Understanding consumer behaviour

Consumer behaviour can be defined as 'those activities directly involved in obtaining, consuming and disposing of products and services, including the decision processes that precede and follow these actions' (Engel et al., 1995). There are environmental influences affecting this behaviour such as ethnicity and culture, social group, regional preferences, as well as food availability and household technology. There are also differences among individuals, not only their age and sex, their education, their standard of living, but also their physiological and psychological make-up. Individuals have their own food choice, which to a greater or lesser extent overrides preferences defined by culture or religion. In the last 30 years, multidisciplinary social science research has increased knowledge of food consumer behaviour and food choice.

Consumer behaviour occurs in sequential stages and at each stage there is a use of knowledge to make decisions. General consumer behaviour has six action stages as shown in Fig. 5.1 (Engel et al., 1995). This sequence can be followed by a further divestment stage where, with food products, the consumer chooses between the options of disposal or recycling of the waste and the packaging. Parallel to these seven consumer actions is the information processing conducted by the consumer. When the consumer recognises the need, there is an internal search in their memory and may be an external search of the supermarket shelves, the menu, and information from other people, media or consumer reports. They may also have been exposed to TV advertising or to promotions in the supermarket; or even to the aroma of bacon sizzling or bread baking in the retail outlet. Engel et al. identified five steps in the use of information by the consumer for knowledge building:

1. Exposure to information, communication, the product.

2. Attention given to the information.

3. Comprehension of the information, as it is analysed against the knowledge and the attitudes stored in the memory.

4. Acceptance or rejection of the incoming information.

5. Retention of the new information in the memory as knowledge.

Need recognition


Pre-purchase alternative evaluation



Post-purchase alternative evaluation

Fig. 5.1 General consumer behaviour in buying and consumption (Source: After Engel etal., 1995).

This knowledge is used to judge the different products; the consumer builds up criteria to judge the products and to compare the different brands and products. These criteria are an important basis for product development. The consumer then decides whether or not to buy the product. After preparing, serving and eating the food there is satisfaction or dissatisfaction, and the decision is made to stay with this product/brand or to look again, as nutrition is a continuing need and the questions for consumers are differential ones related to choice.

Individuals have to be considered in their society: the culture, the social norms, the social structures, and also as part of a group - the family, the home group, the work group, the leisure group. Food eating, even in the case of the individual eating alone, is strongly influenced by other people, indirectly by social influences or directly with the type of foods available. Different cultures and social groups have different values that are recognised in designing products for different markets. Perhaps the reason why American products can be easily

accepted internationally is that it is a new and food products are designed/promoted this wide variety of people.

country combining many nationalities so that they are generally accepted by

Think break

The core American values have been identified in two textbooks as:

(Engel et al., 1995)

(Peter and Olson, 1999)

Material well being

Achievement and success

Good/bad moralising


Work more important than play

Efficiency and practicality

Time is money


Effort and success are related

Material comfort

Mastery over nature





External conformity



Fitness and health

1. Study these two versions of American core values, and identify the values that

are similar and those that are different. From this develop what you think are

your core values. Are your core values different from these lists?

2. Choose two major markets for your company and identify the core values of the

consumers in these markets.

3. Compare the core values for the two markets and identify the similarities and


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