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Food scandals, media attention and habit persistence among desensitised meat consumers

Consumer reactions to food scandals and their resulting economic implication are well documented. However, studies have typically neglected the roles that consumption habits and media usage behaviours may play in explaining household’s response to food safety incidences. In this study we develop a model of heterogeneous media usage intensity, information impacts and decay over time to estimate household’s behavioural responses to the 2011 German Dioxin scandal. We are specifically interested in determining the degree of heterogeneity in household’s short-term adjustments demand patterns versus persisting long-term consumption habits of meat products (chicken and pork) directly affected by the incident. The empirical analysis employs detailed household-level retail scanner and media usage data collected by the GfK Consumer Scan panel for a total of 16,023 households over a period of 104 calendar weeks. Results of dynamic correlated random effect Tobit models indicate an important role of unobserved heterogeneity in explaining household responses during the food scandal. We find strong empirical evidence supporting our hypothesis that short-term marginal adjustments in demand and propensity to buy affected products triggered by the negative impact of household media exposure were over-compensated by habit persistence. The question of how consumption patterns evolve over time in the presence of food scandals is expected to be of interest for both policy makers and the food industry. The potential biases in the projection of economic impacts resulting from simplifying assumptions of household’s response patterns to a proliferating numbers of food safety incidences has implications for risk management and public policy.



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