Quality Concepts, Emotions, and Consumer Needs and Experience

Food is depicted on the one hand as vulnerable, on the other hand as essential for human survival. The concept of quality of food products is a concept highly variable in space and time; quality cannot therefore be understood as high quality. Indeed, satisfying consumer's preferences does not necessarily mean high quality. Quality perception of various actors can be quite different and sometimes contradictory (Boekel, 2005). Quality is a multidimensional concept, and it contains both subjective and objective elements that are dynamic in time (Martens and Martens, 2001). It is not only a property of the food but also of consumer wishes (Sijtsema et al., 2002). The latter must be translated into product characteristics to apply consumer-oriented product development model (among other variables, time and place are considered as part of consumption moment). It is difficult to know what a consumer wants owing to these factors:

  • • Opportunity to choose from many different food products to fulfill needs
  • • Different nutritional requirements
  • • Different eating habits for various age groups
  • • Possibility to diversify (exotic food) thanks to influence of ethnic groups
  • • Need to save time in cooking and in preparing
  • • Increasing availability of information (Boekel, 2005)

In addition, consumers are sometimes not able to buy what they want because they are not able to find the specific product in terms of quality (Conto et al., 2016); this derives from unsuitability of the information provided on the product. On the other hand, consumers suffer the effects of an asymmetric information system, which leads them to buy unsatisfying food items and results in a “lemons-style” breakdown in the market for processed foods (Smith et al., 2011): the latter occurs if the agreement parties do not obtain the same degree of information useful to make an informed decision.

The loss of well-being at a social level also occurs at the expense of the producers, or at least part of them, that operate correctly, unlike those that produce goods of lower quality than competing products, gaining to the detriment of producers of higher-quality goods (Moschini et al., 2008; Menapace and Moschini, 2010).

Furthermore, researching quality represents an essential component of the strategy pursued by the EU agri-food sector on the world market (European Parliament, 2009). In this context, food security can be considered a compulsory minimum level of quality for food products.

Under increasing challenges and pressure of globalization and urbanization processes, a consumer-focused approach to performance improvement in supply chains can lead to more satisfied consumers and improve returns to growers and to retailers (Macharia et al., 2013). Climate change, together with population growth and unsustainable practices, are drawing new scenarios: ethics are important to the entire process and to related actors starting from primary producers to final consumer. So multiple ethical dimensions of innovation cover food technologies but also production and management and institutional practices. The link between food ethics and innovation process stands out in considering that innovation can strengthen and develop the agri-food supply chain (Conto et al., 2015b); in the last few decades, farming ethics has been increasingly conceived as an interdisciplinary subdiscipline that produces analysis and critique of norms and values (Thompson et al., 2014; Navin, 2014) aimed at redefining the supply chain (Hanf & Pieniadz, 2007).

Scholars (Macharia et al., 2013) demonstrated that all consumer segments show high or moderate preferences towards product quality; nowadays, consumers define exclusively what can constitute value in a product or service. Safety, quality, trust, environmental, and ethical issues all influence consumer behavior (Krystallis et al., 2012; OECD, 2008; Young et al., 2010). Typicality, origin, health, and nutrition are translated in the mind of consumer into quality products (Conto et al., 2015b); and then, traditional quality aspects, such as freshness and taste, further affect consumer food choice (Dimara et al., 2003). A recent study aimed to explore the most-effective options to improve service quality in the vegetarian foods industry, highlighting that the first three customer quality needs are related to health and to safet: customers expect that quality eating is safe, clean, and fresh (Chen et al., 2015).

Furthermore, quality is a key component of competitiveness (Latruffe, 2010; Toming, 2007). Relatively to product quality, in particular, specific concern and attention should be paid to international comparison: product quality varies between countries due to differences in consumers preferences and requirements (Latruffe, 2010). So also do demographic influences on consumer health perceptions and types of milk consumption—whole milk, reduced fat milk, and soy milk (Bus and Worsley, 2003). Consumers sometimes make choices based on health needs as well, such as substituting donkey's milk as food for infants with cow's milk protein allergy and finding products that are suitable for elderly people (Cavallarin et al., 2015).

In addition, the importance of emotions associated with foods has to be considered as social and technological developments of the past few decades have significantly influenced the variety of dairy products available. This huge variety and diversification allow the dairy industry to cover all aspects of consumer life (starting from childhood) and all moments of the day. King et al. (2013) studied how to measure emotions in a product development context; the measure model of the role of emotion in quality production, experience, and evaluation must include customer heterogeneity (Golder et al., 2012).

Starting from the quality function Q proposed by van Boekel (2005): where:

  • • Qint are intrinsic quality attributes (inherent to the product physical characteristics— see among others Espejel et al., 2007; Hurling and Shepherd, 2003; Olson and Jacoby, 1972).
  • • Qext are extrinsic quality attributes (inherent to the product nonphysical characteristics, named image variables—see among others Espejel et al., 2007; Meiselman et al., 2000).

Here, we propose to insert a function taking into account emotions and experience (as personal and cultural-country background) that present a close correlation between them.

Emotions and experience (E&E) are inserted in the quality function Q as the expected value of a set of continuous random variables, taking into account any numerical value in an interval or collection of intervals; for a pair of random variables X and Y we have a joint probability distribution f (x,y). The expected value can be set up by carrying out an arbitrary function g (X ,Y) such that:

A mixed joint probability distribution can be utilized, too, as it considers joint pairs of random variables that can also be composed of one discrete and one continuous random variable. Here we seek primarily to shed some light on the uncertain edges characterizing the concept of quality. So given these assumptions, our quality function Q appears as follows:

Consequently, we are going to focus on the aspect that intuitively, X and Y are dependent since the values Y can depend on the realization of X, and the contrary is true. In fact, emotions can derive from cultural context and vice versa: social, emotional, and cultural aspects in understanding food are interrelated and uncertain (Uppa et al., 2014). In recent years, more and more studies have investigated the role that emotions play in food consumption experiences (Gmuer et al., 2015; King et al., 2013; Desmet and Schifferstein, 2008; Ferrarini et al., 2010; King and Meiselman, 2010). Then, quality depend on several unclear and not objectified aspects that make yet obscure the precise classification; nevertheless this gives insight and suggests the importance of the multidisciplinary and integrated approach in drawing the consumer profile and needs in terms of quality.

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