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Does Food Neophobia Impact Purchase Behaviour Among Consumers In Ontario?

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December 6, 2013


Food neophobia is defined as a fear of eating new or unfamiliar foods (Pliner & Hobden 1992).  Research has shown that approximately 50% of the population is neophobic with a smaller proportion of the population is considered extremely neophobic.  Consumers are categorized using the Food Neophobia Scale (FNS) which classifies respondents as neophobic or neophilic based on their responses to questions regarding food usage habits (Pliner & Hobden 1992).  The scale ranges from 10-70 with those scoring at the top of the range being extreme neophobes.  Previous studies have demonstrated that extreme neophobes score unfamiliar products lower than neophilics in consumer research taste tests.  In most cases, this trend holds true for liking of specific attributes such as flavour and texture (Henriques et al. 2009).  However, there is a lack of research exploring purchase interest among neophobics and how this group scores purchase intent of new products compared to neophilics in consumer research.


The objective of the current study was to investigate differences in purchase intent scores between neophilics (‘food loving’) and neophobics (‘food fearing’) and to demonstrate how it could potentially impact decisions being made when launching new product innovations.


ACCE conducted an online study among Ontario yogurt consumers in September 2012.  All respondents indicated that they have purchased and consumed yogurt in the past month. All respondents were adult primary grocery shoppers for their household.   The study presented respondents with a variety of questions regarding yogurt purchase habits, past and future consumption habits, brand liking and awareness, and flavour interest.  At the end, respondents answered the FNS and were classified as extremely neophilic (10-25), neutral (26-34), and extremely neophobic (35-70) according to classification systems in the literature (Henriques et al. 2009).  Data was analyzed based on classification and results were compared to determine differences in liking, purchase intent, and attitudes towards both unfamiliar and familiar brands and flavours of yogurt.

Results and Conclusion

Yogurt Brand
National yogurt brands were well liked among both neophilic and neophobic groups.  Local brands that were less known showed lower liking scores among both groups, however neophobics scored these brands lower than neophilics indicating lower liking for unfamiliar brands.  An equal proportion from each group indicated that they would be interested in tasting a particular brand of yogurt.  However, when asked about purchase intent, differences were greater between neophilics and neophobics.  Neophilics showed strong top box purchase intent scores, while neophobics showed weaker top box scores.  The data suggests that neophobics are less passionate about brands, as indicated by lower commitment to purchasing a brand.

Yogurt Flavour
When asked if respondents would be willing to try specific flavours of yogurt, neophilics indicated being more willing regardless of flavour.  This confirms previous studies demonstrating that neophobics are fearful of trying new products (Henriques et al. 2009).  As the flavour transitioned from common (e.g. vanilla, strawberry, blueberry) to unique (e.g. carrot cake, mangosteen peach, chocolate persimmon) the difference in willingness to try between the groups increased.  The results demonstrate that not only are neophobics less likely to taste any flavour, but their willingness to taste a flavour becomes magnified when the flavour is unique.

Overall the results suggest that neophobics can lower liking and purchase intent scores in consumer testing.  Neophobics have weak passion to purchase (low top box scores) and are less willing to taste unfamiliar flavours.  This could have implications when reporting consumer research results to marketing and product development groups.


Pliner and Hobden. 1992. Development of a Scale To Measure The Trait of Food Neophobia In Humans. Appetite. 19:105-120.

Henriques et al. 2009. Consumer Segmentation Based on Food Neophobia and Its Application
To Product Development. Food Quality and Preference. 20:83-91.