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Food is a very sensitive area and the most intimate form of consumption. Consumer choice is known to be strongly affected by emotional factors usually not taken into account in economic analysis. At the same time it is clear that such emotional factors can affect consumer behaviour and market reactions above all when there are scandals and concerns. One of the emotional aspects that seems to dominate consumer behaviour in the food sector is so‐called magical thinking which leans on two different pillars: the contagion principle and the similarity principle. The contagion principle affects the concept of naturalness which, according to cognitive psychologists, is a key factor in determining consumer preferences. The main element stemming from this psychological approach is the generalised superiority which characterises those foods which are perceived as natural by consumers. It has also been observed that the specific kind of processing as well as the adding or subtracting of unnatural elements can modify the perception of naturalness and the degree of acceptability for food products. A survey which bore all such considerations in mind was conducted on a sample of 180 people interviewed shortly after their shopping trip to super‐ and hyper‐markets in the province of Naples. A questionnaire was submitted to sample in winter 2009. The questionnaire collected information about the perception of naturalness and its role in determining consumer preferences for different food products and different kinds of processing. A specific section of the questionnaire covered a case study and gathered information about the willingness to buy a specific food product: pasteurized and microfiltered fresh cow’s milk. This product has the same nutritional qualities and the same taste as fresh pasteurized cow’s milk, but has a longer shelf‐life due to specific technology. On the basis of the results and by using a binary model, consumer willingness to purchase the specific milk was estimated. The findings permit an analysis of the role that both different types of product processing or manipulation and the various forms of innovation can play in determining levels of trust and modifying the discrepancy between objective and perceived quality.


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