Examining consumer preferences for rice attributes is essential for guiding breeding priorities. We find that consumer preferences for rice attributes are geographically segmented; South Asians prefer rice that has great appearance and taste attributes, while Southeast Asians are more likely to choose rice based on texture; their second and third most-preferred attributes being aroma and appearance.
Fragrant or aromatic rice is commonly differentiated by its appearance, aroma, and taste. Grains are typically slender and almost double in length after cooking. It has a soft and fluffy texture, with a pleasant fragrance and appealing taste. These attributes are present in many aromatic rice varieties produced around the world. However, among the different aromatic rice varieties, Indian Basmati and Thai Jasmine are the most traded in the international market. For example, all exports of these two varieties by India and Thailand serve approximately two-thirds of the world’s fragrant rice market.
Although annual volumes of fragrant rice exports have dramatically increased from 5.9 million tons in 2008–2010 to 8.7 million tons in 2015–2017, the market share has remained stable at around 20% of the rice traded globally during this period. Because of the presence of the aforementioned quality attributes, the market price of fragrant rice is more than double the price of nonfragrant rice.
Since February 2014, the price gap between fragrant and nonfragrant rice seems to be on the rise, which may indicate that a demand shift for fragrant rice is happening in the international market. Local demand for fragrant rice is also increasing, and several studies have linked this to increasing urban demand for rice with superior quality.
Consumer demand for rice fragrance is increasing in many Asian countries, a trend that was coined the term “Jasminization”. Particularly in Southeast Asia (i.e., the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia), the convergence of consumer preferences toward rice with long-slender grains with aroma was evident since the 1980s. This trend could be attributed to various factors, including globalization, urbanization, and income growth.
Globalization and trade liberalization are important drivers fueling the demand for fragrant rice. Leading exporters of fragrant rice such as Thailand and India have a major influence in popularizing quality attributes embedded in their export products and hence shaping preferences for rice attributes in importing countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Because of Western influence, taste, and lifestyles of Asian populations have been changing, so have their dietary habits and preferences for food.
Rapid urbanization levels in both South and Southeast Asia have also induced changes in consumers’ tastes and lifestyles. The demand for aromatic rice is expected to rise more rapidly under increasing levels of urbanization. Finally, the per capita income of many Asian countries has been increasing during the last decade. Even though per capita rice consumption in many Asian countries is decreasing steadily, as incomes rise, consumer preferences for rice in South and Southeast Asia tend to shift toward superior quality attributes, such as fine grain texture and aroma.
Despite evidence for increasing demand for rice fragrance, little is known about geographic heterogeneity, drivers, and the role of gender in demand for rice fragrance. First, even though several studies observed that consumer preferences for rice attributes diverge significantly across geographies, little is known about the heterogeneity of consumer demand for rice attributes such as fragrance in South and Southeast Asia. Understanding the heterogeneity of consumer preferences is crucial for varietal development programs to incorporate regional and national specificities for grain quality attributes and increase access of rice farmers to urban and rural markets to improve their livelihoods.
While most rice breeding programs have primarily focused on yield-enhancing traits such as agronomic and stress-tolerance traits, several studies advocate for the inclusion of consumer-preferred rice attributes in rice breeding. Secondly, since there is an important time lag between the development of product profiles in rice breeding and the release and adoption of new varieties, it is vital to understand demand trends and capture future demand for rice attributes. To anticipate future demand, the factors that affect demand need to be identified. Finally, for sustainability reasons, there is an increasing need to ensure that varietal development is gender-responsive and accounts for both men’s and women’s preferences.
Therefore, this paper fills these knowledge gaps by identifying consumer preferences for intrinsic quality attributes of rice in seven South and Southeast Asian countries and the factors that affect demand for these attributes. We focus in particular on geographical and gender segmentation of demand for rice fragrance, which enables rice breeding programs to develop targeted variety replacement strategies at regional and national levels that are both more demand-driven and gender-responsive.
Examining consumer preferences for rice attributes is essential for guiding breeding priorities. Through a ROL regression with incomplete ranking choice data gathered from a stated-preference survey conducted in seven countries (Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam), we identify the rice attributes that matter most to urban and rural consumers in South and Southeast Asia.
We find that consumer preferences for rice attributes are geographically segmented; South Asians prefer rice that has great appearance and taste attributes, while Southeast Asians are more likely to choose rice based on texture; their second and third most-preferred attributes being aroma and appearance. The absence of certain quality characteristics in the top three (taste in Southeast Asia) does not automatically mean that consumers do not find those characteristics important in these regions; it can also mean that the quality of rice has improved over time to such an extent that consumers have taken these characteristics for granted.
In other studies, it was similarly found that certain traits such as cleanliness disappear in the top rankings of consumers over time because, after significant investment in postharvest infrastructure, consumers have become used to the upgraded characteristics of improved rice and tend to take these traits for granted.
While the sample sizes in each individual country are probably too small to make generalizations to the entire national consumer population, we believe that the sample size of our pooled dataset is large enough to capture regional heterogeneity, which was the main purpose of this article. Therefore, further research needs to be conducted to project the demand for fragrant rice in different countries to assess where demand growth is expected to be greatest.
Moreover, although our dataset is from 2013–2014, we believe the preferences and drivers we identified are still relevant today. The demand shift for fragrant rice is mainly caused by trade, globalization, urbanization, and income growth. From the supply side, we only observe dramatic increases in the export of fragrant rice by Cambodia and India, which are mostly targeted to markets outside the regions studied in our article.
Therefore, we expect that the drivers for the consumer preferences for fragrant rice identified in our study have not qualitatively changed and will remain relevant, but that the preference shares for aroma in the top three attributes may have slightly increased and will further increase in the next decade. This suggests that regional breeding programs can confidently include rice fragrance as a “must” trait into the germplasm targeted to national breeding programs, which on their turn can further tailor rice varieties to specific local market segments.
These findings are important for international breeding networks and platforms such as the International Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER, http://inger.irri.org) and the CGIAR’s Excellence in Breeding Platform (EiB, https://excellenceinbreeding.org). A final limitation of our Lancasterian interpretation of rice as a bundle of characteristics is that it assumes separability of traits, while in reality rice attributes overlap to some extent and are somewhat correlated.
For example, Jasmine rice is typically characterized by its soft texture, slender grains, and aroma. Both aroma and texture (softness and slenderness) are part of consumers’ overall taste experience, and hence, these attributes need to be interpreted jointly rather than individually. Therefore, we recommend these market studies to be further improved in terms of survey questionnaire design to capture “jointness” (nonseparability) of traits and to be repeated every 5–10 years—depending on resource availability—to enable rice breeding programs to incorporate market trends in their priority setting and variety development programs.
Read the study:
Bairagi S, Demont M, Custodio M, and Ynion J. (2020). What drives consumer demand for rice fragrance? Evidence from South and Southeast Asia. British Food Journal.