German consumers’ are willing to pay more for bright red coloured ground beef even when told it results from treatment with carbon monoxide in modified atmosphere packaging (CO-MAP), according to a study.
The researchers studied the consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) based on shelf life and meat colour in Germany and the US, said Grebitus et al.
Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) extends the shelf life of fresh meat and, with the inclusion of carbon monoxide (CO), stabilizes colour.
MAP that includes CO is allowed only in the US and the researchers speculated the results may be because German people were less aware of past issues around the use of CO in packaging so, once they understood how it worked, where more keen to adopt its use.
In Germany, compliance with EU regulation states that the use of MAP be labelled on the package but in the US only the product ‘use-by date’ is required.
Germany is considered to have the lowest consumer trust level in the EU so it was best to start there as if it was rejected it there, they probably would everywhere else, said the researchers.
Consumers in both countries have clear preferences for cherry red meat colour. However, providing information on the use of carbon monoxide in the packaging decreases US consumers’ willingness to pay and increases some German consumers’ WTP.
German consumers were willing to pay a €3.75 premium for cherry red colour in ground beef and US consumers were willing to pay €0.69.
The provision of information on MAP and CO-MAP had different effects as it increased the WTP for shelf life for US consumers while not affecting the WTP for shelf life for German consumers.
“If it is presented and the colour is appealing, then they will buy it. If it is too hard to understand, they could take home too much information and it scares them away,” said Grebitus.
“In Germany it was the first time many had heard of it but in the US there have been debates. People have negative associations [with CO] so we need to inform them.”
More consumer studies are needed on CO and willingness to pay looking at the motives, attitudes and perceptions to provide evidence that the technology is a good one to use, she added.
Before treatment one, participants were provided with no information, verbal information was provided about meat shelf life and focusing on the role of MAP in extending product shelf life before treatment two and before the final treatment verbal information about the role of CO in stabilizing colour was provided.
In the US, the use of CO in consumer-ready fresh meat packaging (as CO-MAP) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002, but since then the safety has been a constant issue.
Consumer groups are concerned that the colour-preserving quality of CO leads to opportunity for fraud and CO-MAP might be used to conceal colour changes of spoiled meat.
The product used in the study was pre-packaged ground beef (1lb) in white plastic trays wrapped in transparent film.
Because CO-MAP is not allowed in Europe the team used pictures of the real products used in the US experiments.
It was presented to consumers in nine choice scenarios and participants selected their most preferred option or they chose none of the presented alternatives before moving onto the next choice scenario.
“This study provides evidence, at least for Germany, that some consumers would prefer to have a choice of food packaged under a modified atmosphere including carbon monoxide,” the researchers concluded.
Source: Food Policy
Online, ahead of print: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2013.02.005
“US and German consumer preferences for ground beef packaged under a modified atmosphere – Different regulations, different behaviour?”
Authors: Carola Grebitus, Helen H. Jensen, Jutta Roosen