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Consumers’ mental model of food safety for fresh vegetables in Nairobi: A field experiment using the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique

Carl Johan Lagerkvist (Department of Economics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden)
Julius J. Okello (Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya)
Nancy Karanja (Department of Land Management, Agricultural Resource and Technology, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 5 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine consumers’ perception of food safety for vegetables at traditional urban market outlets in a developing country context and test whether curiosity-motivated information acquisition and personal control over choice of stimuli influence consumer involvement, resulting in more differentiated mental models.


The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) in standard and modified form was used to develop consumers’ mental models for food safety.


The cognitive content and structure of aggregated consumers’ mental models were identified and mapped. The maps included negative and positive meanings, indicating a need to tackle the hygiene problems prevailing in most traditional markets. ZMET generated a more differentiated map when people were empowered with a camera to collect stimuli.

Research limitations/implications

Using ZMET to understand food safety perceptions avoids consumers being led in their responses, views and feelings about food safety.

Practical implications

Policy, regulatory frameworks and marketing actions by value chain actors in the fresh vegetable subsector should give priority to tackling the hygiene problem prevalent in most traditional markets in developing countries.


This paper provides novel needs-driven theoretical and practical insights into the actual meaning representation of food safety, which actually drives consumer thoughts and behaviour. Making use of a camera in the collection of self-provided images for the ZMET interview led to higher levels of involvement and further differentiation of mental models.



Research assistance by Jack Odero, Francis Gwer and Joy Munge is greatly appreciated. The authors gratefully acknowledge very useful comments of an unknown referee.


Lagerkvist, C.J., Okello, J.J. and Karanja, N. (2015), "Consumers’ mental model of food safety for fresh vegetables in Nairobi: A field experiment using the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 1, pp. 22-36.



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