Genetically modified food is a reality for many modern-day consumers around the world. With the introduction of GM food to the food market, consumers were faced with a number of new products and also familiar products containing new ingredients. The introduction of genetically modified food products to food markets around the world, led to a lot of controversy. In many cases consumer attitudes and perceptions of GM food products were revealed as fears, concern for, and avoidance of the new technology. Consumer attitudes, perceptions and acceptance towards the use of genetically modified foods or -food ingredients are currently highly relevant issues for role-player such as researchers, government, food companies, biotechnology companies, retailers and farmers all over the world.The importance of genetically modified food products in South Africa is increasing, even though the debate surrounding genetically modified food products lags behind many other (often more developed) parts of the world. Genetically modified white maize is among the agricultural crops approved for commercial production in South Africa. The production of genetically modified white maize in South Africa increased dramatically from its introduction in the 2001/2002-production season. White maize, especially in the form of super- and special maize meal, is an extremely important staple food source for consumers of all age groups in South Africa. The implication of the significant increase in the cultivation of genetically modified white maize is that the product is entering the South African food market at an increasing rate. In reality South African consumers are increasingly exposed to food products containing genetically modified white maize. This goes hand in hand with increasing consumer awareness regarding genetically modified food issues.The general objective of the dissertation is to develop an understanding of the perceptions, attitudes, acceptance and knowledge of South African urban consumers, regarding GM white maize as a staple food product within South Africa. The specific objectives are to identify trade-offs between selected attributes of maize meal and to determine the relative importance of selected GM characteristics within the trade-offs by means of a conjoint experiment, to construct market segments based on the outcomes of a conjoint experiment, to determine the effect of consumer perceptions on the sensory experience of white maize porridge and to determine the knowledge, perceptions and GM food acceptance of the different market segments.Quota sampling was applied to obtain a random sample of 80 urban white-maize consumers, based on the LSM (Living Standard Measures) market segmentation tool. The respondents participated in sensory evaluation of maize porridge. This was followed by a conjoint experiment designed around three selected product characteristic variables describing a 2.5kg packet of super white maize meal: “Brand variable”, “Genetic modification variable” and “Price variable”. Market segmentation was done through Ward’s hierarchical cluster analysis based on the conjoint results. The final phase of the experimental analysis involved the profiling of the identified clusters based on demographic variables, respondents’ knowledge of genetic modification and respondents perceptions, attitudes and acceptance towards genetically modified food.The limited sample size (80 respondents) could influence the ability of the results to reflect on the population of urban white maize consumers given the presence of GM food in the market. However, the experimental results should be seen in view of general trends in South Africa and available anecdotal evidence supporting the results of the study. The results of this study could go a long way in representing the results of a more representative sample of urban white maize consumers given the presence of GM food in the market.The cluster analysis revealed that the sample of urban, white maize consumers could be grouped into three meaningful and distinct market segments, based on their preferences for branded- versus non-branded white-grained maize meal, as well as their preferences for non-GM white maize meal versus GM white maize meal with various types of genetic manipulations. The “Anti-GM” segment (35% of the sample) is particularly negative towards GM food irrelevant of the type of genetic modification applied to the food. The “Pro-GM farmer sympathetic” segment (20% of the sample) is positive towards genetically modified food in cases where the farmer receives the benefit of the genetic modification. The “Pro-GM” segment (45% of the sample) is generally positive towards GM food, but especially when the consumer receives the benefit of the genetic modification. The results indicated that the differences among the cluster groups were more prominent than the differences among the LSM groups. Thus, the clusters were most effective to distinguish between sub-groups in the experimental sample.The results of the respondents’ knowledge of genetic modification indicated that there is some degree of confusion among respondents regarding the meaning of genetic modification, as well as discrepancies between perceived and actual knowledge levels of genetic modification. In general, the respondents’ knowledge of GM food is relatively low.A strong positive correlation was observed between the sample respondents’ exposure to GM food related terms and their perceived understanding of these issues, implying that the exposure caused the respondents to learn more about GM food related terms. The balanced GM food information presented to the respondents during the experimental procedure probably influenced their knowledge levels and opinions about GM food as the experiment evolved. Despite these observations the research methodology was still deemed as appropriate. The GM food knowledge gained by the respondents during the experiment could be seen as a simulation of situations where they could receive GM food information from external sources such as television, radio, magazines or newspapers. The cluster profiling revealed that urban white-grain maize consumers’ perceptions and attitudes towards GM food were the strongest distinguishing factors between the various market segments, especially the preferences of the various cluster groups for non-GM maize or maize that was genetically modified for consumer benefit or maize that was genetically modified for producer benefit. Demographic factors and GM knowledge aspects did not really contribute towards distinguishing between the clusters.The dissertation determined that there is a need for a better understanding of consumer perceptions, attitudes towards and acceptance of GM food products, which could enable producers and scientists to engage in more consumer driven product development and marketing activities. Consumer acceptance is the most critical factor for the success of GM food products within the South African food market place and could shape the future of the agricultural modern biotechnology industry and the agricultural sector in South Africa.
Dissertation (MSc (Agric) Agricultural Economics)--University of Pretoria, 2007.