MSG is a flavor enhancer which has been used effectively for nearly a century to bring out the best flavor in food. Its principal component is an amino acid called glutamic acid or glutamate which is found naturally in protein-containing foods such as meat, vegetables, poultry and milk. The human body also produces glutamate naturally in large amounts. Glutamate is found in two forms: "bound" and "free" glutamate. Only free glutamate is effective in enhancing the flavor of food. Foods often used for their flavoring qualities, such as tomatoes and mushrooms, have high levels of naturally occurring free glutamate.
However, the issue of consumer acceptance of MSG has been largely debated since the Adverse Reaction Monitoring System in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition received 622 reports of complaints about MSG between 1980 and 1994. Due to these complaints, the manufacturers are acutely aware that many consumers would prefer not to have MSG in their food. Some manufacturers have responded by advertising "No MSG," "No MSG Added," or "No Added MSG," on labels.
Food safety related with MSG has become a high profile issue facing, not only consumers, but also marketers, producers, processors, retailers and governments. Increased awareness by consumers towards food safety related with MSG has made them more conscious of their diet and food intake. Since consumers are becoming more health conscious, attributes such as quality, appearance, freshness, convenience and health enhancement are also important. However, consumer awareness and understanding of MSG are still low. Thus, private and public sectors' provision of educational programs and information is a valuable strategy. Some of the consumers typically read the label only for a few selected products. Their interests were concentrated around new products, particularly those with high fat content, high cholesterol, high calories and etc (Wandel and Bugge, 1996).
During the past three decades, there has been substantial controversy regarding the use of MSG in foods, at least in Western countries. The original source of this controversy appears to be a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (Kwok, 1968) in which it was speculated that MSG (as one alternative among several other ingredients) could be the cause of adverse reactions following consumption of Chinese restaurant food. This article and subsequent publicity about MSG seems to have tapped into more general consumer concerns regarding food additives, resulting in an increasingly widespread belief among consumers that MSG is responsible for allergic reactions, variously asthma or "Chinese restaurant syndrome" of numbness, weakness, headaches and palpitations (Prescott and Young, 2002).
Nevertheless, and despite the fact that MSG is often required to be included among the list of food ingredients, many food manufacturers have increasingly adopted a strategy of placing additional prominent messages regarding MSG on food labels. As a result, food labels advertising "No added MSG" have become commonplace. One possible consequence of such labels is that they generate and reinforce beliefs that MSG is harmful and/or an unsafe ingredient. Recent research on the effects of different types of label information suggests the possibility that these messages may also influence the acceptability of products containing added MSG. Prescott and Young (2002) examined the impact of information specifying the addition of MSG to foods or not on ratings of the hedonic and sensory properties of soups. In addition they measured the beliefs and attitudes towards MSG in foods with a view to provide a context within which any effects could be interpreted. The attitudes towards MSG were evaluated and found to be generally negative. To assess the impact of information about MSG content, subjects evaluated saltiness, richness, natural taste of and liking for, vegetable soups with (MSG +) and without (MSG -) added MSG. Subjects tasted both soups under three information conditions, presented as an ingredient list: contains added MSG, or not, or no mention. The expected changes in liking and sensory properties due to MSG were found, but there were no effects of information. This suggests that sensory properties are weighted more than information when products are evaluated during tasting, even when the information is highly relevant (Prescott and Young, 2002).
The objective of this study was to present some insights on Malaysian consumers' awareness, perceptions, attitudes, and to estimate their willingness to pay (WTP) towards food products with "No Added MSG" labeling. It was also to determine the level of awareness and factors that influenced consumers' buying behaviour to formulate alternative policies and strategies in improving the food industry.
2. Literature Review
Uwe et al., (1993) defined perceptions as an event over time rather than as an instantaneous reaction to outside stimulation. They also view perception as an event the roots of which are to be found beyond the restricted confirms of awareness often closely intertwined with the observers' private world of memories and emotional experience.
According to Katona and Strumpel (1978), attitudes and perception are closely related. Both these concept tend to affect one's perceptions and shape one's behavior. They suggested that the growing concern among consumers related to poor quality of products and services may have been affected "... the worsening of workmanship, lesser durability, and similar objective factors, or in consumers' expecting more from the goods and services than before."
The study of willingness to pay has taken on a variety of forms in the applied economics literature. The traditional approach has been the use of contingent valuation, which is a questioning technique that asks individuals what they would be willing to pay, contingent on market availability of the product or service (Gil et al., 2000; Boccaletti and Nardella, 2000; Cranfield and Magnusson, 2003).
Through the use of discrete choice techniques, stated choice experiments, and experimental auction methods, analysts have also derived estimates of money an individual is willing to pay to obtain a product (Lusk et al., 2000; Loureiro and Umberger 2005; Lusk, 2003; Umberger et al., 2003). Innate in consumer surveys is often a determination of consumers' WTP for features either intrinsic or extrinsic to an item. Price premiums, the excess prices paid over and above the "fair" price that is justified by the "true" value of the product (Rao and Burgen, 1992; Vlosky et al., 1999), may be indicators of consumers' demand for that product (Tse, 2001). Organic food purchases are mainly attributed to consumers' environmental concerns and food quality/safety consciousness. Thus, WTP for organic products can be a good predictor of organic food demand.
In the international literature one can find a large body of research regarding consumers' WTP for environmental friendliness and/or quality/safety in food production (Gil et al., 2000; Corsi and Novelli, 2002; Angulo et al., 2003; Baltzer, 2003; Canavari et al., 2003; Smed and Jensen, 2003), as well as for non-food products (Vlosky et al., 1999; Laroche et al., 2001) or services (Tse, 2001).
Perhaps the most convincing evidence supporting the growth of ecologically favorable consumer behaviour is the increasing number of individuals who are willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products (Laroche et al., 2001). However, consumers are highly fragmented in terms of …