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Communication key to nanotech’s future in food & drink

By Rick Pendrous , 17-Sep-2012

More effective communication is the key to winning public acceptance for nanotechnology
More effective communication is the key to winning public acceptance for nanotechnology

British consumers would accept the use of nanotechnology in the production of food and drink if the benefits were more clearly explained by people they trust, new research has revealed.

According to a study carried out last month by Leatherhead Food Research (LFR), consumers would be more likely to accept the use of science and technology − including nanotechnology and genetic modification (GM) − in food production if it meant food would be cheaper or was healthier for them.

“To provide cheaper foods – that was the most important benefit of new technology for consumers,” LFR’s principal consumer analyst Nicole Patterson reported to a conference held in London last week on the impact of novel technologies on shelf-life.

The conference was organised by the Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and the Biosciences KTN, in conjunction with LFR.

The primary research study involved 1,142 people across a range of age groups taken from LFR’s consumer database and made use of its Sensereach tool. It was carried out last month.

Consumer benefits

The study sought to identify what proportion of consumers said they had heard about nanotechnology. It also asked what they thought the term meant. It tried to discover what they felt about science and technology in relation to food and what they perceived as the consumer benefits science offered.

The objective was to highlight current consumer thinking regarding science and technology with a view to supporting effective education and communication of food science to the population.

While almost 60% of those surveyed were interested in finding out more about nanotechnology, the trouble is, “there is not enough information out there for the consumer”, said Patterson. “It does represent a huge opportunity for the industry.”

When the potential benefits of nanotechnology were explained, around half were positive about its use in food production. “But they have to feel and believe the benefits,” she added.

She stressed, it was important to learn from the mistakes made with the introduction of GM foods. “You need to get the trust and acceptance of the consumer if the market is going to develop.”

TV programmes

From the survey’s findings it seems most people derive their knowledge of science and technology from TV programmes, which is a medium they tend to trust more than the food industry, said Patterson. But there were differences in how people accessed information across different age groups. Older people tended to read daily newspapers while young people made far greater use of social media, she reported.

If consumer acceptance is key, then the type of media that is going to resonate with different age groups had to be considered, she added.

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