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Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 02, 2005

Study Delves Into Consumer Acceptance of Food Technologies

Most consumers don't think twice about buying milk that's been pasteurized, but another technology — genetic modification — often raises a red flag. A University of Guelph professor is leading a new study to determine why some food technologies are more acceptable than others and what the agriculture and food industry can do to boost consumer acceptance.

Spencer Henson of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Business says preliminary results suggest the trade off between perceived risks and benefits is one of the most important influences on how consumers receive new food technologies.

"Consumers are willing to take a risk if they receive greater benefits such as improved health, better quality or lower price. If the benefits outweigh the perceived risks, consumers are more likely to buy into the product," he said.

Henson said consumers are influenced by what he calls "the dread factor." For example, cancer is such a feared disease that consumers won't accept any food technology that's been associated with it, no matter how tenuous the connection. Other significant factors include whether consumers believe they can control exposure to the new technology, how well they themselves understand the technology and whether they think the technology is understood by scientists, he said.

Henson's research team is using a unique respondent-designed survey. Participants are presented with existing food technologies such as food additives, genetic modification, irradiation, vacuum packing, pasteurization, microwave ovens and canning, as well as non-food technologies such as X-rays, nuclear power, cellular telephones, computers and aircraft. The survey then asks participants to indicate, in their own words, which technologies concern them and why.

The survey results will help determine what values drive consumer choices, which in turn can help industries and the government promote their products in a way that maximizes consumer acceptance, Henson said. That could boost companies' sales and give them a competitive edge in national and international markets, while addressing consumer concerns about new food technologies, he said.

Henson and his research group also plan to conduct in-depth case studies on specific food technologies and determine how the food industry manages consumer concerns. He also hopes to create a tool to predict how a new food technology will be perceived by consumers. "Industries have to build up consumer acceptance of a product right from the start, not when it's about to hit the market," he said.

Prof. Spencer Henson
Department of Agricultural Economics and Business
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53134

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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