüketicilerin önceliği olmaya başlamıştır. Bu doğrultuda
sürdürülebilir tüketim ve üretim uygulamaları neredeyse her alanda ön plana çıkmaktadır.
Çevresel sürdürülebilirlik kaygıları gıda tüketim alışkanlıklarını da etkilemektedir.
Sürdürülebilir tarım ve organik hareket de son zamanlarda hız kazanmıştır. Bu bağlamda
bu çalışmanın amacı geçmiş çalışmalar ve tüketici görüşlerini inceleyerek organik gıdala
çevresel sürdürülebilirlik çerçevesinde değerlendirmektir. Çalışmada organik gıdanın
tüketici bakış açısıyla çevresel sürdürülebilirlik bakımından incelenmesi hedeflenmektedir.
Bu amaç doğrultusunda veri elde etmede derinlemesine mülakat tekniği kullanılmıştır.
Çalışmanın sonuçları sürdürülebilir tüketim ile organik gıda satın alma niyetinin birbiriyle
ilgili görüldüğünü göstermektedir. Organik gıda satın alma niyetinde çevresel duyarlılık ve
çevresel bilginin pozitif rolleri, şüpheciliğin ise negatif rolü bulunduğu önerilmiştir.
1 Arş. Gör., Yıldız Teknik Ünv., İ.İ.B.F., İşletme Bölümü, siringizemkose@gmail.com, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4075-7166
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1. INTRODUCTION
The world passes through hard times in terms of sustainability. The increase of
environmental sensitivity and knowledge also raises the importance that customers
and governments attach to sustainability issues. Consumers change their spending
habits and choices; governments revise their policies in line with sustainability
purposes. Academic research on sustainability is also gaining ground.
The three elements of sustainable development are ecology, economy, and
society. Ecological sustainability means that the development process is in harmony
with ecology; economic sustainability requires economically feasible development,
while social sustainability encompasses socially acceptable development and calls for
global equity (Helms, 2004). Focusing on sustainability can help companies to follow
global developments on essential issues such as climate change, insufficient water, and
food sources (Baldwin & Wilberforce, 2009). Organic production has also increased its
importance in recent years due to its superiority on economic, social, and
environmental roles when compared to conventional agriculture which is criticized
because of its adverse effects on the environment and health (Toma et al., 2017).
Turkish customers also have an environmental concern which leads them to
purchase green products (Tanrıkulu, 2015; Uysal & Esen, 2017). Conscious consumers
are increasingly concerned about pesticides that are used in food production.
Therefore, they increasingly prefer organic foods that do not harm the environment
and health (Onurlubaş et al., 2020). Çelik's (2013) study suggests that being produced
in an environmentally sensitive way is one of the primary reasons for purchasing
organic food for Turkish consumers. There is a relationship between environmental
consciousness and organic eating (Pektaş & Gürce, 2018). Acceptable agricultural
practices that started in 2007 in 18 cities in Turkey have significantly improved as a
result of the supports. In order to make this improvement continue, it is essential to
increase the demand for these products (Eryılmaz & Kılıç, 2018). Therefore, it is a vital
issue to understand customers' perspectives.
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2. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
2.1. Sustainable Agriculture & Organic Farming
Industrialized agriculture is "the agriculture produced by using additives such
as pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified ingredients" (Garcia-Ramon, 2019).
Agricultural products are vitally important since they are directly consumed or used
as a raw material for further production. Turkey has very high agricultural potential.
Agriculture has been a significant way of earning livelihood for the Turkish
community, and it also has a prominent place in the Turkish economy (Taş, 2011). In
Turkey, four significant agricultural changes have affected nature since the 1950s.
These changes are; expanding of agricultural areas, increasing usage of chemicals, the
increase of irrigation, and the annihilation of traditional agriculture (Kutlu &
Akdamar, 2008). To protect ecological balance, achieve sustainability in agriculture,
and provide quality products in Turkey; it is aimed to increase organic production and
consumption by regulating and developing organic agricultural production and
marketing. In line with those targets, the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
has prepared Organic Agriculture Law with the contributions of stakeholders in 2004.
With those regulations, significant improvements have been achieved in organic
agriculture (Çakır et al., 2015).
As the side effects of industrial farming are recognized, sustainable agricultural
practices gained attention both academically and practically. Although sustainable
agriculture and organic farming are the two prominent areas regarding this issue,
there is no specific agreement on whether sustainable agriculture and organic farming
refer to the same concept. Although there is no clear cut between organic farming and
sustainable agriculture, these terms can be addressed as related but different concepts.
Organic farming is a regulated and controlled way of production, while sustainable
agriculture is based on environmental protection, economic growth, and social
fairness; which are the core elements of the sustainability principle (Goldberger, 2011).
Defining sustainable agriculture is ambiguous since sustainability practices are
hard to determine and measure. There is also uncertainty on the necessary time of
being sustainable to be accepted as sustainable for agricultural land (Rigby &ceres,
2001). Biodiversity is as essential as water and soil management for sustainable
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agriculture. Sustainable agricultural systems are promoted because of their potential
to preserve wildlife and as well as decreasing environmental damage (Pacini et al.,
2003).
Sustainable agriculture is an agricultural structure that protects natural
resources in the long term but also uses agricultural technologies that do not harm the
environment. Using synthetic inputs, and techniques that have negative consequences
also had adverse effects for Turkish agriculture. Sustainable farming techniques
include protecting water and soil resources, integrated pesticide management.
Organic farming techniques play a crucial role in sustainable farming by meeting
quality, health and environmental standards (Turhan, 2005).
Organic farming integrates agroecological approaches with productivity since
it is a deterrent and system-based approach (Niggli, 2015). Organic standards that are
guided by organic principles give a signal of being organic to consumers (Smith, 2006).
There are several reasons for choosing organic farming instead of conventional. Both
internal and external factors play roles in the decision process. As Darnhofer et al.
(2005) and Lotter (2003) point out, technical issues, as well as personal values, affect
the choice of converting to organic farming. Usage of chemical fertilizers and
pesticides, the annihilation of wildlife, harming human health, and the environment
made current agricultural methods questionable. As a result of the concern towards
modern agricultural methods, organic farming has increased its prominence (Rigby et
al., 2001). According to Mondelaers et al. (2009), organic farming has a beneficial effect
on both agro-biodiversity and biodiversity comparing with conventional farming.
Since organic farming methods form on ecological welfare, its decreasing negative
environmental impact of the food industry is another purpose of it. Together with
protecting the environment goal, organic farming also keeps the soil and contributes
to saving non-renewable resources (Gomiero et al., 2011).
2.2. Organic Food as Sustainable Choice
Creating quality living conditions for people has created a novel social
movement, and new products emerged as a consequence. However, nowadays,
consumers are more aware of the risks of using non-ecological products. Therefore,
consumers are more cautious about what they buy and the effects of their purchases
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on environmental sustainability. Changing consumer preferences lead to altering the
functioning of the industries (Gierszewska & Seretny, 2019). Consumers engage
actively in the sustainable economic development process, and they are aware of
global sustainability issues. Worldwide consumers request more information about
the products they consume, such as their origin and ingredients (Seretny & Seretny,
2012). Paavola (2001) defined sustainable consumption as consumer behaviour that
has less environmental effects compared to other consumption styles. Sustainable
consumption has become a fundamental part of policies both locally and
internationally. Customers play an essential role in converting to sustainable
consumption with their actions, such as purchasing recycled and ethically produced
goods (Seyfang, 2006). Dogan et al. (2015) showed that sustainable consumption
dimensions are environmental sensitivity, redundant consumption, savings, and
reusability in their scale development study. On the other hand, environmental
sustainability is defined as sustaining natural resources and protecting biological
diversity, human health, air, water and soil quality, the life of animals and plants
(Eryılmaz et al., 2019).
The attitude-behaviour gap is often discussed in the sustainability literature;
consumers may have positive feelings towards sustainable consumption, but the
attitude does not necessarily turn into actual purchase. The same concept applied to
organic food as well as other green products. In their experiment on organic yoghurt,
Laureati et al. (2013) revealed that the intention to behave sustainably is usually low,
although sustainable products are considered safe, healthy, and of high quality.
Information about sustainability has been given on food products for a while to
brief consumers and promote sustainable consumption because food consumption is
believed to affect the environment (Grunert et al., 2014). Sustainable consumption has
started to be an essential part of governmental policies, and organic food is accepted
as a useful tool for transformation to a sustainable system (Seyfang, 2007). The
relationship between sustainable consumption and organic food purchase intention
still needs to be investigated.
Conscious consumers are more aware of the adverse effects of consumption and
think more deeply about the consequences of their consumption on society (Iwata,
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2006). Various researchers proved the relationship between environment-related
variables such as environmental consciousness, environmental concern (Grunert &
Juhl, 1995; Gill et al., 2000), and organic food purchase intention. There are also
contradicting findings in the literature, depending on the sample and context.
Ueasangkomsatea & Santiteerakul (2016) proved that local origin, animal welfare, and
the environmental attribute of organic food is significantly related to organic food
purchase intention. Health and food safety are also related variables, but their effect is
less than the variables about sustainability. Asif et al. (2018) found that environmental
concern does not affect the intention to purchase organic food. However, Annunziata
& Vecchio's (2016) research demonstrates that health and quality features of organic
foods are more important than environment and rural development opportunities
while making a purchasing decision. Yadav & Pathak (2016) also found that
environmental concerns did not affect organic food purchase intention. Those
contradicting findings point out that this issue needs further research. Still, organic
food is evaluated in the framework of sustainability practices (Niggli, 2015), and
preferring organic over conventional food products is considered a way to increase the
level of sustainability of food consumption (Thøgersen, 2010; Stern, 2000).
Furthermore, Thøgersen (2010) and Minton et al. (2012, 2015) claim that organic
food consumption is a way to measure sustainable behaviours. Therefore, it is
expected that consumers who have a higher tendency towards sustainable
consumption tend to buy organic foods. Ayan et al. (2017) also found that consumers
think organic food is healthier than conventional alternatives. The study of Oraman &
Unakıtan (2010) points out that concern for human health and safety are significant
motivators of choosing organic food. Yılmaz & İlter (2017) suggest that health
consciousness, perception, consumer values, price perception, environmental
concerns predict purchase intention of organic foods. Besides, İlyasoğlu et al. (2010)
added that consumption of organic food depends on perceiving the food as healthy,
environment friendly, and high in nutrition. Kvatchadze & Akıncı (2018) stated that
attitude is a significant determinant of purchase intention; while health consciousness,
environmental consciousness, and organic food knowledge affect attitude towards
organic foods. Örs (2019) also found that the price sensitivity of organic consumers is
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low; the consumers of organic food are motivated by health consciousness and social
responsibility.
3. METHODOLOGY
The purpose of this study is to evaluate organic food within the framework of
sustainability. This study chose a deep interview method as a qualitative data
collection method, and ten in-depth interviews were conducted. Participants are aged
between 25-45 years old. They all have a university degree. Five women and five men
were interviewed. The in-depth interview is a method that comprises all dimensions
of the investigated subject, mostly includes open-ended questions, and enables getting
detailed answers (Tekin, 2006). The method is defined as interviewing people who are
relevant to the research subject with a specific purpose (Greasley & Ashworth, 2007).
The main objective of in-depth interviews is revealing and exploring feelings,
perspectives and opinions of participants (Baş & Akturan, 2008). Therefore, a deep
interview method is suitable for researches that investigate reasons for behaviour and
ideas on a specific topic. The in-depth interview is suggested as a method that provides
deep data and knowledge (Türnüklü, 2000).
The interviews started with participants' views on sustainability and organic
food and continued with their specific ideas on these issues. Ten people who are
knowledgeable about sustainability practices, sustainable consumption, and organic
foods are interviewed with the objective of purposive sampling. The reason behind
this selection is when interviewers know these issues, they can conveniently express
themselves and do not have conflict about the concepts. Since the interviews were
conducted before January 2020, the study did not require ethical approval. The
interviews were then transferred to the NVivo program and categorized. According to
the interviews, hypotheses are proposed, and at the end of the study, a conceptual
model is proposed.
4. FINDINGS
4.1. Sustainable Consumption and Organic Food Relationship
The majority of the participants indicated that there is a connection between
sustainability and organic foods, so organic food can be considered as a sustainable
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consumption behaviour. According to participants, the fundamental reason behind
this agreement is the fact that organic food production processes do not include using
chemicals and pesticides which harms the soil and the environment.
"Of course, sustainability and organic foods are related—the most important supporting
example as fallowing. Fallow is crucial for soil and the quality of agriculture. However, if we
always sow the soil for financial purposes, add chemicals, what we get is unhealthful, the
defective product that also inhibits soil sustainability."
"The soil normally does not need chemicals to adapt to nature and to be fertile. If we
destroy the sustainability of the soil with human interventions, we kill agriculture. This leads
us to look for artificial spaces that act to the soil. Why do we need that? We already have a
working mechanism in nature, we should sustainably protect that, and organic production is a
method to achieve that."
"Chemicals and pesticides used in agriculture directly affect consumers' health and
nature. Organic agriculture, on the other hand, stays away from those and therefore does not
yield destructive results. Therefore, sustainability and organic food production are supporting
concepts for me."
"Organic food is sustainable because it does not harm soil and water, which are
necessary for the continuation of human life and health."
"With the help of the rigorous methods used in organic agriculture production and
consumption process, problems such as wasting and destroying natural resources decrease. As
a result, we will have an environmental heritage that we can hand down the next generations.
Those results are more attainable with organic agriculture when compared to conventional
agriculture and directly related to sustainability."
As a result, it was proposed that:
P1: Sustainable consumption behaviour is a positive predictor of organic food
consumption behaviour.
4.2. Role of Scepticism
Participants remarked that scepticism comes to the forefront in the connection
between sustainability and organic foods. Most of the participants have a high level of
scepticism toward organic food, especially when it is commercialized. They try to buy
from trusted sellers to decrease the risk to be deceived. Golob et al. (2018) also found
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that scepticism negatively affects organic food purchase intention.
"Organic food is sustainable as long as it is not extensively commercialized. We should
distinguish real organics from swindlers. Sellers sometimes claim that the food is organic, but
use pesticides in farms. These sellers destroy not only the environment but also the taste of
vegetables and fruits."
"If I believe the food is good for soil and environment and it is from a trustable source,
I buy organic. However, some sellers only focus on the economic part of sustainability. I
interrogate the seller to be sure."
"I think organic food is good for the environment only if it is organic. If I believe that
the food is organic, my approach would be more positive, and there is a high chance that I would
buy the food."
"All humanity cannot be fed with organic foods; therefore, real organic food is a niche.
I underline the word real because consumers are often deceived by selling non-organic foods as
organic."
Therefore, it was proposed that:
P2: Scepticism is a negative predictor of organic food purchase intention
P3: Scepticism moderates the relationship between sustainable consumption
behaviour and organic food purchase intention.
4.3. Role of Environmental Sensitivity
Participants' views point out that environmental sensitivity is significant in the
connection between sustainability and organic food. All participants that consider
sustainability and organic foods in a holistic way specified that they have a high level
of environmental sensitivity. Past literature also supports that environmental factors
affect organic food purchase intention (De Magistris, & Gracia, 2008; Janssen, 2018;
Golob et al., 2018).
"I am seriously diligent when it comes to nutrition. I regularly buy organic food from a
trusted farm. It is good for our health; I accept but also think we all should be environmentally
sensitive. I try to warn people around me about environmental issues. The world is ours.”
“If we do not care about the environment, there will be consequences. All environmental
problems are tied to each other; therefore, everybody should be sensitive. We pollute the seas,
and we eat fish from those polluted seas. We poison the soil, and then we eat vegetables from
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that soil. I am not happy with this situation and planning to change my eating habits.”
“I do care about the environment, and I reflect this in my actions, for example, I want
to buy an electric car for individual contribution to low carbon emission. I am conscious that
organic food is beneficial for the environment as well as my health. Therefore, I try to buy
organic food as much as possible.”
Moreover, it was proposed that:
P4: Environmental sensitivity is a positive predictor of organic food
purchase intention
P5: Environmental sensitivity moderates the relationship between
sustainable consumption behaviour and organic food purchase intention.
4.4 Role of Environmental Knowledge
As Grunert (2011) underlined, just using eco-labels will not generate significant
results unless consumers are knowledgeable about the meaning of eco-labelling and
trust the credibility of these labels. Zepeda & Deal’s study (2009) also supports that the
fact “attitudes are shaped by knowledge” is especially true for organic food consumers
since they are passionate about gaining information and they are always craving for
information. Furthermore, Demirtaş (2019) found that organic food knowledge is a
predictor of organic food demand.
The results of the study showed that consumers’ advanced environmental
knowledge has a positive influence on the inclusion of organic food in the sustainable
consumption process. This influence was expressed with the following statements:
“I do not use chemicals for my garden, even for cleaning purposes. I am susceptible to
the effect of chemicals on the environment, so I did a deep research about chemicals in farming.
Organic is advantageous in terms of time, money, and sustainability.”
“Organic food can be approached as sustainable consumption when it appeals to people
who know something about farming, and who have enough commitment to the environment.”
“People who are sensitive about the environment should know what damages and what
serves the environment to change their decisions. In the case of organic foods, I know that the
soil needs to rest to refresh its minerals; and this also brings sustainability.”
Thus, it was proposed that:
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P6: Environmental knowledge is a positive predictor of organic food purchase
intention
P7: Environmental knowledge moderates the relationship between sustainable
consumption behaviour and organic food purchase intention.
Figure 1 demonstrates the proposed relationships between constructs. The
figure is based on the proposals that were developed from the interviews.
Figure 1. Proposed Model
Source: Developed by the author.
5. CONCLUSION
Sustainable consumption concept is related to decreasing or modifying
consumption and puts forward recycling, using eco-products (Dogan et al., 2015). On
the other hand, food and food production are fundamental to existence. However, the
methods used to maintain this existence have consequences for the environment and
natural sources (Bryla, 2015). From that point of view, this study intended to evaluate
organic food in the framework of sustainability and sustainable consumption. The
findings of the study clarify that most of the participants think that organic food
consumption is a part of consumer-level sustainability practice. They support the
connection between sustainability and organic food purchase. However, the
participants added some factors that ease or obstruct the connection.
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The first easing element is environmental knowledge. As supported by this
study, having inadequate information prevents consumers from applying sustainable
practices, even though they have good intentions. As consumers’ knowledge of the
contribution of organic farming on sustainability, it is expected that their interest in
organic farming, sustainable agriculture, and as a matter of course, organic food.
Nowadays, it is blindingly apparent that consumers’ interest in environmental issues
is increasing. The second easing factor is environmental sensitivity. The more
environmentally sensitive consumers get, the more likely they purchase organic foods
under the effect of sustainability concerns.
The finding of the study points to the negative role of scepticism when it comes
to sustainability and organic food. Consumers face numerous alternatives, and they
are exposed to various messages. Turning good intentions regarding sustainability to
actual sales depends on persuading consumers. Therefore, other essential issues are
the credibility of eco-labelling, which points out that organic food is sustainable, and
communicating the sustainability side of organic food consumption. To overcome the
credence barriers and for effective communication, all stakeholders should work in an
integrated way. While consumers’ preference affects sales and therefore, the
production of organic food products, they are restrained by macro factors, so
government policies are also vital in encouraging sustainable techniques.
In conclusion, this paper highlights the importance of organic food and
therefore organic agriculture for the sustainability of food and sustainability in
general. From the consumer side, knowledge and credibility are essential for forming
positive attitudes, while a holistic approach where all participants of the process
contribute to sustainable development could be beneficial on the supply side.
Although organic food purchasing may result from sustainability motivation, the fact
that organic food consumers are also strongly motivated by health concerns should
also be kept in mind in future studies. Another suggestion could be segmenting
consumers to reach them better by taking into consideration their traits. Since this
study is qualitative, it does not have a generalizability purpose, and the sample is
narrow, future studies can research the proposed model on other consumer groups.
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