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Explore Consumers’ Willingness to Purchase Biotechnology Produced Fruit: An International Study

Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2021, 13(22), 12882;
Submission received: 12 October 2021 / Revised: 13 November 2021 / Accepted: 18 November 2021 / Published: 21 November 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Identification of Sustainable Consumer Behaviors)


While food biotechnology has been widely applied and benefited the food and agriculture sector, community acceptance of biotechnology is still low. The factors that drive consumer rejection of food biotechnology have been well studied, but knowledge on the factors that drive willingness to purchase, particularly on an international level, is limited. This study aims to identify driving factors for respondents’ willingness to purchase fresh fruit produced with biotechnology, using an international survey conducted in the US, Canada, UK, France, and South Korea. While the overall willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fruit is low across countries, French consumers have the highest rate of willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fresh fruit among studied countries, followed by South Korea. The factors influencing respondents’ willingness to purchase include demographics, lifestyle, and shopping behavior. While respondents behave differently across countries, factors like environmental awareness, self-reported healthiness, and habits of eating away from home, have been found to enhance the willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fruit across countries.

1. Introduction

Biotechnology has been widely used in agriculture to improve crop yield, nutrition, taste, safety, and to protect the environment. As one popular example of biotechnology, genetically modified (GM) foods have been commercialized in the US since the 1980s because of the associated benefits, such as increased productivity, decreased pesticide use and production costs [1]. Soybeans, maize, cotton, canola are major GM crops that are cultivated in 29 countries and are used in 43 additional countries across the world [1]. The US produces the most GM crops in the world, making up 37.6% of global GM acreage, followed by Brazil (27.7%) and Argentina (12.6%) [2]. After over two decades of GM crop commercialization, it is reported that 80% of packaged and processed food items in the market contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) [3]. However, a series of debates on the potential risks was raised in public due to distrust in food safety regulation and media coverage since the late 1990s [1]. In response to consumers’ concerns about GM technology, European and some Asian countries have mandated GMO labeling, and the US will start mandatory GMO labeling in 2022 [4,5]. More recently, a newer gene-edited biotechnology, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR), has gained attention and has an increasing number of applications in many edible crops, such as tomato, cucumber, and watermelon, for resistance against various diseases and extreme weather [6].
While biotechnology benefits agricultural production in various aspects, such as increased efficiency in production and disease resistance, consumers are still the key to commercializing foods produced using new technologies. Previous research shows that consumers generally do not prefer food produced with biotechnology and would like to pay a higher price for food products produced without biotechnology. For example, consumers were found to be willing to pay an average 30% premium for non-GM food across several countries and products [7,8,9]. However, the perceived risk of GM food depends on the types of biotechnology utilized, types of food products, and countries [7,9]. Consumers exhibit a higher acceptance if they perceive the biotechnology used in food as close to traditional breeding [10,11,12,13,14]. European consumers exhibit different levels of acceptability for products with different genetic techniques, preferring products with cisgenics over transgenics [13,14]. Lusk et al. [15] indicated that consumers were more likely to accept products with a new technology if they perceive the technology as being able to create direct benefits, such as reducing the use of pesticides [12]. Consumers in European countries are willing to pay a higher premium for non-GM foods than consumers in North America and Asia [7,16]. This might indicate that European consumers perceived a higher risk and lower benefit in GM foods [17]. However, the level of concern toward GM foods is changing over time, declining from 60% to 27% among European consumers, albeit they are not directly comparable due to different objectives and samples in each study [18,19]. Additionally, consumers’ response to biotechnology produced food varies by food types. Consumers exhibit more significant discounts on certain genetically engineered products. For example, larger discounts are needed for fresh food compared to processed food, and meat compared to fruits, cereal grains, or vegetables [7,20,21].
Within the food sector, fruit is a significant source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important nutrients, and fruit consumption is essential for human health. Studies have indicated that high consumption of fruits and vegetables may contribute to lower body mass index and prevent several kinds of cardiovascular disease and cancer [22]. While there are only a few applications of biotechnology in fruits, this trend is no longer far away from consumers [23]. For instance, a new type of apple produced with biotechnology is available in the US market now. The Artic Apple has been modified to be non-browning and maintain a fresh appearance. Del Monte recently developed a bright pink sweeter GM pineapple, targeting young consumers [20]. Biotechnology can also be used to battle plant diseases. GM papayas were developed to overcome ringspot disease in the 1990s [10]. Moreover, different from the GM technique, the regulations on the use of CRISPR are still under discussion, and the use of gene editing need not be labeled yet. While the use of CRISPR is rapidly expanding, its applications to improve the resistance against diseases and extreme weather have been found in the fruit sector, including in apples, grapes, bananas, watermelons, and kiwifruit [6]. While the US citrus industry has been struggling with the bacterial disease Huanglongbing (referred to as citrus greening), a similar solution is being sought for the industry.
Given the increasing adoption of biotechnology in the fruit industry, a few researchers started to investigate consumer preference for biotechnology produced fruit, most often GM [18,24,25,26]. Marette et al. [24] studied and compared consumers’ willingness-to-pay for gene-edited apples that do not brown in the US and France. They found respondents from both countries stated a price discount for gene-edited apples, with the discount being smaller for US compared to French respondents and smaller for gene-edited apples compared to GM apples. US respondents’ favorable attitudes towards the benefits related to new technology could offset the discount. Gao et al. [25] conducted an experimental study with Chinese consumers about their preference for GM orange juice. The study found that Chinese consumers are less favorable to GM orange juice with a higher variation in their preference than conventional orange juice. Another study about GM orange juice by Hu [26] revealed that the majority of US consumers place more importance on the country of origin (US over Brazil) over production method (GM vs. non-GM).
Existing literature indicates that psychological and socio-economic factors affect consumers’ perceptions of biotech foods [15,17,18,27]. However, as pointed out by Frewer [28], the factors that drive consumer rejection of novel technological food is better studied and understood than the factors that drive acceptance. To further research consumer acceptance, one strategy is to identify and understand consumer groups that indicate a willingness to purchase food produced with biotechnology in the market. Furthermore, biotechnologies have evolved as well as consumer perception of biotech foods [17]. The development of GM products from herbicide-resistant products to nutrition enhanced and virus-resistant products necessitate changes in biotechnology communication with consumers [20,29,30]. As noted by Lusk et al. [7], the benefits of using biotechnology should be provided not only to producers but also to consumers to enable acceptance of biotechnology produced foods. A recent study by Saleh et al. [12] also finds that communication regarding the role of biotechnology in pest-management practices could lead to consumers’ trust in such technology.
Given this background, our study aims to identify the drivers for consumers’ willingness to purchase fresh fruit produced by biotechnology across five different countries: the US, Canada, the UK, France, and South Korea. Although consumer’s preference for general GM foods has been well studied in the past, limited research has targeted fresh fruit and explored consumer preference for biotechnology as general. Consumers’ responses to GM fruits could differ from general GM foods because fruit is typically consumed fresh or as juice and are less processed compared to popular GM foods such as cereal grains and canola oil. Moreover, consumers usually behave differently across regions and countries. A comprehensive comparison across countries in one study would provide a more direct and complete picture of factors driving consumers’ purchase decisions across countries. Therefore, with a unique dataset covering five distinct countries across North America, Europe, and East Asia, our study contributes to the literature by providing timely information of consumers’ willingness to purchase biotechnology-produced fresh fruit across regions and countries.
The five countries covered in this study implement different regulations for foods produced with biotechnology, which in turn affect their citizens’ food choices. With limited GM production in its continent [31], the EU regulates imported biotechnology foods based on a process-based approach, considering techniques or methods used to obtain plants [23,32]. On the other hand, the US and Canada, which are among top five GM producers [2] follow a product-based approach focusing on risk assessment on the health of humans and the environment [32,33]. The two countries currently allow biotech fruit crops for commercialization [34]. South Korea does not cultivate GM crops and regulates processed GM foods with novel traits [35]. Various regulations across countries are closely intertwined with public attitude toward biotechnology produced foods and keep evolving [36]. Therefore, investigating consumer characteristics behind biotechnology acceptance in food will provide helpful information for approaching a market. The subsequent sections provide materials and methods utilized in this study, followed by results and a discussion of findings.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Survey

The data was collected via an online, international survey in April 2019 focusing on fruit consumption. The survey was conducted in the US, Canada, the UK, France, and South Korea. A total sample of 5367 respondents was collected from these countries. The survey consisted of screening questions, general questions, and demographic questions. The screening questions narrowed the respondents to female primary grocery shoppers, at least 20 years of age, from households whose income is in the top 70% of income in their respective country. The general questions asked consumers’ shopping behavior, consumption patterns, lifestyles, and prioritized factors for fruit purchasing.
To measure respondents’ willingness to purchase fresh fruit produced with biotechnology, respondents were asked to rate their agreement with the statement that “I am willing to purchase fresh fruit produced with biotechnology” using a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). The demographics collected from the survey include age, education, household size, and household status. Shopping behavior questions asked about consumers’ prioritized factors when they purchase fresh fruit using a 5-point scale (1 = very unimportant to 5 = very important). These factors include price, convenient to consume, freshness, taste, nutritional value, and origin. A factor with a rating of 4 (important) or 5 (very important) can be considered as an important factor for the respondent to purchase fruit. Personal lifestyle questions ask about respondents’ frequency of purchasing dinner away from home (e.g., order in a restaurant or delivery), self-reported healthiness, concerns about food safety, environmental awareness, and whether they are afraid of trying new food. Respondents’ food safety concerns, environmental awareness, and fear of trying new food were measured using their agreement with related statements. Specifically, the food safety concern question asked respondents to rate that “Food safety is my primary concern when purchasing food.”; the environmental awareness question asked respondents to rate that “Food that thrown away will cause excess environmental burden”; the self-reported health question asked respondents to rate that the statement: “ I feel that I am healthier than my peers”; and a food neophobia question asked respondents to rate that “I am afraid to eat things I have never had before” with a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). A rating of 4 (agree) or 5 (strongly agree) can be considered as an agreement to the statement. While biotechnology has been well known in reducing resource usages and avoiding waste at the production stage, new technologies have also been introduced to reduce food waste and associated environmental impact at the consumption stage. For example, GM and gene-editing techniques have been used to make fruit stay fresh longer. In addition, we also asked respondents to report the average servings of fresh fruit s/he eats in a day. A serving of fresh fruit is defined as a medium-sized piece of fruit or 10–12 berries or grapes. The definitions and descriptions of variables are displayed in Table 1.

2.2. Model

We are interested in modeling respondents’ different levels of willingness to purchase, which is an ordinal response variable, thus, an ordered probit model is appropriate in this case [31]. We applied an ordered probit model to analyze the association between respondents’ willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fresh fruit and their shopping behavior, lifestyle, and demographics in each country. The dependent variable is coded using the 5-point scale question about respondents’ willingness to purchase fruit produced with biotechnology, where a rating of 5 indicates a very strong willingness to purchase, and a rating of 1 indicates a very weak willingness. The independent variables are summarized in Table 1 and are used to predict the probabilities of different likelihood to purchase biotechnology produced fruit.
The specification of the model can be expressed as follows:
y i * = x i β + ε i
where y i * defines a latent variable representing the level of willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fruit by individual i, x i is a vector of independent variables describing individual characteristics, and β is a set of parameters to be estimated. The observed categorical variable y i can be represented as:
y i = m     if       k m 1 < y i * < k m
y i = 1 ,                     y i * k 1 2 ,           k 1 y i * k 2 3 ,           k 2 y i * k 3 4 ,           k 3 y i * k 4 5 ,                     k 4 y i *
where k represents the threshold boundaries for each category. m   is the level of willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fruit from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Therefore, the probability of observing y i = m is:
P r o b a b i l i t y   y i = m = F k m x i β F k m 1 x i β
where F has a normal distribution [37].

3. Results and Discussion

The survey results show an overall low acceptance of biotechnology produced fresh fruit across countries (Figure 1), which is consistent with previous findings. Interestingly, France has a relatively high percentage of respondents (49%) who were willing to purchase biotechnology produced fresh fruit than other countries, followed by South Korean respondents with a share of 36%, while the percentage was about 27% for the US and Canada and about 25% for the UK. Although previous research showed a low support of GM foods in Europe [16,24,36,38], our survey indicates that French respondents are more willing to purchase biotechnology produced fresh fruit than consumers in other considered countries. This could be attributed to several factors such as the term used in this study (GMO vs. biotechnology), product of interest (fresh fruit vs other crops), different survey times, and the number of participants. Moreover, it is worth noting that the level of concerns toward GM foods has been declining in European countries in recent years [18,19].
Regarding demographics, South Korea has a smaller share of elder people (over 55 years old) than other countries, with about 11% of the population (Table 1). France (62%) and South Korea (68%) have a higher share of people who had a bachelor’s degree or higher educational qualification. In terms of their self-reported fruit intake, UK respondents reported the highest daily fruit intake, while South Korean respondents reported the lowest. Regarding personal lifestyle factors, the majority of respondents across countries considered food safety as their primary concern when purchasing food. More than 70% of the respondents were aware of an environmental burden caused by food waste in all countries except the US (47%). South Korea has over 70% of respondents who purchased dinner at least once a week, followed by the US (50%) and Canada (37%). The shares in the UK and France are 28% and 24%, respectively.
Regarding fruit shopping factors, while most of the factors were rated similarly across countries, results show that a relatively smaller share of French respondents that pay more attention to the factor convenience to consume as well as the nutritional value of fruit compared to other countries. On the other hand, France has a higher share of respondents who value the origin, whereas South Korea has a smaller share of respondents who pay attention to origin.
The estimated results from the ordered probit model for each country are presented in Table 2. The results demonstrate that consumers’ willingness-to-purchase for biotechnology produced fruit is associated with various factors. We found some common influential factors across countries. Aligned with previous studies regarding socio-demographics [18,39,40], younger respondents (38 years old or under) and those with a bachelor’s degree or higher educated are significantly more willing to purchase biotechnology produced fruits than their counterparts in the US, Canada, and UK.
Eating more servings of fresh fruit enhances respondents’ willingness to purchase fresh fruits with biotechnology in the US, the UK, and South Korea (Table 2). Having a larger household size increases French consumers’ willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fruits. Interestingly, having young kids in the household makes US respondents less likely to purchase biotechnology produced fruits but has the opposite impact on South Korean respondents. There exits GM foods such as Golden Rice that are developed to help increase the intake of essential micronutrients among children [31], however, most previous studies show a negative association between the presence of children in households and preference for GM foods [27,39,40]. The difference between the two countries could be attributed to the healthy characteristics of fruits as consumers with children are more likely to purchase fruit juice [41].
Regarding personal lifestyle factors, higher environmental awareness regarding food waste is significantly and positively associated with consumers’ willingness to buy fresh fruits with biotechnology in the US, Canada, and the UK (Table 2). Biotechnology has been used not only to optimize resources to reduce food waste at the production stage, but also been used to help maintain the freshness of produce to reduce food waste at the consumption stage [42]. Since food spoilage has been found as the top reason for food waste in households across countries [43], our results could indicate that consumers in the US, Canada, and the UK have a perceived linkage between the biotechnology usages and food waste and associated it with environmental impact reductions.
Respondents who considered themselves healthier than their peers are more willing to buy biotechnology produced fruit in all countries (Table 2). Purchasing dinner away from home at least once a week is also positively associated with consumers’ willingness to buy fresh fruits with biotechnology. Respondents who were afraid of eating new food are less willing to buy biotechnology produced fruit in the US and South Korea which is in line with previous studies [44]. Interestingly, concern about food safety is not a significant predictor for consumer acceptance of fresh fruit produced biotechnology except in France, suggesting that food safety is not a significant factor driving rejection of biotechnology. This result could be explained by the overall improvement of public awareness toward biotechnology produced foods across countries with the increasing experience of related food. This could also because we used the term “biotechnology” instead of “GMO”, as the latter tends to be less preferred by consumers.
Regarding shopping factors, respondents in the US and Canada who value convenience are more willing to purchase biotechnology produced fruit (Table 2). Respondents who focus on the nutritional value of fruits are more willing to buy fruit with biotechnology in France and South Korea. This probably can explain why France and South Korea have a higher than average willingness to buy biotechnology produced fruit, as well as why Korean respondents who live with young kids are more willing to purchase these fruits, if they associate these fruits with better nutritional benefits. A study by Nayga et al. [21] reported a greater exposure to, and better knowledge of, GM foods among South Korean consumers than that of U.S. consumers due to earlier regulation on GM labeling in South Korea.
Interestingly, the factor of origin also has mixed impact on respondents in different countries. US respondents who focus on origin are less willing to buy biotechnology produced fruit while those respondents in Canada, France, and South Korea are more willing. These results indicate consumers in the US might have different preference for the origin compared to other countries when considering the biotechnology, which could be related to the fact that US is the largest producer of biotech crops and producing over one third of the global biotech crops [2]. US consumers are known to value country of origin (United States vs. Brazil) more than production methods (GM or non-GM) if they have to tradeoff between the two attributes in their food choices [26].

4. Conclusions

Biotechnology has benefited the agriculture sector from the production stage to consumption stage. Over time, biotechnology techniques have evolved from GMO to CRISPR. Despite the controversy over biotechnology produced food, there is likely to be more applications in foods in the future. We studied consumers’ willingness to purchase of fruits produced with biotechnology in five countries: the US, Canada, the UK, France, and South Korea. While we found an overall resistance to accept biotechnology produced fruits, the results show a higher willingness to purchase these fruits in France and South Korea, where we found that those consumers might associate biotechnology with higher nutritional benefits and better food safety.
Our findings indicate that respondents who are younger and are educated to a higher level are more willing to purchase fruits with biotechnology, which is consistent with previous research. We also found that respondents who eat more servings of fruits, feel healthier than peers, have environmental awareness, and eat away from home regularly are more willing to buy biotechnology produced fruits across countries. On the other hand, people who are afraid of eating new food are found be less willing to buy fruits with technology in the US and South Korea.
In sum, although the willingness to purchase biotechnology produced fruit is still low across countries, the findings show some optimism about the future of fruit biotechnology given the higher acceptance rate from younger and higher educated consumers. Respondents across countries might associate biotechnology with better food safety, more nutrition, and ease of consumption, which can provide a positive perception of biotechnology. Therefore, educational programs that introduce the benefits of biotechnology directly related to consumers (e.g., health benefits) and environmental protection may increase the acceptance. In addition, this cross-country research shows the heterogeneity in consumers’ willingness to purchase fruit with biotechnology. Thus, country specific programs that promote biotechnology might be necessary to enhance consumers’ acceptance of biotechnology.
There are some limitations on our study, and we encourage future studies to further explore this topic. First, our study uses the general term “biotechnology” instead of specific techniques (e.g., GMO, CRISPR, etc.). While respondents might perceive the terms differently when making decisions on biotechnology, future studies could explore respondents’ preferences and perceptions for different terms describing the biotechnology used in the food production. Second, this study only uses fresh fruit as the target product, future studies could investigate and compare more food categories to develop more general conclusions.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, Y.H. and L.H.; methodology, Y.H. and S.Y.; formal analysis, Y.H.; writing—original draft preparation, Y.H. and S.Y.; writing—review and editing, Y.H., S.Y. and L.H.; supervision, Y.H. and L.H.; project administration, Y.H. and L.H.; funding acquisition, L.H. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by the Florida Department of Citrus.

Data Availability Statement

The data and code are available upon request from the corresponding author.


We are also grateful to anonymous three reviewers and the academic editor for their constructive comments and suggestions.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Acceptance rates across countries.
Figure 1. Acceptance rates across countries.
Sustainability 13 12882 g001
Table 1. Variable definitions and summary statistics.
Table 1. Variable definitions and summary statistics.
Variable DescriptionDefinitionUS
(N = 1102)
(N = 1003)
(N = 1150)
(N = 1109)
(N = 1003)
Age1Age 20–25
Age2Age 26–380.290.450.220.420.260.440.250.430.370.48
Age3Age 39–540.330.470.320.470.330.470.300.460.410.49
Age4 (base)Age 55 and above0.370.480.410.490.390.490.390.490.110.31
DegreeCollege degree or higher0.450.500.470.500.510.500.620.490.680.47
KidLiving with kid(s) under 10 years old0.240.430.170.380.250.430.210.410.210.41
Household size1, …, 6+2.651.392.431.262.681.202.501.243.181.19
Fruit consuming and lifestyle
ServingSelf-reported daily fruit intake2.851.403.311.593.731.683.541.862.761.87
Food safetyagree that food safety is primary concern0.650.480.660.470.600.490.680.470.750.43
Environmental awarenessagree that food waste causes environmental burden0.480.500.700.460.750.430.900.300.850.35
Healthinessagree that feel healthier than peers0.370.480.370.480.350.480.340.470.330.47
Food neophobia agree that afraid of eating new food2.481.162.421.072.341.132.441.133.091.08
Dinning away from homepurchase dinner at least once a week0.510.500.370.480.280.450.240.430.720.45
Fruit shopping related factors
Convenience to consumeimportant0.700.460.600.490.630.480.410.490.710.46
Table 2. Estimated results from the ordered probit model.
Table 2. Estimated results from the ordered probit model.
USCanadaUKFranceSouth Korea
Variable CoefStdCoefStdCoefStdCoefStdCoefStd
Age10.94 *0.560.43 **0.170.73 ***0.21−
Age20.26 ***0.090.21 **0.100.37 ***0.10−0.100.10−0.140.12
Age30.−0.19 **0.09−0.080.12
Degree0.21 ***0.070.18 ***0.070.17 **
Kid−0.21 ** 0.10− **0.09
Household size0.− **0.03−0.010.03
Serving0.07 *** *** ***0.02
Food safety0. ***
Environmental awareness0.22 ***0.070.13 *0.080.21 ***
Healthiness0.18 **0.070.26 ***0.070.21 ***0.070.24 ***0.070.40 ***0.08
Food neophobia−0.06 **0.03−−0.09 ***0.03
Dinning away from home0.13 **0.070.19 ***0.070.21 ***0.080.33 ***
Convenience to consume0.25 ***0.070.20 *** *0.08
Freshness−0.43 * *
Taste 0.110.25−0.400.270.140.23−0.39 *0.23−0.080.19
Nutrition−0.120.10−0.040.10− **0.080.24 **0.10
Origin−0.21 ***0.070.15 **0.08− **0.080.30 ***0.09
Log Likelihood−1504 −1323 −1422 −1572 −1206
* indicates significant at 10%; ** indicates significant at 5%; *** indicates significant at 1%.
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Heng, Y.; Yoon, S.; House, L. Explore Consumers’ Willingness to Purchase Biotechnology Produced Fruit: An International Study. Sustainability 2021, 13, 12882.

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Heng Y, Yoon S, House L. Explore Consumers’ Willingness to Purchase Biotechnology Produced Fruit: An International Study. Sustainability. 2021; 13(22):12882.

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Heng, Yan, Sungeun Yoon, and Lisa House. 2021. "Explore Consumers’ Willingness to Purchase Biotechnology Produced Fruit: An International Study" Sustainability 13, no. 22: 12882.

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