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Food retail buyer behaviour in the People's Republic of China: a grounded theory model

Brenda Sternquist (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Zhengyi Chen (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 1 July 2006




Seeks to summarize relevant literature reporting on western research and to use a grounded theory approach to form the model. Also to develop a Chinese retailer new product decision process model. And consider unique aspects of Chinese culture and the ongoing economic transitions.


Foreign producers have little knowledge about the internal operations of China's chain stores. As China's markets open to the world, an understanding of the ways in which retailers and suppliers interact in China – especially the ways in which they make product selection decisions – will be crucial to companies expanding into this area of the world.


Results are presented from in‐depth interviews with retail food buyers in China. Interviews were conducted during 1999‐2000 in Shanghai and Beijing. The interview data are used to develop a model of buyer‐seller relationships that lends itself to a better understanding of the complexities – cultural and market‐related – of retailer‐supplier relationships in China.

Research limitations/implications

Since, China is a vast country this study forms a small part of the process in understanding its buyer‐seller interactions.

Practical implications

The literature, including grounded theory and the research undertaken with the sample of respondents highlight the potential gains from understanding the nature of Guanxi and the culture of China. Managerial implications are discussed.


The study investigated buyer‐seller relationships within the Chinese market. When Chinese food retailers make decisions on new product acceptance, their criteria are similar to those of food retailers reported in research focused on western society. Supplier role performance, price, trade assistance, and relationship with supplier are primary considerations; these criteria support results from western literature.



Sternquist, B. and Chen, Z. (2006), "Food retail buyer behaviour in the People's Republic of China: a grounded theory model", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 243-265.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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