Factors Influencing Food Choice and Purchase
Characteristics of the Person
Among the factors that largely determine the choice of food are the individual characteristics of consumers—gender, age, social class, and income. Men are more interested in the pleasure of food as opposed to the opposite sex who are worried about their weight and appearance and control the content of fat and salt in products. Women are more interested in the nutritional value of products bearing the responsibility for the choice and preparation of food in the family (Rozin et al., 2002; Johansen et al., 2011). Young consumers in association studies correlate food more with weight and fat and less with health (Rozin et al., 2002). A lesser attraction to a large number of choices, being associated with older people, a lower level of education and smaller towns, suggests a more traditional type of food culture, with more ritualized meals. Urban, younger, and more upscale tendency toward personalized choices seems more typical of individualistic values (Rozin et al., 2006). Representatives from higher socioeconomic groups are interested in natural ingredients and ethical considerations while lower socioeconomic groups are focused on convenience and price (Crossley and Khan, 2001).
When choosing products, consumers are influenced by the information provided. When information is lacking, judgments are often derived from beliefs about covariation or perceived associations among events that may not actually influence one another (Ford and Smith, 1987). Unfortunately, consumers tend to be poor estimators of covariation (Solomon et al., 2006). Their beliefs persist despite evidence to the country. Similar to the consistency principle, people tend to see what they are looking for. They look for information that confirms their guesses about the products. Consumers often rely on certain producers of certain products or stores. Purchases are based on these beliefs.
A study with Spanish consumers of dairy products found a link between frequency of consumption and inferential beliefs about food items such as perceived healthiness, convenience, naturalness, nostalgia, tastiness, and snackability. Actual fat, carbohydrate and protein content per serving, but not total energy content, were each negatively associated with appropriate consumption frequency (Gomez et al., 2015).
Consumers are showing an ever-increasing interest in healthiness. They appreciate the connection between health and diet and this has led in recent decades to a growth in the market for functional foods in industrialized countries (Ares et al., 2008; Urala and Lahteenmaki, 2004; Verbeke, 2005). Replacing conventional with functional foods is possible if they are healthier and with better sensory properties. Despite the health benefits, consumers are not willing to compromise on the sensory characteristics and on taste in particular (Urala and Lahteenmaki, 2003; Verbeke, 2006).
Consumers have accepted many different functional products, but there is a difference in the extent to which they purchase food products with explicit functional properties (Bitzios et al., 2011; Markosyan et al., 2009; Ares et al., 2009). One of the most important product categories in this segment are dairy products.
Bechtold and Abdulai (2014) explored consumer preferences for functional dairy products in Germany. The results revealed profound heterogeneity in preferences relating to both the consumers' attitudes as well as socioeconomic characteristics. Three distinct classes of consumers were identified (skeptics, advocates, and neutrals), who showed different preferences for the same set of functional dairy product attributes, but all classes of consumers revealed similar attitudes toward a healthy diet.
Attitudinal variables have far greater power than the more conventional socioeconomic variables in terms of explaining functional food preferences (Bitzios et al., 2011; Lahteenmaki, 2013). Furthermore, the results emphasized the importance of the familiarity of the functional ingredient, indicating that all consumers are willing to pay for functional dairy products enriched with known functional ingredients (Grunert et al., 2009).
The study of the impact of brand, price, and the presence of health claim on consumer choice of functional yogurt showed that consumption might be strongly affected by brand (Ares et al., 2010). The influence of nonsensory factors on choice of functional yogurts depended on consumer attitudes toward health-related issues. Consumers more interested in keeping themselves healthy were more likely to choose buying functional yogurts.