Trust is vital before consumers will pay for nanotechnology, finds review

By Nathan Gray contact

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Consumer trust is vital to the success of - and willingess to pay for - nanotechnology in foods.
Consumer trust is vital to the success of - and willingess to pay for - nanotechnology in foods.

Related tags: Nanotechnology

Consumers will only accept - and pay for - nanotechnology in food when trust in the technology and its applications improve, say researchers.

Writing in the journal Food Policy​, the researchers analysed the role of trust in consumers’ evaluations of a new food technology, namely nanotechnology, finding that willingness to pay (WTP) for new food characteristics produced using nanotechnology increases with trust, but that new information does not increase WTP in those consumers who already have higher levels of trust.

Led by Professor Jutta Roosen from the Technical University of Munich, the team reported that the use of of nanotechnology raises concerns in consumers’ minds about both the use of technology in foods and drinks and also in packaging produced with nanotechnology. 

“It is unclear at this point whether these concerns are related to lack of awareness of nanotechnology in the general public or lack of awareness of nanotechnology uses in the food industry,”​ said the authors – who noted that recent research from Canada showed that consumers are generally favourable toward the use of nanotechnology, while research from the German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment demonstrated that 50% of Germans have some familiarity with nanotechnology, but that the level of acceptance for packaging technologies is higher as compared to fortification technologies.

“As shown in our results, trust can often ameliorate risk perceptions in the presence of scientific uncertainty about a technology or products,”​ wrote the team. “In our case trust was shown to reduce the levels of concern and to restore confidence in the market.”

“The importance of trust is also an expression of an increasing complexity in the food market, making individual consumers increasingly dependent on the decisions of those bodies responsible bodies for regulation and oversight of the food sector,”​ said Roosen and colleagues.

Consumer insights

The team revealed the results from an extensive literature review and consumer survey investigating consumer trust and willingness to pay for nanotechnology in food.

“Our results show that information about the use of a new technology in the food domain leads to a welfare decrease for consumers. Furthermore, we can show that trust increases WTP and that it protects WTP from bad news,”​ Roosen and his team said – noting that information about the use of nanotechnology is generally considered ‘bad news.’

Indeed, they said that such suggestion that the majority of information on nanotechnology is framed in a negative light is a consistent result from the previously cited research in Canada and Germany, and  has also been found to be true in the US and Switzerland.

“Concerning regulatory discussions around mandatory labelling of products containing nanomaterials, this nano labelling means ‘bad news’ for many consumers and marketing of nanotechnology innovations are limited to those who trust the involved actors,”​ they added. 

Source: Food Policy
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2014.12.004
“Trust and willingness to pay for nanotechnology food”
Authors: J. Roosen, et al

Related topics: Science, Food safety

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