Food Fears: Are Your Biases Hurting Your Health?
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
By Adrian Ke & Johanna Kann
Imagine that you are a grape at the local grocery store. A small woman strolls toward you and gently picks you up. She examines you closely and, for a second, you think to yourself, “The world is perfect. I’m finally going to be taken home!” You start to buzz with excitement, but then the wheels of her shopping cart creak as it rolls away from you.
“Huh? Was it something I did? Do I smell bad?”
As a small tear starts to form in your little eye, you hear the woman mutter, “These grapes are from Brazil! I can never trust them.”
Nowadays, when people go to the supermarket, they are known to pay close attention to the countries from which their foods originate. This phenomenon is known as the country-of-origin effect, a psychological condition in which consumers respond to products differently simply based on a product’s country-of-origin labeling.
Researchers have discovered that the country of origin actually has an extremely significant effect on how humans perceive goods. For example, one experiment presented two types of canned fruits to participants: one from a native country and another from a foreign country. This study found that people like canned fruits from their own country far more than those from foreign countries. However, no one has looked at fresh produce… yet!
We sought to be the first to solve this mystery.
We tested for the country-of-origin effect by sending out a survey to hundreds of people on the internet. They each saw a picture of fresh produce (specifically, grapes), labeled with a fictional sticker label from one of six different countries: USA, Spain, Brazil, Morocco, China, or, lastly, a control with no country. Then, the participants reported about how high or low the quality of the grapes was.
So what did we find?
Basically, we found that Americans have a negative bias toward China. However, they rated the grapes of every other country, including the control, to be of about the same quality. We also found that ethnocentric people (people who judge other cultures based on their own standards) did not rate American produce to be of a significantly better quality than people who were not ethnocentric.
But why is this important?
First of all, our research suggests that consumers do not pay much attention to the quality of fresh produce from other countries besides that of China. However, the funny thing is that these consumers do not realize that some countries, such as Morocco, have worse food standards than we do in the United States. Consumers also rated Brazilian and Spanish produce to be of about the same quality as U.S. produce, despite the fact that these countries have stricter food safety laws and better quality produce.
We believe that we can use these results to inform the consumer community of our biases about certain countries. Apparently, ethnocentrism does not influence how we think about produce, so this may mean that we have the ability to become more open-minded about buying foreign produce once we become more educated about global food standards.