Consumer issues

There is a general concern across the food industry that consumers will not accept organic by-products as (ingredients in) food products because they will consider 'by-products' synonymous with 'waste'. Given public fears with respect to, for example, BSE and other issues related to recycling of waste products in the food chain, this would imply consumer rejection of the upgrading of organic by-products. Apart from the benefits to sustaina-bility not being attained, consumer rejection of food products would run counter to the work of experts on sustainable food production. The 'byproduct equals waste scenario' is far from hypothetical. In the literature, a commonly used terminology used is that of 'waste management in food processing'. The term 'waste management' may turn out to be one that does not facilitate consumer acceptance of food products. In the following we will use the term 'by-product' instead of 'waste', because it is a more neutral term.

As indicated before, there are a number of reasons to proceed carefully regarding the introduction of food-processing by-products in food products. Consumers should have an important role in this process of what, when and how novel products are introduced, and, therefore, the interaction between producers and (potential) consumers should be intensified. Hanssen et al. (2001) point to the examples of the societal debates on the application of biotechnology in the Netherlands, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, which illustrate the need for an increased involvement of users (consumers) in the process of product and technology development. Thus it behoves producers to attend not only to the issue of improved sustainabil-ity, but also to public attitudes and concerns relating to the technologies applied in order to attain improved sustainability.

One important reason for the opposition of consumers to novel agri-food technologies has been negative consumer responses to the 'technology push' by certain producers, most notably the manufacturers of genetically modified (GM) products. As a consequence, financial investment in public and private research and development in genetic engineering in the food and agriculture sector can be considered to be more or less wasted (Moors et al, 2002). There is a huge volume of literature on why European consumers rejected genetically modified crops. However, public attitudes towards agri-food technologies are not dependent on an analytical assessment of risks and benefits alone. Other factors, such as ethical and moral considerations, and other values such as concern about the integrity of nature and trust in the regulatory system, also play a part in societal and consumer acceptance (Miles and Frewer, 2001; Jensen and Sand0e, 2002). Developing communication about substantial equivalence (i.e. that the content of GM foods was not substantially different to conventional counterparts) did not address consumer concerns, and was thus not relevant to consumer fears. Research also demonstrated that control over consumption of GM foods was enormously important to European consumers, necessitating the labelling of GM foods and implementation of effective traceability systems (Miles et al., 2005). The negative public reaction to GM foods was therefore less to do with risk, and more to do with consumer choice and the failure to deliver information about what was actually driving consumer concerns. Opaque risk analysis systems and decision-making practices were not helpful in reassuring the public. The absence of first-generation products with tangible and desirable consumer benefits did little to reassure consumers about the motives of the food industry in introducing these crops. Taken together, it seems unlikely that consumers will accept the introduction of new GM foods and ingredients in the human food chain.

It is important that, in the future, consumers are involved in innovation processes in the food processing industry. It is also important to recognise that consumers may represent a repository of ideas (linked, for example, to new products) which could be exploited far better during the innovation process than is currently the case (Moors et al., 2002). In this way the creative capacity of consumers can be used to shape technological development in all phases of the innovation process (Oudshoorn and Pinch, 2002; Smits and Kuhlmann, 2002). Of course, a potential hindrance to consumer involvement in novel product design may be the attitudes of stakeholders in the production process. Specifically, producers may believe '. . . that the consumer does not know what she/he wants, especially if we are talking about developments such as genomics that take at least 5-10 years before the first products come to the market. Only the research and development departments can tell us what is under development. As yet, the research is in a too early stage to inform the public/consumer, so it is better to wait until the first prototypes are there and then consult the consumer.' (Moors et al., 2002). However, this reaction may have limited validity, particularly as in the published literature innovation processes are considered to be dynamic, complex and interactive. The linear model of innovation (from science, to technology, to industry, to consumers) is replaced by an interactive network model. According to Rosenberg, innovation is very much a process of 'learning by using' and 'learning by doing' (Rosenberg, 1976). As a consequence, innovations emerge in close interaction with their (socio-economic) environment. Thus innovation processes may benefit from a constructive technology assessment (CTA) which proposes to broaden the design by bringing together all interested parties early on and throughout the design process, with the aim of shaping technology development processes in such a way that social aspects are symmetrically considered in the process itself

(Smits et al., 1995; Schot, 2001). Another method that may benefit the innovation process is strategic niche management (SNM). Through the development of certain protected spaces (without the constraints of the market), SNM brings different stakeholders together to experiment with promising technologies and to learn about the desirability of the new technology. In this way SNM enhances the further development and the rate of application of the new technology (Kemp et al., 1998).

Will the relationships between consumers and the food processing industry change when by-products are used in food? To answer this question it is necessary to initiate CTA processes early in the development of new food products containing by-products in order to increase consumer participation and influence in the innovation process itself.

The effective management of food by-products could lead to the use of improved food (e.g. better flavour, improved texture, larger fruits, advanced shelf life, increased nutritional value and cheaper products produced using sustainable processes). The consumer will also be able to purchase food supplemented with functional health-promoting ingredients derived from process co-products. The goal of these new food products is to assist consumers in improving their health and quality of life through better nutrition. This can be regarded as part of a more general shift in consumer trends in food consumption that Moors et al. (2002) have called 'eating for feeding to eating for health'. In other words, consumers are beginning to pay more attention to the healthy and nutritious aspects of food, and they are more aware that eating specific food products could contribute positively to their health status. However, in the case of new food made from by-products of the food processing industry, consumers may consider by-products unhealthy, although this question merits further empirical investigation. It cannot be expected a priori that consumers know about, or are indeed interested in, the management of by-products, and it may be expected that new food products will only be successful if consumers understand the newness (and benefits). The food industry must inform consumers about why and how products are developed and introduce an empirical analysis of consumer acceptance in an early stage of the development process. In addition, the producer should not be too far 'ahead' of the consumers regarding product development (Moors et al., 2002), otherwise effective communication with consumers about new products may be difficult.

An important success factor for the introduction of new functional foods (based on substances from by-products) is that the safety and health claims associated with these products can be trusted by consumers. The underlying factors that drive consumer trust in food safety have been well documented (Frewer et al., 1996), and may equally apply to sources of food-related information in general. Lundvall (1992) argues that without mutual trust, efficient and effective interactions will not be possible. One of the ways the food industry may build trust is to use scientific proof of safety or health benefits. However, at the present time, there are few novel foods available that have been developed using by-products, and as a consequence consumers are not familiar with potential innovations in this area. This lack of knowledge may increase the distance between consumers and producers, and this could hinder effective interactions between them (Lundvall, 1992). It could lead to a lack of trust, because some consumers fear new food products based on new, unknown technological developments or even novel foods in general (Pliner and Hobden, 1992).

Much public negativity associated with the way food safety issues are managed and regulated has been the result of managers, assessors and other key actors in the process of risk analysis failing to take account of the actual concerns of the public when assessing, managing and communicating about food safety issues. One consequence has been increased public distrust in the motives of regulators, science and industry in taking decisions or actions in relation to risk assessment priorities, resource allocation and risk mitigation activities (Frewer, 1999). Jensen and Sand0e (2002) have observed that, despite the creation of new food safety institutions such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the decline in public confidence in food safety continues. This may, it is argued, be partly the result of communication about food safety issues being based on scientific risk assessments alone, and failing to incorporate public concerns, values and fears into a broader societal debate (Levidow and Marris, 2001). Communication that does not explicitly address public concerns is likely to have a limited role in reassuring the public.

One approach to gain the trust of consumers is to adopt the Fork-To-Farm approach. The consumer will be able to purchase food that - through waste avoidance, full traceability and Hazard Analysis for Critical Control Points (HACCP)-inclusion in co-product ingredient manufacture - has been produced in a healthy and environmentally friendly manner. The idea is that this will help to increase consumer confidence in the food supply, and that this will be augmented by the increase in efficiency of the food chain which will contribute towards a cheaper food supply. Direct consumer benefits will also include an improved quality of life through a reduction in noxious odours and microbiological hazards commonly associated with organic waste disposal. However, in order for the consumer to develop an enthusiastic response to the new food products, a system of information and labelling must be implemented in order to deliver the information to those that need it.

A second approach to developing trust has focused on greater public inclusion in the process of policy development. When people feel a lack of control over their exposure to potential hazards, risks are perceived as higher. This effect can be countered by reassuring conclusions from a trusted source. Therefore, in cases where there is a lack of control, trust in risk assessment and risk management is likely to be a particularly important determinant of public confidence in food safety. A case in point is that of GM foods, where consumer concern did not focus primarily on risk per se, but rather on the lack of personal control on the part of the consumer over consumption (Miles and Frewer, 2001). It was reasoned by the policy community that more extensive public consultation and participation in risk management and other science and technology issues would restore public confidence in the institutions with responsibility for public and consumer protection (see, for example, Renn et al., 1995; Rowe et al., 2004). Indeed, this appeared to reflect institutional recognition that consumers' attitudes towards different hazards are not purely dependent on an analytical assessment of risk and benefit. Other factors, such as ethical and moral considerations, were recognised as being potentially influential in establishing the acceptability or otherwise of a particular hazard or establishing societal approval of the measures put into place to contain specific risks. Social inclusion is important if consumers are to build trust in both risk analysis and technology development and commercialisation, although consumer opinions should be seen to influence outcomes and technological developments otherwise the effect may be trust destroying rather than the converse.

One consequence of various food scares (for example, the controversies over GM foods and BSE in the 1990s), may be increased consumer cynicism regarding sustainability claims supporting 'risky' technology pushes. The questions that need to be asked are: under what circumstances will people accept potentially controversial technologies applied to production if there is a benefit to sustainability; and does improved sustainability in itself represent a substantial enough benefit to offset consumer negativity towards specific food production processes?

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