This paper aims to extend the existing literature by determining to what consumer characteristics influence the structure of the choice process using the means-end chain (MEC) theory and the analysis of consumers' emotions when purchasing an ethnic food product (couscous). The data were collected by face-to-face interviews with a convenience sample of 167 purchasers, which the completed a four part questionnaire. The results indicate urban/rural variation in the cognitive structure and emotions of consumers. Thus, in terms of emotions, fear and worry are more prevalent in urban consumers, while guilt is more common in rural consumers. Interesting differences in cognitive structure are also observed, with urban consumers associating this ethnic food with a sense of cultural identification and country dwellers associating it with feelings of success. The choice processes of the urban group also show a higher level of abstraction, suggesting a more complex choice process so that a more participation in the election of the terminal personal values and psychological benefits.
In most industrialized countries, changing demographics, especially with respect to women s role in the workforce, along with growing use of sophisticated technology and market saturation and internationalization processes have had a profound impact on the food universe. This has forced food producers and processors to innovate and develop new products to meet market needs and demands and improve their position in the competition.
Evidence has shown, however, that in the agrifood industry the failure rate for new products is very high, with some estimates placing it as high as 70-80%, (Gresham et al., 2006). The complexity of the food choice process means that an understanding of consumer preferences is crucial. This has led researchers to focus on a number of factors influencing this choice process, ranging from the product attributes through consumer motives, intentions and the influence of environmental factors. One of the issues most frequently explored in recent years is some people's rejection of new or unfamiliar foods; a phenomenon known as neophobia.
Food neophobia, or reluctance to eat new foods, is both a characteristic and a state, which means that it manifests itself in two distinct ways: as a specific neophobic response in a particular situation or setting; or as a relatively stable personality trait (Pliner, 1994). When treating neophobia as a personality trait, it is important to bear in mind that it varies greatly in intensity across individuals (Galloway et al. 2003, Pliner and Hobden, 1992; Potts and Wardle, 1998) and that individual differences remain relatively stable overtime (Nicklaus et al, 2005; Skinner, Carruth, Bounds, Ziegler and Reidy, 2002). Neophobia as a personality trait is evaluated with measuring scales (Pliner, 1994; Pliner and Hobden, 1992; Pliner and Loewen, 1997). Specific neophobic behaviour, however, is measured by conducting task-based experiments involving food items, such as willingness to taste tests (Martins et al, 1997; McFarlane and Pliner, 1997; Pelchat and Pliner, 1995; Pliner and Melo, 1997; Pliner and Stallberg- White, 2000) or food preference tests (Hobden and Pliner, 1995; Pliner and Loewen, 2002; Pliner et al., 1995).
Several authors have analyzed the underlying factors of the neophobic personality trait. Good taste information has been found to increase willingness to try a product (Pelchat and Pliner, 1995; Martins, Pelchat and Pliner, 1997; McFarlane and Pliner, 1997; Tuorila et al., 1994). However, the evidence is less clear regarding the effectiveness of information designed to create expectations of a positive effect from consuming an unfamiliar food in order to overcome the tendency to reject it (Pelchat and Pliner, 1995). McFarlane and Pliner (1997) found that such information increased willingness to ingest in receptive subjects or in situations where the food item is known or believed to be readily available (Martins et al. …