A model for analysis of consumer behaviour towards food is developed. This model is intended to bridge the gap between the objective quality approach pursued in food sciences, the product characteristics approach, and the subjectively perceived quality approach, the product attribute approach as pursued in the consumer behaviour literature. The focus is on the information processing by the consumer. Information on the product quality is supplied to the consumer in the form of cues received while shopping or consuming. A distinction is made between extrinsic and intrinsic cues, and between search‐, experience‐, and credence‐quality attributes. Within the credence attributes, three categories are distinguished: food safety, health, and all other credence quality attributes. It is demonstrated that public policy should use minimum standards for regulating food safety, information and consumer education on health issues and definitional standards to regulate the other credence qualities. In the case of search quality, no public intervention is needed. In the case of experience quality, reputation is a means of reducing the quality erosion inherent for experience quality attributes. In the case of those foods which are not sold prepacked over the counter, these means are restricted. Here the public regulators could consider backing up the private quality policy efforts on labelling by implementing traceability schemes and defining the requirements for specific label claims.
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