Acceptance of new seaweed food products

Abstract

Recently, the Malaysian government invested a lot of time and money with the aim to boosting the seaweed industry in East Malaysia especially in Sabah. This emphasis is made to acknowledge the fact that Sabah is the largest producer of seaweed in Malaysia. To look at the potential of seaweed products in Sabah, this study examines factors that lead to the acceptance of seaweed related food products among local consumers. The investigated factors are product and consumer characteristics. A total of 301 participants from ages 16 and above took part in this market survey, and were given a sample each, made up of seaweed cake, seaweed chocolate, seaweed crackers and seaweed biscuits to taste. The results show that acceptance of seaweed food products are more on the human factor rather than the product factor. Significantly, consumer's characteristics played the most significant role in the acceptance of seaweed food products in comparison to product characteristics.

Key words: New product acceptance, seaweed food, consumer behavior

INTRODUCTION

In a highly competitive food market, food companies must keep abreast with current technology and continue to be innovative in developing new processing technology and formulating new food products in order to thrive (Imram, 1999). As consumer behavior is also becoming less predictable, inconsistent, and more fragmented, there is more demand for value added food products instead of for greater quantities of food. Thus, a new line of food product is the key success for food manufacturers in meeting and sustaining consumer demand.

Despite the pressure to develop new food products to meet the consumers' changing tastes, Imram (1999) observed that only a handful has been successful. The first reason for the lack of success is that very few products are properly formulated. Second, food product development is limited by the market's willingness to test and accept new or improved food products. Third, the products have to suit the market into which they are being introduced. Lastly, he concludes that food companies are not market-orientated enough, that is the failure to recognize customer's requirements during the development of the product (Howley, 1990).

Locally, several government agencies have been investing a lot of time and money to develop new seaweed food products with the aim to meet the consumer's changing tastes (Ling, 2004). Given the opportunities arising from changes in eating patterns and assessment of the nutritional value of the food, it has been proposed to introduce seaweed as major ingredient in Malaysian food. Generally, seaweed as an alternative food source is commercially valuable for the extracts it produces namely Gracilaria, Eucheuma and kappa Karrageena. They are used in the food industry as well as in non-food applications as stabilizer, thickener, gelling agent and binder.

Generally, seaweed as an alternative food source or a food ingredient is not widely well accepted amongst the local consumers except those social groups who have the convenient access to the seaweed. These might be due to its taste and unattractive appearance causing it becomes unpopular amongst users. However, given the opportunities arising from eating pattern change and the awareness of healthy products (Henrich and Prieto, 2008; Norimah et.al, 2008), it has been proposed to introduce locally grown seaweed as a major ingredient in cakes, biscuits, chocolate and crackers. Thus, this study examines characteristics of consumer as well as product attributes and to understand their influences on acceptance of new food products that contain at least 50 percent of seaweed in its contents.

Importantly, this recent study conceptualized consumer characteristics on the basis of consumers' innovativeness, consumers' belief and consumers' knowledge. Literatures have highlighted that these three aforementioned components would be able to denote their relationship with acceptance of new product. Interestingly, these three components are being investigated with relation to the acceptance of seaweed food products, which to local people in Sabah, seaweed food products are completely foreign. Hence, it is imperative to understand the roles of consumer characteristics in their relationship with the acceptance of new seaweed food products, especially in Sabah context.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Product Attributes

Rozen, (1986) highlighted that a new food choice is often determined by two aspects namely the physical properties of product themselves and the psychological and cognitive interpretation of these product properties experienced. Food possesses physicochemical characteristics resulting from the ingredients and the processing and storage variables (Imram, 1999). These sensory properties of food are detected by the human senses of the consumers and produce for the consumer the experience of appearance, taste, smell and texture. In a separate study by Reed et.al.(2003), they confirm that the sensory appeal of the ready chilled meals is important to acceptance. The popularity of certain meals was attributed with reasonably authentic and good quality taste. In addition, respondents reported that familiarity with the taste of the meal was an influencing factor.

However these sensory perceptions can vary with the situation and time such as context and background. Generally, visual cues are important as "the first taste is almost always with the eye". So, for example, a product seen at a supermarket shelf may require different attributes when compared to the same product on a plate. When consumption is immediate on purchase, anticipatory attributes such as the product flavor and texture may dominate the purchase choice for many foods. Therefore, the following hypotheses are formulated:

H1: There is a significant positive relationship between the seaweed product's appearance and acceptance of new seaweed food products.

Consumer Innovativeness

Some psychological studies have concentrated on discovering and measuring the characteristics of the innovators and early adopters so that marketing strategies could be aimed at them to start the adoption process. Beaudoin et al (2003) found that innovators and early adopters are the most important group as they play as role models for later consumers. They are generally knowledgeable about the current trends in fashion and very brand-sensitive. With the intense competition in the food industry, it has been suggested by Vranesevic (2003) that branding will be important factor too.

These psychologists have coined the term "consumer innovativeness" to describe the innate personality trait of novelty seeking that relate to new products consumption behavior and motives. Hirschman (1980) described consumer innovativeness as the inherent novelty seeking, a desire to seek out for the new and different. On the other hand, Migley and Dowling (1978) proposed that innovativeness as the degree to which an individual is receptive to new ideas and makes innovation decisions independently of the communicated experience of others. However, Venkatraman (1991) contends that the translation of innovativeness into adoption is contingent upon the type of product considered.

Venkatraman (1999) herself defined innovativeness is an expression of a desire for new experiences. She identified two main groups of innovators, namely the sensory innovators and cognitive innovators. Cognitive innovators are those who have a strong preference for new mental experiences. They are likely to evaluate the innovation's relative advantage and will consider the evaluation to be important to the purchase decision. As they often are highly educated, they have the motivation and ability to figure out and deal with performance and economic risk and complexity of the innovation. Sensory innovators, on the other hand, are those who have a strong preference for hedonistic experiences. They tend to be younger males and are likely to consider the novelty to be an important trait of the innovation when making the purchase decision. They would prefer visual rather than verbal or cognitive information processing about the innovation.

Steenkemp (1999) suggests that there is a gap between innovativeness and the adoption behavior for people high in innovativeness might not always purchase new items nor be among the earliest adopters for the new products. It is therefore postulated that to convert a consumer who has the quality of having consumer innovativeness into buying of new products it will have to be mediated by situational factors like marketing and promotion undertaken. Therefore, this present study will extend knowledge by understanding the influence of consumer innovativeness and its function in affecting consumer acceptance towards a new seaweed product. Based on the literature, the proposed hypotheses are generated as follows:

H2: There is a significant positive relationship between the consumer's innovativeness and the acceptance of new seaweed food products.

Consumers' Belief

Belief and attitudes can affect acceptance of an innovation as argued by Thompson et.al (1994). Using Fishbein and Ajzen's (1975) theory of reasoned action, Thompson suggests that food choice can be predicted by two factors. The first predictor is the individual's attitude on the behavior. The attitude in turn is determined by his or her beliefs (attitudinal beliefs). The second perspective is provided by the influence of other people (the salient referents) in respect to the behavior in question which is called "subjective norms". The influence depends on the beliefs of the referents themselves (normative beliefs) expressed in the advice provided and the individual's motivation to comply with that advice. Based on this premises, this study proposes the following hypothesis:

H3: There is a significant relationship between beliefs that a consumer hold about the outcome of accepting the new food products and his acceptance of the new seaweed food products.

Consumers' Knowledge

Knowledge is when information is delivered and received by the consumer. Yeung and Morris (2001) have found information to be an important risk reliever. People often perceive higher risk when they think that they have not been well informed and that their right to free choice had been compromised. Due to the recent food scares, research has found that this perception of risk has a negative correlation to purchase. In another study by Huang (1993) who reported that consumers show a tendency to avoid those food products that they think are potentially contaminated. Consumer in recent years have been worried about the pollution effects on the production of food, chemical hazards, genetically engineered foods and microbiological hazards. As a result, recent research have found consumers to modify their purchasing decision in order to relieve the perceived risk and where there are unresolved risks they have been observed to adopt risk reducing strategies such as purchasing branded or quality assured products or by seeking advice or endorsements form trusted sources (Yeung and Morris, 2001). Knowing the vital role of consumer knowledge, this current study proposes the following hypothesis:

H4: There is a significant relationship between the consumer's knowledge about seaweed and his acceptance of the new seaweed food products.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

This study used a convenience sampling, whereby public who visited shopping malls in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah during weekends were intercepted. Booths were set up at two popular shopping malls in Kota Kinabalu city namely KK Plaza and Centerpoint. The data was collected using self-administered questionnaires that were distributed to the mall patrons who were invited to participate in the study at the booths. At the booths, participants were required to test the samples prepared by School of Food Science and Nutrition, Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Their opinions were then recorded in the relevant pages in the questionnaire product by product. Team members were also on hand to explain any difficulties encountered in understanding the questions or statements of the questionnaire. On the average the participants took about twenty-five minutes to complete the questionnaire. Furthermore, water was provided to the subjects to clear the mouth of taste after each sample. For their efforts, participants were given gifts of cakes, sweets and packet drinks on completion of the questionnaire.

In general the questions and statements of the questionnaire were first prepared in English. It was subsequently translated into Malay and Chinese languages. On the other hand the responses to the questions and statements were translated from the Malay language into appropriate English and Chinese languages. The questionnaire relied mainly on the Likert scale for measurement since it will be suitable for use in a self-administered questionnaire.

The questions for product attributes were adapted from Imram (1999) and Frewer et.al (2003). Both studies observed that if people do not like the sensory properties of the food, they would not eat them. A series of statements were written to capture the respondent's evaluation of the products' attributes. The responses follow along the range of "like it very much" to "dislike very much".

To measure consumer innovativeness, the statements were adapted from statements in Goldsmith and Hofackers' study (1992). A series of statements written to embody the content of the concept of consumer innovativeness expressed as prototypical behaviors and states; such that these statements were designed not to focus on the product but on the consumers themselves and on how they behave. The scale used was to identify early adopters to new food products. Care was taken to ensure that the statements were unambiguous and easy to understand.

The statements relating to testing beliefs in the questionnaire of this study was adapted from the statements used in Thompson's study so as to relate to seaweed food products (Thomson et al., 1999). According to Goldsmith and Flynn (1992) familiar knowledge about a certain product category improves consumer innovative behaviour in an individual in that product category ( Goldsmith and Flynn, 1992). The statements used in the questionnaire had been customized from Goldsmith's studies (1998) such that it measures the actual knowledge about seaweed.

The source of knowledge questions come from Norziah et.al (2000). The study focused on the nutritional composition of an edible seaweed called Gracilaria Changgi, which the substance is a raw material used in the process of making jelly. Gracilia Changgi in fact is in the same family as Euchyma, and therefore shares much of the same nutritional and physical properties.

Acceptance or adoption is the decision by an individual after first hearing about an innovation and becomes a regular user of the product (Kotler and Armstrong, 2004). The study used purchase intentions to measure acceptance by using "I would buy ...." statements (Wong, 1999). Purchase intentions were included to provide a measurement of interest and are considered to be a valid indicator of consumer response to a new product.

The data collected was coded and transferred to the computer and analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). Simple and multiple regression analyses (simultaneous) were applied to test the hypothesis and the relationships among the independent variables and the dependent variable, acceptance. Hierarchical Regression analysis was applied to test the influence of the moderators on the relationship between the independent variables and dependent variable.

The profile of the respondents in this study is presented in Table 1. The sample of this study is made up of 41.4 percent men and 58.6 percent women. Significantly, a majority of respondents were reported to be less than 35 years of age (63.5%). The age range is from the youngest of 16 years to the oldest of 64 years old. More than half of the volunteered respondents (52.4%) who agreed to participate in this study are mostly single, whilst 46.4 percent of respondents are married. A majority of respondents (54%) earns less than RM1500 per month and the income band of RM1501 to RM2250 have the highest number of participants. The amount spent on food items such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate and crackers per month ranges from RM2 to RM600. The average amount spent monthly is RM85. Lastly, with regards to the breakdown of races, it is found that the Malays respondents form the largest group in the sample with 36.2 percent.

A reliability test of the variables was run and the results are presented in Table 2 above. Overall, the reliability alpha is in the range of 0.55 to 0.88 for all the variables. The information in the table indicates that all the variables are acceptable as their reliability coefficients were recorded greater than 0.5. Although Hair et al. (1998) suggested that the acceptable Cronbach Alpha values should be more than 0.6, other prior studies in marketing (e.g Alexandris et.al. 2002) have used items with coefficients much lower than 0.6 thresholds. Nevertheless, this shortcoming should be borne in mind while applying the findings of this research.

The first multiple-regression was run to test the relationship between the level of acceptance and the product attributes and to confirm hypothesis 1. In this step, the level of acceptance was simultaneously regressed with the elements in product attributes such as appearance, smell, texture and taste. Results in Table 3 indicate that 13.9 percent of the variances in acceptance towards new seaweed product are attributed by product characteristics. It is also found that only one of the four predictors, namely appearance (t=3.281, p<0.05) is significantly predictive of acceptance at 95 percent confidence interval.

Table 4 displays the results for the second multiple-regression model. This model is undertaken to test the relationship between the acceptance and consumers' personal characteristics comprised of consumer innovativeness, beliefs and knowledge about seaweed. Therefore, in this step, hypotheses H2, H3 and H4 are to be confirmed. Results in Table 4 denote that for the overall regression, it is statistically significant (F=75.731, p<0.01) with 42.5 percent of the adjusted R-squared. This implies that the combined effects of the three aforementioned elements of consumer characteristic variable can explain 42.5 percent of the variations in the dependent variable namely acceptance.

The results of the second multiple regression model also show that all the three elements namely consumer innovativeness (t=2.112, p<0.05), belief (t=8.814, p<0.001) and knowledge (t=3.899, p<0.01) are statistically significant and have a positive relationship with acceptance of new product. With regards to value of beta, in comparison of the three elements of consumer characteristic variable, it is found that consumer innovativeness (B=0.008) has the modest influence on acceptance, followed by knowledge (B=0.213). Belief is found to be the most influential factor in the model as it recorded the highest beta value of 0.477.

Finally, the last multiple regression model combined the product attributes and consumer characteristics (Table 5) and they were regressed to dependent variable which is acceptance. Table 5 presents the results for this model. It is found that the regression results for this model (F=93.560, p<0.01) is significant at 99 percent confident interval, with 47.8 percent adjusted R-squared. This result denotes that the two variables namely product attributes and consumers' characteristics explain 47.8 percent of the variations in the dependent variable which is acceptance.

Significantly, both two variables (product attributes, t=5.785, p<0.01 and consumer characteristic, t=12.035, p<0.001) are statistically significant and have a positive relationship with the dependent variable namely acceptance towards new seaweed food product. By examining beta values for both variables, it indicates that consumer characteristics is perceived to be the most influential variable than product attribute. Consumer characteristics recorded the highest beta value of 0.697 whilst product attributes only produced a beta value of 0.376.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

The Relationship between product attributes and acceptance

According to Imram (1999), product attributes of food were significant contributors to the acceptance of new products. From the findings, though that the product attributes were significant to acceptance in overall (see Table 5), it seems that only appearance is statistically significant (see Table 3). The researcher feels that this is not surprising as the products beings cakes, biscuits, chocolate and crackers, were generally well-known to the customers, when added with the seaweed, they did not display any distinctive appearance, smell, texture and taste from other similar cake, biscuit, chocolate and cracker products. Maybe this is why the participants did not find it too different from what they are used to and were able to easily accept the new products.

The relationship between consumers' personal characteristics and acceptance.

Consumer characteristic in this study is conceptualized to be comprised of three important elements. They are consumer innovativeness, belief and knowledge. It is important to highlight here that the three aforementioned elements produced a statistically significant relationship with dependent variable, which is acceptance. More importantly, the consumers' characteristic is not only significant but also recorded the highest beta value of 0.697 compared to the product factor. This result provides the fact that human factor (consumer characteristics) is important to explain how an individual react positively to a new food product. The following will discuss in detail the three elements of consumer characteristics, particularly their influence on acceptance.

Consumer innovativeness, the first component in consumers' characteristics, is considered to be a personality trait possessed by people who are eager to try out new products (Goldsmith et.al.1998). The findings of this study reveal that consumer innovativeness does have a significant, positive but a weak relationship with acceptance, compared to other elements in consumer characteristic.

The second component in consumers' characteristics is belief. Thompson et.al. (1994, 1996) in their studies concluded that beliefs had a significant relationship to the outcome for the purchase of new food products, and that is acceptance. Interestingly, the findings of this study are parallel with the discoveries in Thompson's (1994, 1996) studies. More importantly, it is also discovered that the results in this current study highlighted the influence of this element on acceptance is relatively high compared to the other two elements namely innovativeness and knowledge.

Lastly, knowledge, the third component of consumer characteristic, is said to form a basis for food choice (Goode et.al. 1995). Martinez et.al.(1998) reported that at the early stages of innovation, the influence of publicity is the greatest. After which diffusion occurs by word-by-mouth (Hair et.al., 2000). Chudhuri (1994) in his case study on the diffusion of palm oil in Indonesia in the early 1980's also noted that diffusion of knowledge had to pre-empt any introduction of a new product. The findings in the study confirm that knowledge has a significant, positive but fairly moderate relationship to acceptance. In the multiple-regression testing for hypothesis 4, knowledge was also seen to be the second most influential factor amongst the three components in determining acceptance since it had a beta value of 0.213 after consumer innovativeness.

Given that the properties of seaweed in the products tested are not distinctive, the marketing strategy adopted should concentrate on the consumers' characteristics, especially beliefs and knowledge. Background work like dissemination of information on the nutritional values and on how to use seaweed in our meals need to be considered. Furthermore the target group for the new products would be those who spend at least RM80 per month on this category of food.

However marketers of seaweed food products need to consider further as to what to do next in order to ensure a successful launch for these products into the market. Wong (1999) has stated in his book that it is vital to clearly define the market within which the product is competing, that is to know what other products should be monitored that is in direct or indirect competition with these new ones. The entrepreneur will need to look at their costs and see if the new products can compete with other similar products that presently exist. Furthermore the views of the producer, the retailers and the consumers on the products introduced should be sought. For example, a retailers' view can strongly influence where he or she positions the product in the store and this in turn can determine the purchase intentions of the consumer. Next, would be to decide on which distribution channels or types of stores to use.

A marketer would also need to take into account the range and repertoire of outlets used by the consumer for in Malaysia as in Singapore. It is known that a lower proportion of purchases are made in the supermarkets or shopping malls in the countries compared to the Western countries. This can have ramifications on interpreting the results from studies like this one where the survey had been carried out in a shopping mall (Wong, 1999).

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