Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
With all the debate raging over how overweight Americans have become or the opposite fear of anorexia, it is good to note that we are not the only nation dealing with food issues. Monika Schroder, of the Faculty of Business and Arts of Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, contributes to a better understanding of what is important about foods and of what motivates food choice. In Food Quality and Consumer Value, she seeks to bridge the perceptual differences that exist between the various disciplines contributing to the functioning of modern food systems. The book is aimed at anyone with an interest in food quality. It is not strictly about marketing but touches on the communication, teaching, and researching of food issues that involve consumer and marketing issues.
The book is divided into: “Part 1: defining quality, value, food and the consumer”; “Part 2: food quality attributes”; and “Part 3: understanding the food consumer”. These are further subdivided into nine chapters.
In Part 1 the author makes the statement that “Food, by its very nature, carries the potential to inflict harm on those who consume it. Consequently, many aspects of the food supply are subject to government regulation, especially those related to food safety” (p. 25). Probably the most pertinent chapters in Part 1 to business and marketing are the sections “Consumer psychology and food choice” and “Social influences on consumer behaviour and food choice”. She writes that “People's behaviours generally reflect a desire to experience pleasant sensations and cognitions and to avoid unpleasant ones … Consumer Psychology is the systematic inquiry into the mind of the consumer” (pp. 67‐8). She discusses special occasion foods as well as everyday foods and why a luxury food such as caviar may fall in and out of favor. This leads into the subject of attitudes and the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) developed by Fishbein and Ajzen.
One cannot deny the place of culture in affecting food choices. A fascinating, if somewhat disgusting, example is given of a European male who, while traveling, was invited by a group of men to a Turkmenistan picnic. The main dish was mutton shashlik, which turned out to be both tough and dribbling blood and fat. While the European was busy trying to pretend to eat while at the same time hiding bits of food, he found out that his companions were repulsed by the cheese biscuits he offered them. They were burying them in the sand when he was not looking. Each was repulsed by the others' food choices but too polite to say anything, although earlier each mouthful of the meat was followed by a “carnivorous burp” (p. 80). So, food quality is related to satisfaction, and each individual and group defines what is satisfying. Thus, it is difficult to have universal standards of food quality regarding taste or attraction. In response, Coca‐Cola, for example, has many different formulas sold internationally.
Part 2 is really about food science and covers such topics as proteins, lipid structures, texture, and chemicals. This provides more depth than most people need, but interspersed are interesting tidbits such as the importance of spreadability as an aspect of texture. Also, we learn that sound matters (and this has implications for advertising as well as sales) such as the snap of a bar of chocolate being an important aspect of the pleasure of consuming. Crunchiness is important to marketing cereals and crisps (potato chips) and other types of snacks.
Part 3 has more to offer the marketer and consumer scientist because it deals with psychology, the food consumer in society and includes a final chapter on “good” and “bad” foods. The consumer is seen as the ultimate end user, the final link in the supply chain. Readers learn that changes in families and household structures and lifestyle patterns such as time spent at work and in leisure affect food choices. The UK industry is constantly changing, trying to keep up. The author says, “Markets can be segmented on the basis of economic, geographic, demographic, lifestage, psychographic and behavioral factors, amongst others” (p. 250). UK consumers report being time‐pressed and increasingly interested in convenience foods. Data reveal a decline in fresh potato sales and an upswing in processed potato products, mainly crisps. The rise in the sale of organic foods is discussed in several places in the book, and the comprehensive index provides a guide to finding these discussions.
Not everything sells. An example of a loser product was the introduction of chocolate flavoured vegetables in Iceland in the early 1990s. Children said “no.” Vegetables are often forced on youngsters (as in “eat your vegetables!”), and their subsequent balking may start a lifelong pattern of vegetable abstinence. So, how does one go about changing children's eating preferences or those of an entire population? The answer to this is that no one knows. Pamphlets do not do much. An example of a successful promotion in the UK was the “five‐a‐day rule,” the recommendation that each person consume at least five portions of fruit or vegetables every day.
The USA has been accused of “the so‐called Americanisation of food markets” meaning trends toward larger portions, constituting another encouragement for people to overeat (p. 279). So, we come full circle back to the introductory line of this review. Food concerns are world‐wide. Even though we know more than ever before from a scientific viewpoint, the content of individual diets appears to be going downhill, fast. What can we do to stem the tide as conscientious marketers and consumer psychologists? First of all awareness helps and Food Quality and Consumer Value certainly raises one's awareness level. Second, increased knowledge is a benefit of reading this book. It is not appropriate as a college textbook unless it is used as a supplement to a class on food marketing or as a basis of a food‐only class. However, anyone seeking new examples for class lectures will find a wealth of information. In addition, anyone in the food manufacturing, marketing, grocery, or advertising business would benefit. Be forewarned that this is not a “lite” book, but one that provides research results mixed with anecdotes about a changing, complicated topic.