CONSUMER BEHAVIOR, TRUST OF INFORMATION, AND RISK PERCEPTION OF FOOD SAFETY EVENTS pp. 63-85
Authors: Sayed Saghaian, Dep. of Agricultural Economics, Univ of Kentucky and Jonathan D. Shepherd
Abstract: Media attention devoted to recent food safety events has increased consumers’ awareness and further complicated the marketing aspects of agricultural products. Recently, E. coli outbreaks in ground beef and fresh spinach and Salmonella-tainted fresh tomatoes have captured news headlines nationwide. Economic losses associated with these events can destroy brand images and affect entire industries. The life cycle of a food safety event is a dynamic process in which consumers often change consumption patterns during the scare, returning to pre-scare consumption patterns after the event. It is unclear how long the cycle takes or what signals are most effective to persuade consumers to return to their pre-scare behavior. Many factors differentiate food safety risks from other risks. Complete reduction of risk is not possible as food is essential for life. Food safety attributes are associated with credence goods. Credence goods are products for which consumers rely on brand images, labels or testimonial advertising to form opinions. Understanding how consumers conceptualize food safety risks is essential for effective strategic response plans. The data for this research was obtained from two surveys. One survey concerned fresh produce while the second focused on meat products. The SPARTA model, based on the Theory of Planned Behavior, is used to determine the atmosphere impact of factors that influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. The Theory of Planned Behavior has been used in many studies that analyze behaviors associated with risk. Of particular interest is to determine if consumer response can be generalized across products. The result of this research indicates that consumers have clearly-defined levels of trust associated with different entities that would be potential sources of food safety information. More specifically, consumers trust doctors and university scientists over media and processors. Hypothetical food safety events are used to analyze their impact on food purchasing decisions. In general, a food safety event occurring in the fresh produce market seems to affect purchasing decisions more than the same food safety event occurring in the meat market. Processors, animal welfare organizations, and political groups were all identified as being non-trustworthy. The majority of respondents indicated that the risk of suffering health consequences from a food safety event was negligible. Typical media outlets such as the Internet, newspapers, and television news were all identified as being important information sources in the wake of a food safety crisis. Agribusiness firms can use these results to form a base strategic response plan for food safety events.