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An ethnographic analysis of consumer information processing and decision-making at farmers’ markets

Benjamin Garner (Department of Marketing and Management, University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 18 January 2022

Issue publication date: 9 February 2022




Farmers’ markets have grown rapidly in recent years and at the same time consumers increasingly desire to eat healthfully and sustainably. This research aims to analyze the way consumers process information regarding local food claims such as sustainability and organics when shopping for local foods at farmers’ markets.


This research uses ethnographic methods that included interviews with 36 participants, more than 100 hours of participant observation and prolonged engagement over a two and half-year period.


The findings indicate that there are two dominant types of consumers at the farmers’ market, hedonistic and utilitarian consumers. Hedonistic consumers rely on heuristic cues such as aesthetics, their relationship with the farmer and other peripheral sources of information when making purchase decisions. Utilitarian consumers, by contrast, carefully analyze marketing messages using central route cues and tend to be more conscious of their purchase choices.

Practical implications

This study will help farmers more effectively position their marketing messages and help consumers be aware how they process information in this space.


Unlike previous studies of consumer behavior at farmers’ markets that primarily use survey methods, this study uses observational and ethnographic methods to capture in situ interactions in this complex buying context. Further, while much work has been done on broad concepts of local food and organic preferences, this study provides a more in-depth look at consumer information processing in the farmers’ market space that reflects a mixture of organic and non-organic food.



Garner, B. (2022), "An ethnographic analysis of consumer information processing and decision-making at farmers’ markets", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 39 No. 1, pp. 66-77.



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