Consumer insights on the best ways to communicate New Zealand’s food safety message to Chinese consumers
Consumers use a variety of cues (e.g. price, brand, country of origin) that are displayed on a product’s package or website to assess a food product’s attributes, including its safety. Being a credence attribute, safety cannot be reliably evaluated by consumers even after its purchase or consumption. Recent well-documented food-safety scandals in China have meant that safety is a top concern and a top focal issue for Chinese consumers. Owing to consumers’ distrust in locally produced products, imported food products have become increasingly popular in China. As China is the largest export market for New Zealand foods, it is important that New Zealand food companies gain insights into how Chinese consumers perceive food safety and food safety cues. The goal of this project was to gain a better understanding of how Chinese consumers perceive food safety-related cues and use them to assess a product’s safety. This information will help to provide best practice advice for New Zealand food exporters on how and where to communicate the safety of their products. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were employed to address the research objectives. This was firstly achieved by running structured focus groups (n=5) with 41 participants in China, to better understand how Chinese consumers perceive food safety and the safety cues Chinese consumers use to assess a product’s safety. A second study was subsequently carried out using an online survey with Chinese participants (n=307), to provide an empirical investigation into how Chinese consumers prioritise food safety cues derived from the first study when making purchase decisions. This included a choice-based conjoint survey asking participants to answer a series of simple questions based on choosing between two hypothetical alternatives of adult milk powder, using two defined attributes at a time and involving a trade-off. Results from both studies indicated that most Chinese consumers (86%) paid great attention to safety information and were constantly concerned about food safety (59.3%). Surprisingly, food safety was not Chinese consumers’ top motive of buying imported foods, rather “more choices” was the top reason. Online stores and offline hypermarkets were found to be the top two locations where most Chinese consumers (more than 80%) purchased imported foods. Consumer’s perceived risk posed by food products differed based on the product category (e.g. meat, dairy, cereal), product form (e.g. fresh, chilled, frozen) and degree of processing. Additionally, Chinese consumers used different food safety cues when assessing a package of food compared to when assessing a company’s website. Chinese consumers most frequently used certifications, country of origin, shelf life, nutritional information, brand and ingredients to evaluate and form food safety expectation. Certification was found to be the most important cue for Chinese consumers when assessing the safety of imported adult milk powders, followed by ingredients and traceability. However, no distinct segments were found based on consumers’ safety cue usage on safety perceptions of imported adult milk powders. This research provides information on the food safety cues that Chinese consumers perceive to be of greatest importance. This knowledge will help New Zealand food producers to maximise the effectiveness of their food safety messaging within the appropriate information channels to ensure this resonates well with Chinese consumers.
Advisor: Mirosa, Miranda; Bremer, Phil
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Department of Food Science
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Food Safety; Chinese consumers; Focus groups; Product cues; Survey; Consumer perception; Food Science
Research Type: Thesis