The Influence of Tasting Experience and Health Benefits on Nordic Consumers’ Rejection of Genetically Modified Foods a Conjoint Study of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Consumers’ Preferences For Hard Cheese

ABSTRACT - This paper presents the preliminary results of a conjoint study of 750 Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish consumers’ preferences for genetically modified and conventional cheese with different types of health benefits. The results showed homogeneity in preferences within as well as across countries. In general, the genetically modified cheese was rejected, but this was modified somewhat by health benefits and tasting experience.



Citation:

Tino Bech-Larsen and Klaus G. Grunert (2001) ,"The Influence of Tasting Experience and Health Benefits on Nordic Consumers’ Rejection of Genetically Modified Foods a Conjoint Study of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Consumers’ Preferences For Hard Cheese", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 11-14.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 11-14

THE INFLUENCE OF TASTING EXPERIENCE AND HEALTH BENEFITS ON NORDIC CONSUMERS’ REJECTION OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

A Conjoint Study of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Consumers’ Preferences for Hard Cheese

Tino Bech-Larsen, The Aarhus School of Business, Denmark

Klaus G. Grunert, The Aarhus School of Business, Denmark

ABSTRACT -

This paper presents the preliminary results of a conjoint study of 750 Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish consumers’ preferences for genetically modified and conventional cheese with different types of health benefits. The results showed homogeneity in preferences within as well as across countries. In general, the genetically modified cheese was rejected, but this was modified somewhat by health benefits and tasting experience.

INTRODUCTION

Research has consistently shown that European and especially Nordic consumers’ rejection of genetically modified foods is strong, persistent (Bredahl, 1999) and immune to information campaigns and other attempts to change of attitudes (Scholderer, 1999). It has been stressed that the only possible way to break down the rejection is to offer a substantial and trustworthy consumer benefit (Hamstra, 1995).

In contrast to food applications, Europeans more readily accept the use of genetic modification for medical purposes (Frewer & Shepherd, 1995). This fact may constitute a window of opportunity for genetically modifed foods with documented health benefits. This is one reason why the food ingredients and additives industry sees functional foods as a potential wallbreaker for genetically modified foods. In general, consumers perceive functional foods as placed somewhere midway on the combined "naturalness-healthiness" continuum from organically processed to genetically modified (Poulsen, 1999; Bech-Larsen, Poulsen & Grunert, 1999).

The problem with this strategy, however, is that the rejection of genetically modified foods is influenced by number of ethical, environmental, and health-based risk perceptions, of which the latter is clearly the most important (Bredahl 1999). Thus, because genetically modified foods are perceived as inherently detrimental to personal health, it is not an easy task to convince consumers that a genetically modified food product can offer a substantial health benefit.

The first step in the introduction of such a product on the market would be to convince consumers to taste it. This could in itself reduce the perception of genetically modified foods as inherently dangerous and alien. If at the same time consumers could be convinced that the genetically modified product offered a substantial health benefit, this could improve re-buy probabilities.

DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION

Before rating the preference for each of 16 product profiles the respondents were asked to taste a piece of cheese. In each country, one third of the respondents was told that the type of cheese in question was produced by conventional methods, one third was told that it was produced by the aid of genetically modified starter, and while this was also the case for the last third of the respondents, this group was told that the genetically modified starter implied a health benefit, namely a substantially lower level of calories. In addition to the preference rating task, a number of food related attitude scales consisting of four to six items were implemented, i.e. "interest in natural products", "attitude to the use of genetic modification in food production", "attitude to nature", "attitude to technology". Also a single item measure of self-perceived knowledge of the use of genetic modification in food production was implemented.

The conjoint task was based on an orthogonal 6-factor design, each with two or three levels. The genetic modification factor was operationalized by the specification of starter cultures which were either conventional and alive in the final product, genetically modified and dead in the final product or genetically modified and alive in the final product. Apart from the price factor, the other factors were in some way related to health consequences. Based on studies of consumer preferences for functional foods (Bech-Larsen, Poulsen & Grunert, 1999; Jonas & Beckmann 1998) and discussion with experts in cheese processing we chose to include factors with different types of health implications and connotations to artificiality. The study was implemented as a full-profile design with 16 product descriptions to be rated on a 7-point scale of buying intention.

RESULTS

In this section we first present the general results of the conjoint study. Then the relations between the conjoint results and the attitude scales are discussed, and finally we discuss the effects of tasting supposedly genetically modified cheese on the estimated conjoint preferences for genetically modified and conventional cheese.

Table 2 shows that the homogeneity in the Nordic countries not only concerns the relative importance of the six factors included in the study, but also the preferences for the levels of the most important factors, i.e. GM and price are similar. As expected, cheaper products are preferred to more expensive ones, and no GM products are preferred to GM products with non-viable starters, which again are preferred to GM products with viable starters.

As regards the factors related to health benefits, the preferred levels of calories, saturated fat, and calcium are also mostly in accordance with expectations. The part-worths are small, however, and this may explain unexpected results such as the Danish respondents’ preference for saturated fatty acids. The fact that the Danish and Swedish respondents have strong aversions towards the cheese with high levels of zinc confirm other studies of functional foods (Poulsen, 1999) that found consumers to perceive such additives as less natural and hence less preferable than more "natural" additives such as calcium.

For each of the four countries and the aggregated set of individual utility functions a hierarchical clustering procedure was performed. In all the cases the great majority of respondents was placed in one segment. These findings confirm the homogeneous preferences of the respondents which is also indicated by the high values of the Pearson’s and Kendall’s tau measures of the estimated models (see table 2). The respondents’ general rejection of genetically modified foods is the primary reason for this homogeneity.

The results in figure 1 indicate that consumers’ general rejection of genetically modified foods is modified by tasting experience, and that this is especially the case if consumers believe the genetically modified cheese to offer a health benefit, ie less calories. An ANOVA-test (p<0,05) with the utility of the use of a non-GMO starter as dependent variable and tasting condition as independent variable illustrates that the differences shown in figure 1 are significant.

TABLE 1

DESIGN OF THE CONJOINT TASK

An explanation of the results illustrated in figure 1 could be that respondents who agree to taste a genetically modified cheese (less than 3% refused to taste the GM cheeses) "un-link" their preference for such a product from their strongly negative attitudes to the use of GM in food production. Thus, the mere experience that GM cheese does not taste any different from cheese produced with conventional starters may improve acceptance of genetically modified cheese.

Figure 2 illustrates that the relative importance of price is approximately constant in the three groups. That the same holds true for three of the four health factors (calorie level, content of unsaturated fatty acids and calcium) indicates, however, that the lower degree of rejection of genetic modification does not necessarily imply an increased focus on either health benefits in general or low fat content in particular.

Contrary to this, what seems to have happened in the case of the group that tasted the supposedly low-calorie version of the GM cheese, is that some of the consumer scepticism has been moved from the use of genetically modified starters to the adding of zinc. As such the results are in accordance with other studies (Bech-Larsen, Poulsen & Grunert, 1999; Poulsen, 1999), which also report that the majority of Danish and Finnish consumers have negative attitudes to zinc-enriched products. These results illustrate that taste experience together with substantial health benefits may improve acceptance rates of specific genetically modified foods, but that care should be taken to develop foods with health benefits that are trustworthy and attractive to consumers.

COMMENTS AND IMPLICATIONS

The results of the study reported in this paper imply that health benefits do not as such increase consumer acceptance of genetically modified foods. Nordic consumers’ rejection is so persistent that not even the introduction of genetically modified foods with substantial consumer benefits can change it. In other words, substantial benefits, e.g. health-related ones, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for increased consumer acceptance.

Although the public is largely unaware of the existence of genetically modified foods, more than 20% of a random sample of foods recently analyzed by the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries contained genetically modified ingredients. In the Nordic countries, the dominant strategy of the food industry has been not to make public the increasing use of genetically modified ingredients in their products. Instead of trying to lure consumers into acceptance of genetically modified foods, our study indicates that a combined informational and promotional strategy, e.g. by giving free samples of a genetically modified product and conveying a substantial consumer benefit, may be a better alternative.

TABLE 2

AGGREGATED UTILITY FUNCTIONS FOR EACH OF THE FOUR COUNTRIES

FIGURE 1

UTILITY FOR THE THREE LEVELS OF STARTER CULTURE UNDER DIFFERENT TASTING CONDITIONS

FIGURE 2

THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE IN % OF THE SIX CONJOINT FACTORS FOR THE THREE GROUPS WITH DIFFERENT TASTING CONDITIONS

REFERENCES

Bech-Larsen, T., Poulsen, J. & Grunert, K. G. (1999). Acceptance of functional foods in Denmark, Finland and the USBA cross-cultural study of consumer values and preferences. Seventh Cross-Cultural Research Conference, Cancun, Mexico, Provo, UT: Brigham Young University.

Bredahl, L. (1999). Consumers’ cognitions with regard to genetically modified food. Results of a qualitative study in four countries. Appetite 33(3), 343-360.

Frewer, L. J. & Shepherd, R. (1995). Ethical concerns and risk perceptions associated with different applications of genetic engineering: Interrelationships with the perceived need for regulation of the technology. Agriculture and Human Values, 12(1), 48-57.

Hamstra, A. M. (1995). Consumer acceptance model for food biotechnologyBfinal report. The Hague: The SWOKA Institute.

Jonas, M. & Beckmann, S. C. (1998). Functional foods: Consumer perceptions in Denmark and England. MAPP working paper no 55, Aarhus. The Aarhus School of Business.

Poulsen, J. (1999). Danish consumers’ attitudes towards functional foods. MAPP working paper no 62, Aarhus. The Aarhus School of Business.

Scholderer, J., Balderjahn, I., Bredahl, L. & Grunert, K. G. (in press). The perceived risks and benefits of genetically modified food products: Experts versus consumers. In: B. Dubois, T. Lowrey, L. J. Shrum & M. Vanhuele. (Eds.), European advances in consumer research. IV, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

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Authors

Tino Bech-Larsen, The Aarhus School of Business, Denmark
Klaus G. Grunert, The Aarhus School of Business, Denmark



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001



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