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«THESIS OF DOCTORAL (PhD) DISSERTATION Consumer risk perception of food additives Viktória Szűcs Budapest 2014 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ...»

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Consumer risk perception of food additives

Viktória Szűcs










Recommendations for the practice

Further research tasks




Food additives are used to enhance the storage life of foodstuffs and their appearance for a long time. The evolution of mass food production went hand in hand with the industrialization and the social changes at the end of the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The first invented and expansively applied food additives were the artificial preservatives, later due to innovators newer and newer additives appeared and their utilization became more and more widespread. In line with the spreading of their application – according to the given period’s requirements – the actual authorities always paid great attention on the health effects of food additives as well as on their traceability and on their monitoring.

Due to the changing lifestyles (e.g. running lifestyle, spreading of ready-to-eat and conventional foods) domestic food production and preservation is continuously surpassed, and at the same time the importance of foodstuffs produced by the industry is marked up. Food industry has to fulfil multiple consumer demands. Food industry has to put various, convenient, attractive and affordable foodstuffs on the shelves, and at the same time the consumers’ needs for healthy, chemical free and safe products have to be satisfied, too. The food additives are one of the solutions to meet consumers’ complex and often conflicting requirements. These additives influence the attributes of the foodstuffs favourably, facilitate the processing of the raw materials, improve the quality of food products and prolong their shelf life (SOHÁRNÉ, 2005).

In spite of the rigorous legal regulations more and more conscious consumers are worry about their widespread application (EUROBAROMETER, 2006, 2010) and about their safety. The possible negative health effect of certain additives is common talk, too. Beyond the worry about the food safety, damning of the application of food additives by the consumers and the media who are searching for sensation and disproportionately enhance the drawbacks and the negative factors became fashionable. Furthermore consumers’ mistrust is increased by the fact that in case of some producer and product application of food additives can be query, which is confirmed by the continuous refinement of the regulation (1333/2008/EC), too.

Recognition of consumers’ risk perception about food additives, as well as exploration and understanding of the underlying thoughts and the hidden motivations, have an outstanding importance in the appointment of both the effective consumer communication ways and the directions of the producers’ product development.


The main objective of my doctoral dissertation was to analyse different countries consumers’ (Hungary, Spain and Romania) risk perception regarding food additives. This was achieved by the

following subtasks and the related hypothesises:

− I have considered as an aim to explore the consumers’ knowledge of the analysed countries (e.g. connection of additives and ‘E-numbers’, regulation of their application) regarding food additives.

1. Hypothesis: Level of knowledge about food additives is different in the analysed three countries.

2. Hypothesis: Consumers do not know the exact connection between food additives and ‘Enumbers’.

− On the basis of my secondary research, Hungarian and Romanian consumers associate similarly high level of worry to food additives, while Spanish ones lower.

3. Hypothesis: Hungarian and Romanian respondents perceive high level of worry against food additives, while Spanish ones lower.

− According to the literature overview, risk perception of food additives shows sociodemographic differences. Thus, towards the targeted consumer communication I have objected the identification of socio-demographic groups having different attitude.

4. Hypothesis: From the point of view of risk perception of food additives, the following consumer groups can be deemed as less sensitive: man, youngsters, high educated people, households with few children, as well as the well-off consumers.

− One way of the trust improvement against the utilization of food additives is to prove plain and accurate information. Thus, I consider the analysis of the effect of the information about the application of food additives towards the decreasing of the level of the perceived risk to be an important topic.

5. Hypothesis: Providing information has a positive effect on the acceptance of food additives.

− From the consumer trends related to food additives, spreading of additive free foodstuffs and those ones containing natural components can be unambiguously highlighted. The

hypothesis for the analysis of this topic is the following:

6. Hypothesis: Acceptance of natural food additives is uniformly more favourable than the acceptance of artificial ones.

− I have set as an aim to develop a model for the identification of the factors affecting the avoidance of food additives in the analysed three countries. The models identify the differences between the countries, as well as the strength of the affects. Thus, they give an 5 opportunity to influence the consumers’ reactions in the direction of the avoidance of food additives.

7. Hypothesis: Strength of factors affecting the avoidance of food additives (knowledge, perceived level of risk, judgement of the health risk, trust level concerning the application) are different in the analysed three countries.

− In order to analyse the actual trends in case of food additives I have aimed to analyse the consumers’ willingness to buy and willingness to pay for foodstuffs having favourable additive composition (additive free or containing natural additives).

8. Hypothesis: Remarkable willingness to pay can be observed in case of foodstuffs having favourable additive composition (additive free or containing natural additives) in the analysed three countries.

9. Hypothesis: Product characteristics (additive content, price) influence the respondents’ shopping decisions differently in the tree analysed countries.

− A methodological comparison of the results of the two conjoint analysis methods (rating and choice based) utilized during my research work.

− Finally, I have aimed to synthesize the results of the research on the basis of the analysis of the hypothesis, to draw conclusions based on them, and to develop recommendations for the practice.


To analyse the hypothesis two kinds of quantitative studies were done. The aim of the questionnaire survey was to explore consumers’ opinions and knowledge regarding food additives, while the conjoint analysis was done in order to analyse consumers’ willingness to buy and their preference in case of foodstuffs containing natural and artificial additives.

During the questionnaire survey in Hungary 437 (summer/spring 2011), in Spain 348 (summer/autumn 2011) and in Romania 386 (autumn 2011/winter 2012) valid questionnaires were collected via Internet. Data were analysed with the help of the SPSS 17.0 statistical software. For the data analysis univariate analysis (mean, ANOVA, Post Hoc test, t-test, standard deviation, frequency) and multivariate analysis (crosstab, two samples and independent sample t-test, cluster analysis (K-means method), principle component and factor analysis, as well as multidimensional scaling) were applied.

On the basis of the results of the questionnaire survey, three factors were chosen for the conjoint analysis: ‘preservatives’ (natural/artificial), ‘packaging gases’ (presence/absence) and ‘price’ (average+10%/average+20%). Average prices were determined on the basis of market data collected in the analysed countries. The conjoint analysis was done in case of two foodstuffs: prepacked sliced cheese and chips. Utilization of the two foodstuffs is explained by the fact that the nature of the foodstuffs can influence the consumers’ queries regarding food additives. According to the consumers, cheese is expected to be a ‘healthier’ low additive content foodstuff, while the chips not (SZŰCS and BÁNÁTI, 2010; TARNAVÖLYGYI, 2009). For the conjoint analysis six cards were chosen, and one more for the illustration of the ‘standard’ foodstuff (containing artificial preservatives and packaging gases on average price). In order to avoid the influence of the chosen foodstuffs (positive or negative affects from the nature of the foodstuff), the data collection were done with the help of two product order (pre-packed sliced cheese than chips cards and reverse order).

Formation of the conjoint analysis gave the opportunity for the rating - and the choice based data collection, too. Results of the previous one were analysed with the help of the Conjoint module of the SPSS statistical software (taken into consideration the main effects), while the latter one with the Conjoint module from XLSTAT statistical software (multinomial logit model). From the data collected via Internet for the rating based analysis – contracted the results of the cheese and the chips – in Hungary 250 (autumn 2011/winter 2012), in Spain 211 (autumn 2011/winter 2012) and in Romania 248 (winter/spring 2012) valid questionnaires were collected. In case of choice based analysis – separately for cheese and chips – in Hungary 216 and 210 (cheese/chips), in Spain 154 and 157, while in Romania 133 and 101 questionnaires were used.

7 For the linguistic equivalence of the questionnaires, the translations were conducted by professionals not participating in the actual project work. There was also a ‘back-translation’ process done by different independent professionals in order to provide the best possible terminologies in all used languages. Having looked at sentences and terms causing interpretation problems they were modified. For the prompt understanding of the questions a pre-inquiry was done with respondents from the analysed countries. The study and the data collection were supported by the colleagues of the IRTA (Recerca I Tecnologia Agroalimentáries) in Monnels, Spain, and of the UMF (Universitatea de Medicină Farmacie Tîrgu Mureş) in Târgu Mureş, Romania.

Socio-demographic distributions of the samples of the questionnaire survey and the conjoint analysis (rating - and choice based) – even though different respondents participated in the studies – showed similar features. In point of gender, females were in majority in all three countries. In Hungary and in Romania respondents between 18 and 44 years, while in Spain the 25-44 years old participants were in a higher rate. Regarding the place of residence, inhabitants of big cities had a higher rate in the samples of the analysed countries than inhabitants from small cities and villages.

Most of the respondents lived with their family members. According to the highest qualifications, higher educated participants were in majority in the samples. Most of the respondents thought to have average financial circumstances.


Thesis 1.

Setting out from the European surveys, I have widely analysed the Hungarian, Spanish and the Romanian consumers’ risk perception concerning food additives and I pointed out its detailed differences (knowledge of the concept of additives and ‘E-numbers’, subjective risk perception of certain additives in the system of food safety risk factors, trust felt again producers and authorities in reference to the regulation and application of food additives) and identities (preference of natural substances).

Results of the questionnaire survey verified that the respondents’ knowledge was different in the participated three countries. On the basis of the ‘yes or no questions’ it can be said that Hungarian and Romanian participants thought to have higher level of knowledge than the Spanish respondents. However, the statements analysing the exact knowledge showed that participants overestimated their previous level of knowledge (‘yes or no questions’). Participants from Hungary (61.8%) and Romania (66.8%) answered correctly in the highest rate the statement that ‘Every food additives can be linked to an ‘E-number’, while Spanish ones answered the less correctly (39.4%) In the course of my analysis in the three countries, I concluded that participants felt risk factors independent from additives more hazardous for their health than the food additives themselves separately or even in their groups. Hungarian participants judged the ‘chemical substances from environmental pollution’ as the most hazardous factor, while Spanish and Romanian ones the ‘chemical residues (e.g. pesticides) migrating from agricultural raw materials into the products’. An additional difference was that the Romanian participants reported higher level of risk in case of food additives and their groups among the listed risk factors, than respondents of the two other countries.

Results draw the attention to the fact that Romanian participants were mistrustful and suspicious of producers and controlling authorities. They believed that food additives are not safe, not even at the legally authorized level utilized by the food industry. Additives are unnecessary ingredients during the food production and they consider that producers can apply additives, which are not permitted. As a result of the latter, Romanian participants are dissatisfied with the label information and think that this information is not in accordance with the facts. In contrast to the Romanian participants, Spanish ones showed trust for the producers and controlling authorities, too.

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