Consumer food cognitions: the role of beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and intentions in understanding food purchasing and related behaviours

Barbara Mullan (School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, Perth, Australia)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 2 March 2015



Mullan, B. (2015), "Consumer food cognitions: the role of beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and intentions in understanding food purchasing and related behaviours", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Consumer food cognitions: the role of beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and intentions in understanding food purchasing and related behaviours

Article Type: Guest editorial From: British Food Journal, Volume 117, Issue 3

In a world where food availability has never been greater, choice is an increasingly important and complex topic that impacts on many consumer behaviours ranging from; food safety and poisoning (Griffith et al., 1995), environmental issues (Polymeros et al., 2015; von Meyer-Höfer et al., 2015), to health and wellbeing, (Ding et al., 2014) including obesity and obesity-related diseases (Babooram et al., 2011; MacPhail et al., 2014; Robertson et al., 2014). It is now well recognized that knowledge alone is not enough to explain food related choices and actions (Mullan et al., 2013). This in turn focuses our attention on understanding and where necessary modifying the cognitions underlying these food choice decisions. These cognitions are our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and intentions regarding the food we buy and eat, and are important to a wide variety of food businesses, health professionals, academics and others. Consequently, this is an opportune time for the British Food Journal to devote this themed section of issue 3 of volume 117 to these considerations.

The papers featured in this themed section represent 15 important food research projects. The country of origin and the behaviours considered may vary, but all are united by a focus on consumer cognitions. The papers can be divided into those that focus on the cognitive factors that influence our consumption of a particular food or drink, and those that focus on the cognitions underlying particular food choice behaviours. The first category, for example, is comprised of a series of studies exploring attitudes towards and perceptions regarding consumption of salad (Danelon and Salay, 2015), vegetables (Yamoah et al., 2015), fish (Polymeros et al., 2015), lentils (Ariyawardana et al., 2015), olive oil (Marano et al., 2015), and soft drinks (Shahzad et al., 2015). Whilst the methods employed and the participants sampled vary, these articles present a cohesive narrative regarding the importance that our cognitions have in determining whether to consume these foods, and the implications of choices based on these cognitions for members of the entire food chain.

Within the second category are papers that look at types of consumption behaviours such as consuming a vegetarian diet (Pohjolainen et al., 2015), motivations to consume eco-friendly vegetables (Nassivera and Sillani, 2015) and consumption of functional (Gajdoš Kljusuric et al., 2015) and organic foods (Teng and Wang, 2015; von Meyer-Höfer et al., 2015; Xie et al., 2015). This latter category of consumption behaviours is of particular environmental importance and the papers focusing on such behaviours highlight some of the key factors that motivate consumers to engage in these eco-friendly behaviours.

Many different attitudes and perceptions are explored, for example both Teng and Wang (2015) and Shahzad et al. (2015) found that social norms and socialization were important influences on the consumption of organic food and soft drinks, respectively. Other papers focused more on the influence that demographic factors have on our perceptions (Gajdoš Kljusuric et al., 2015; Pohjolainen et al., 2015; Polymeros et al., 2015; Xie et al., 2015). Pohjolainen et al. (2015) found that barriers to the consumption of a vegetarian diet included the demographics of gender and age (i.e. young males saw stronger barriers to a vegetarian diet) and Xie et al. (2015) found older better educated consumers were more motivated to purchase organic food. Willingness to pay more for safer (Yamoah et al., 2015) or eco-friendly food (Nassivera and Sillani, 2015) was also explored and both studies found consumers were willing to pay more for these products in certain circumstances. Despite the name "British Food Journal" the collection of articles in this themed section demonstrates convincingly the international impact and appeal of the journal with contributions from countries as geographically diverse as Germany (Seitz and Roosen, 2015; von Meyer-Höfer et al., 2015), Taiwan (Teng and Wang, 2015), and Ghana (Yamoah et al., 2015). They include articles from a range of European countries including Italy (Nassivera and Sillani, 2015) Greece (Polymeros et al., 2015) Croatia (Gajdoš Kljusuric et al., 2015) Sweden (Fernqvist et al., 2015) Spain (Marano et al., 2015) and Finland (Pohjolainen et al., 2015) as well as input from the Asian countries Sri Lanka (Ariyawardana et al., 2015) China (Xie et al., 2015) Malaysia (Chamhuri and Batt, 2015), and Pakistan (Shahzad et al., 2015)with South America represented by Brazil (Danelon and Salay, 2015). The collective findings from these papers illustrate that the importance of cognitions as related to food choice behaviours is convincing.

However, the science of food cognitions could be further advanced by conducting cross-country studies. Researchers need to reach out to one another and attempt replication of these and other studies in different countries. An example of such a comparison is in the last issue of the British Food Journal where the authors compared and contrasted food safety knowledge in adolescents and young adults across Australia and the UK (Mullan et al., 2015). They found that while there were cultural differences, these were more to do with education level than with country of residence. Replication of the research in the current themed section could lead to a broader, all encompassing theoretical framework with major implications for our undertanding of consumers and their food behaviours.

It is pleasing to see the use of such a breadth of theoretical frameworks including the theory of planned behaviour (Teng and Wang, 2015), the spreading activation network model (Seitz and Roosen, 2015), and consumer socialization model (Shahzad et al., 2015). In addition, Yamoah et al. (2015) takes an interesting approach by employing a choice modelling framework to examine how consumers weigh the benefits of vegetable consumption against the possibility of bacterial contamination. Further Nassivera and Sillani (2015) develop their own model to explain choice of processed vegetables. This research demonstrates the importance of employing a theoretical framework, to facilitate a more cohesive advance in the field of food cognitions.

Surveys, and face to face interviews are the most commonly employed methods (Chamhuri and Batt, 2015; Danelon and Salay, 2015; Gajdoš Kljusuric et al., 2015; Nassivera and Sillani, 2015; Pohjolainen et al., 2015; Seitz and Roosen, 2015; Shahzad et al., 2015; von Meyer-Höfer et al., 2015). Nevertheless many different types of methodologies are also utilized including focus groups (Fernqvist et al., 2015), experimental design (Marano et al., 2015), conjoint analysis (Ariyawardana et al., 2015), choice scenarios (von Meyer-Höfer et al., 2015; Yamoah et al., 2015) and mixed methods (Xie et al., 2015).Whilst there is still room for well conducted surveys such as those mentioned above, researchers could benefit from considering alternative research methods, which allow for the determination of causality, in order to determine the mechanisms underlying our food choices.

I was delighted to be provided with the opportunity to read this broad ranging, innovative international focused series of papers on consumer cognitions. I believe it advances the science of consumer food research and provides some useful avenues for future studies. In conclusion I would like to extend my gratitude to all the authors who participated in this themed section of the journal, as well as the reviewers who contributed their valuable time to help the authors improve upon their research. Finally, I would like to thank the editor, Professor Chris Griffith and all members of the British Food Journal team for their ongoing efforts throughout the publication process.

Professor Barbara Mullan, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, Perth, Australia


Ariyawardana, A., Govindasamy, R. and Lisle, A. (2015), "Capturing the consumer value: the case of red lentils", British Food Fournal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1032-1042

Babooram, M., Mullan, B.A. and Sharpe, L. (2011), "Children’s perceptions of obesity as explained by the common sense model of illness representation", British Food Journal, Vol. 113 Nos 2-3, pp. 234-247

Chamhuri, N. and Batt, P. (2015), "Consumer perceptions of food quality in Malaysia", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1168-1187

Danelon, M. and Salay, E. (2015), "Raw vegetable salad consumers in full-service restaurants", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1136-1149

Ding, T., Mullan, B. and Xavier, K. (2014), "Does subjective well-being predict health-enhancing behaviour? The example of fruit and vegetable consumption", British Food Journal, Vol. 116 No. 4, pp. 598-610

Fernqvist, F., Olsson, A. and Spendrup, S. (2015), "What’s in it for me? Food packaging and consumer responses, a focus group study", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1122-1135

Gajdoš Kljusuric, J., Cacic, J., Misir, A. and Cacic, D. (2015), "Geographical region as a factor influencing consumers’ perception of functional food �" case of Croatia", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1017-1031

Griffith, C., Mullan, B. and Price, P. (1995), "Food safety: implications for food, medical and behavioural scientists", British Food Journal, Vol. 97 No. 8, pp. 23-28

MacPhail, M., Mullan, B., Sharpe, L. and MacCann, C. (2014), "The efficacy of the health action process approach (HAPA) in predicting healthy eating among people with type 2 diabetes", Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, available at:

Marano, C., Parras-Rosa, M. and Lopez-Zafra, E. (2015), "Designations and consumer perceptions: an experimental study and implications for agricultural policy", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1188-1204

Mullan, B., Wong, C., Davis, E., Todd, J. and Kothe, E. (2015), "Food hygiene knowledge in adolescents and young adults", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 1, pp. 50-61

Mullan, B., Wong, C., Kothe, E. and MacCann, C. (2013), "Predicting breakfast consumption: a comparison of the theory of planned behaviour and the health action process approach", British Food Journal, Vol. 115 No. 11, pp. 1638-1657

Nassivera, F. and Sillani, S. (2015), "Consumer perceptions and motivations in choice of minimally processed vegetables: a case study in Italy", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 970-986

Pohjolainen, P., Vinnari, M. and Jokinen, P. (2015), "Consumers’ perceived barriers to following a plant-based diet", BritishFood Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1150-1167

Polymeros, K., Kaimakoudi, E., Schinaraki, M. and Batzios, C. (2015), "Analysing consumers’ perceived differences in wild and farmed fish", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1007-1016

Robertson, A., Mullan, B. and Todd, J. (2014), "A qualitative exploration of experiences of overweight young and older adults: an application of the theory of planned behaviour", Appetite, Vol. 75, pp. 157-164

Seitz, C. and Roosen, J. (2015), "An empirical analysis of international consumers’ associations with bavarian food products by means of concept mapping", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 987-1006

Shahzad, F., Khattak, J., Khattak, M. and Shahzad, F. (2015), "Impact of consumer socialization on soft drink consumption and mediating role of consumer generational behavior", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1205-1222

Teng, C.-C. and Wang, Y.-M. (2015), "Decisional factors driving organic food consumption: generation of consumer purchase intentions", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1066-1081

von Meyer-Höfer, M., von der Wense, V. and Spiller, A. (2015), "Characterising convinced sustainable food consumers", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1082-1104

Xie, B., Wang, L., Yang, H., Wang, Y. and Zhang, M. (2015), "Consumer perceptions and attitudes of organic food products in Eastern China", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1105-1121

Yamoah, F., Yahaya, I. and Adams, F. (2015), "Consumer motivation and willingness to pay for safer vegetables in Ghana", British Food Journal, Vol. 117 No. 3, pp. 1043-1065

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