Today, recognizing and using different food consumption trends can be a competitive advantage for businesses. Health-conscious nutrition, as one of the most dynamically growing trends, has many opportunities and issues. Different social groups may respond differently to this trend. In our research, we conducted a questionnaire quantitative research and set up three hypotheses. These hypotheses all apply to the area of health-conscious food consumption. According to the first hypothesis, “those who prefer vegan products also prefer non-chemical vegetable and fruit products” were not met because the significance level was 0.098. The second hypothesis: “Income categories show a significant positive correlation with the increase in meat consumption,” for which the significance level was 0.0.3, but the hypothesis was not met. In the third hypothesis, we hypothesized that in the case of the population we studied, a sharply distinguishable group of consumers can be distinguished who prefer a health-conscious lifestyle. This hypothesis was clearly supported by factor analysis.
In the 21st century, a number of new food consumption trends have emerged. These trends stem from social and cultural changes and consumption influenced by marketing. Recognizing and interpreting these food consumption trends is essential for businesses in the food supply chain. As a result of globalization, various trends are emerging not only within national borders but also internationally. This is facilitated by the fast and efficient flow of information provided by different smart devices and the tendency to follow different opinion formers.
One of the most dynamically growing trends is the trend of healthy eating resulting from a healthy lifestyle. This trend reflects a widespread phenomenon that is difficult to determine. Healthy lifestyles, disease prevention, i.e. prevention and conscious nutrition, are receiving increased attention among consumers. There are more and more consumers who follow not only healthier but also more sustainable product consumption and this is a broader criterion that influences the actual intention to buy. It can be said that nowadays the value of health preservation has increased and consumers are placing more and more emphasis on their nutrition (Moorman – Matulich, 1993; Vasa et al., 2020). This has a major impact on consumer behavior and is also a challenge for the supply side. Understanding the factors that influence consumer decisions is a key factor in meeting changing consumer needs. The complexity of consumer decisions is also caused by changes in consumer values that undergo significant changes. In order for businesses and marketers to be able to respond effectively to the various challenges that this phenomenon poses to them, they need to know a more accurate picture and context (Vasa, 2005; Gáspár et al., 2017; Shaqiri et al., 2019).
The common basis of the theory of value-based consumption and food-consumer behavior is that consumer and consumer decision is interpreted as an external dimension of the value system. One of the most important determinants of consumer behavior is the value system, which is the determinant of consumer behavior. Value system is a fundamental factor in determining the internal correlation of consumer behavior. Based on the interdisciplinary approach, it can be stated that the value system can be linked to two environmental elements, cultural and social factors.
Value is most often associated with lifestyle, lifestyle, and status dimensions. These dimensions are influenced by different situations, life situations, and individual relative importance. Other studies highlight the individual determination of value, in which individual subjectivity is decisive. In their study, Peter – Olson (1987) defines value as the cognitive representative of the basic needs and predefined goals of the consumer. Several value measurement methods have been developed to determine consumer preferences and factors influencing purchasing decisions. Many of these models have been created that specifically model eating and food consumption habits according to values. According to the theory of value-based food consumer behavior, we distinguish three levels between which the effect of values on food consumption preferences is distinguished. The first of the levels is the general default values of the consumer. The second of the levels contains value systems that influence consumption habits. These factors are the social, living conditions and preference situation of the consumer. At the third level, there are the direct values associated with the products. These values reveal the motivation for choosing a product (Horváth, 1996).
Values are considered a basic predictor of consumer decision-making (Sheth et al., 1991). However, determining values is a complex task. Perceived value refers to a positive or negative evaluation of the usefulness of a product (Zeithaml, 1988). In recent years, the definition of perceived value has evolved from a one-dimensional to a multidimensional concept (Sánchez et al., 2007). With the development of the multidimensional concept, the measurement of the consumer’s willingness to buy can be analyzed more extensively, thus giving a more accurate picture of the expected consumption in the future (Gonçalves et al., 2016). Furthermore, it is possible to explore causal relationships related to consumption, to learn about choice preferences (Sheth et al., 1991; Szakács et al., 2012). In analyzing the values, we need to pay special attention to some of the most important values.
One of the most influential factors in willingness to buy is price. Buyers strive for the best value for money when shopping. If a higher price level product is purchased, some feedback is required to justify the price premium paid (Hill – Lynchehaun, 2002). However, this confirmation is difficult because consumers do not have all the information available to properly evaluate their purchases (Padel – Foster, 2005). Consequently, it is necessary to know the perceived values that influence the purchase (Gáspár, 2021). Exploring the associations between consuming a better quality, healthy category or perhaps a more socially acceptable product can provide very important information for both consumers and sellers. Income disparities play a key role in the consumer value of money. Social groups in lower income categories are unable to pay the price premium, regardless of whether there is a consumer propensity for these products (Radman, 2005). However, several studies have concluded that consumers are willing to pay a price premium in certain decision-making situations, regardless of income category. Pricing is thus a significant factor influencing purchasing, which is a complex task due to the complexity of consumer decisions (Lockie et al., 2004). The complexity of the decision is well illustrated by Huang’s (1996) study, which draws attention to the fact that consumers were reluctant to pay a premium for organic products because the visual perception of the products was not convincing. It can be concluded from the study that consumers would pay for positive perceived values related to the product (organic product) if this were qualitatively appropriate.
One of the most important factors for market success is the excellent quality of the product. Based on the changes in consumer behavior trends in recent years, it can be concluded that food consumption is less and less driven by quantitative aspects, but by consumption structure and qualitative aspects (Lehota et al., 1999). The work of Garvin (1988) played a significant role in the development of quality concepts, interpreting quality in five approaches in his book “Quality Management”. These five categories are: transcendent, production-based, product-based, value-based, user-based quality. Out of these five categories, user-based quality should be emphasized, the focus of which is customer demand and satisfaction. This definition is consistent with Kotler’s (1999) study, which states that customer satisfaction should be considered the ultimate goal of a company. Several studies have pointed to the fact that consumers are intolerant of substandard product quality, regardless of product category or values associated with the product (Huang, 1996; Tregear et al., 1994). As Aboah and Lees (2020) found in their study, consumers mostly make their purchasing decisions based on external quality signs among the quality characteristics of meat products.
In addition to the external quality, it is important to emphasize the internal quality of the products. In the case of food products, one of the most significant such factors is taste. Judging the optimal taste is a highly person-dependent factor. Thus, in this case, the strongest motivation to buy can be defined as an improvement in taste. Lockie et al. (2002) in their study suggest that natural content is one of the strongest factors influencing consumption. In their study, the definition of natural content means minimum processing, additive-free and chemical-free. In their research, they observed the correlation that the higher the natural content, the higher the quality judgment. In the case of flavors, another non-negligible motivating factor for consumption is recollection, recalling the past. In their study, Chinnici et al. (2002) state that recalling what the taste of food was like in the past, or in other words, the “taste of the past” motivating consumption factor is of paramount importance.
The favorable or unfavorable evaluation of individual forms of consumer behavior is called attitude (Ajzen, 1991). Attitude influences intent, thus it can be stated that the more favorable the degree of attitude, the greater the willingness to engage in the behavior. Furthermore, attitude can also be interpreted as a function of behavioral beliefs, so if an individual believes that a particular behavior may end in a positive outcome, a favorable attitude toward behavior will develop (Ajzen – Fishbein, 1980). A significant factor is that attitude predicts the intention to consume, and thus predestines the intention to buy. Exploring consumer attitudes is an important factor as it plays a significant role in the development of consumer motivation. In their study, Hati et al. (2021) examined purchase intentions related to frozen meat, and found that consumer intentions were directly dtermined by sensory attraction, preceived price, and attitudes toward meat, however, the strongest influencing factor among these is attitude. Several studies have shown that exploring the attitude – intention relationship can overcome barriers to food purchasing (Hill – Lynchehaun, 2002). Proper analysis of this relationship is an emphatic task, as a positive attitude may not in all cases imply an actual purchase intention to be implemented by Magnusson et al. (2001) point out in their research that, regardless of the fact that the vast majority of consumers have a positive attitude towards the products studied, they are unable or unwilling to buy due to income factors and low value for money. In contrast, most researchers of consumer behavior come to the view that as the level of positive attitude increases, the value of consumption probability also changes positively.
The most basic values include functional value, which refers to the expected performance of a product in terms of its functionality, physical characteristics, and utility capabilities (Sheth et al., 1991). Functional value is one of the main drivers of consumer decisions (Sheth et al., 1991; Yildirim – Candan, 2015). Quality characteristics and their associated value for money are most commonly used to measure it (Sweeney – Soutar, 2001). Several studies have examined the measurement of functional values as a function of quality and price. Among the researches, there were products for which price did not have a significant effect on consumption. But there are also cases in which both price and quality have influenced the consumer’s purchase intention, the determination of consumer value (Prakash et al., 2018).
The emphasis on social value is important in consumer value judgment. Not only is the perceived value and ability of the product judged, but also the social status of the consumer (Sheth et al., 1991). It follows that consumer self-image plays a determining role as an influencing factor beyond the utilitarian properties of a product (Sweeney – Soutar, 2001; Yoo et al., 2013). However, the importance of social value is not determinative in some emerging countries, and in these countries, social concerns do not have a force to influence consumption. However, research by Schrank and Running (2018) concluded that consumers are personal and willing to benefit directly from community-supported products (e.g., by reducing local emissions by purchasing local products). Consumers whose lifestyle and characteristics are in line with local social values have a positive attitude towards local foods. (Aitken et al.,2020)
In addition to limited rational purchasing decisions, the emotional factor also plays an important role in purchasing decisions (Khan – Mohsin, 2017; Lin – Huang, 2012). It should be emphasized that emotional values may vary depending on the particular subjective and emotional encounters, and their affirmative or destructive formats are decisive in decision situations. Emotional values may vary depending on a particular consumer decision situation, as different circumstances may lead to different emotional values (Sheth et al., 1991). In the case of emotional values, the development of trust plays a particularly important role, which can develop as a result of the given community. The role of trust is also a significant factor in the choice of products. Food business operators cannot assume that different certificates will automatically attract consumer confidence (Truong et al., 2021).
In order to increase trust, the amount of information and information source needed to make a consumer decision must also be increased (Lease et al., 2014).
The so-called environmental attitude influences purchasing decisions, it is expressed in the preference for environmentally friendly products. Several studies highlight that environmental concerns are a highly influential motivation for shopping today (Davies et al., 1995; Hutchins – Greenhalgh, 1997). A consumer who consciously deals with the environment can be defined as one who is aware that the production, distribution and use of products lead to external costs. In its value judgment, these costs can be interpreted negatively (Grunert – Juhl. 1995).
Squires et al., (2001) researched consumption habits of organic foods. In the course of their work, they found a correlation between consumers of organic food and consumers who prefer natural production methods and the preservation of the environment. Their study concluded that increased consumption of organic products is associated with increased public concern about environmental problems. This line of reasoning is supported by Tregear et al. (1994) in which he concluded that organic food consumers are more likely to support environmentally friendly activities. In their research, Bleidorn et al (2021) confirmed that eco-friendly attitudes were positively related to eco-friendly consumer behavior , showing that consumers who considered it important to protect the environment prefer to buy organic products.
Consumers see health as personal and family health for which they take responsibility. (Hutchins – Greenhalgh, 1997). Today, this influencing factor influences consumption decisions more strongly than before. It also plays an important role in the product design processes of food industry organizations. There is a significant difference between organic and non-organic products in terms of health awareness. The majority of consumers consider organic products to be healthier than non-organic alternatives (Lea – Worsley, 2005; Radman, 2005). For health-conscious consumption, foods with higher vitamin and mineral content are preferred. Today’s intensive manufacturing technologies pose serious health problems that also change purchasing habits. Intensive animal husbandry, the use of genetically modified feed or the cultivation of fruit and vegetables containing chemical residues have caused serious consumer concerns.
The importance of our research is supported by the topicality of the topic. There are countless opportunities in the food market. Keeping up with the constant change in consumer trends is one of the big challenges for the business (Moorman – Matulich, 1993).
To explore these trends, we conducted quantitative research on a sample of 117 people conducted in Hungary, with random sampling. The questionnaires were tested on a sample of 25 people. The diversity of the sample is shown by the age group, education, and distribution of residence. For the study, we used a questionnaire survey conducted using the Google questionnaire creation and processing system. The first part of the questionnaire is about demographic and other data, while the other half is about consumption patterns. In our research, we performed cross-tabular queries to explore the relationships between different variables. In addition, a factor analysis was performed to distinguish possible different consumer groups.
In our research we formulated three research questions.
The figure above shows the examination of the first hypothesis. For the study, we used the results of the questions “How important do you consider vegan products to be when purchasing” and “How important is it for you to consume chemical-free products”. The sample showed a normal distribution, so a cross-tabulation query could be performed, which in turn did not show a significant relationship, so this part of the research could not be evaluated (Pearson chi square- 0.98). Based on the results of the research, it can be concluded that there is no clearly demonstrable relationship between those who prefer vegan products and those who prefer chemical-free products. Based on the above, it can be concluded that our hypothesis was not fulfilled.
The table above shows the results of testing our second hypothesis. To substantiate this hypothesis, we examined the questions “how would you classify household income” and “how important is it for you to reduce meat consumption”. The sample assumed a normal distribution in this case as well, so in this case we also used the query methodology between the tables. The crosstab query shows a significant correlation. Pearson Chi-Square is 0.03%.
Cramer’s V is 0.517, indicating a low to medium correlation, and Gamma is 0.156, indicating a weak strength positive one-way correlation. It is clear from the data in Table 2 that (For the sake of evaluability, the two response categories were excluded from the “where would you classify household income” categories. These responses related to low incomes.)
The table shows that 40% of people who rated their financial situation as the most important consider reducing meat consumption, while 33.4% of these people consider reducing meat consumption. Among those who consider their income to be average and unable to save from it, 50% say it is important for them to reduce meat consumption. Based on these, we can also conclude that the strength of the relationship is weak. The correlation study assumes a weak positive correlation between the two variables, which means that the higher the income of the consumer included in the study, the more he tries to reduce his meat consumption.
Based on the above, it can be concluded that our hypothesis was not fulfilled.
After the analysis, it can be seen from the figure that three well-separated factors emerged. After rotation, the groups were cleaned. The explanatory power of the three factors is 65% for the total variance. This value exceeds the generally accepted 60%. In the analysis, some variables had to be excluded and then the three factors emerged during the statistical experiments. Based on the results, the first factor was named “Healthy Conscious Consumers”.Within this factor, it is important to eat health-consciously and to eat low-carbohydrate and high-fat foods.
The second factor is the category of “hypersensitive to food consumption”. This group considers very interesting variables important. Respondents in this category place particular emphasis on chemical-free nutrition as well as crop production without various additives. In addition, according to this group, intensive livestock farming is a significant source of danger that can cause serious health problems for consumers. According to them, emphasis should also be placed on monitoring drinking water pollution, which is an often emphasized health factor today.
The third group can be described as “Consumers Affected by Marketing”. Consumers in this group consider the various indications on products to be important. These indications refer to the origin and quality of the product, which assures the consumer that he has the expected preferences. This requirement can be an indication of the origin of the product, in which case not only the production of the product but also the indication of the production is an important factor. The determining variable within the factor is the existence of trademarks that ensure an adequate level of animal welfare. The vast majority of consumers in the group attach importance to the adequate welfare of animals reared under intensive livestock conditions. However, there is a contradiction in the assessment of this issue, according to which the vast majority of consumers in this group reject intensive animal husbandry and prefer not to consume meat products at all. This kind of rejection can be traced back to emotional values that can be linked to animal regret.
In the course of the hypotheses examined in our research, the first hypothesis was not fulfilled. The significance level was below 0.05. This means that for the population we are studying, there is no clear correlation with consumer preference for those who prefer vegan products over a higher proportion of vegetable and fruit products produced without pesticides. This result raises the research question of whether the two growing trends, namely the consumption of vegan products and products without chemicals and additives, represent two different consumer groups.
During the second hypothesis, the obtained results showed a significant correlation, ie the result of the study was evaluable, although the hypothesis we asked was not fulfilled. For the population we studied, the preference for reducing meat consumption was related to income level. This relationship, although only a weak relationship, raises a number of questions.
Health-conscious lifestyles are a dynamically growing trend in the world and in Hungary, as is meat consumption.In the case of a health-conscious lifestyle, several medical studies have supported the benefits of moderation in meat consumption, while meat consumption is increasing both globally and in Hungary. However, the increase in income can be related to the decrease in meat consumption, on the basis of which it can be determined, or the definition of the social stratum causing the increase in meat consumption can be formulated as a further area of research. Another research question raised by the result is how the consumption preferences of different types of meat groups evolve and which perceived values influence this trend.
In our third hypothesis, we were able to sharply separate three groups by factor analysis. Our hypothesis was met when one distinct group became a group of health-conscious consumers. These consumers place significant emphasis on a health-conscious lifestyle. Considerable attention is paid to the consumption of low carb and high fat foods. In addition to this group, two other groups were identified in the analysis. One group is “hypersensitive to food consumption” while the other is “marketing-influenced consumers”.
As a further research opportunity, we can formulate research aimed at representativeness, which can examine the issues and hypotheses we have raised in more detail. In addition, qualitative in-depth interviews can also help explore the deeper causes of different hypotheses.
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„Supported by the ÚNKP-20-3- II. New National Excellence Program of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology from the source of the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund.”
Fanni Ildikó Fodor
Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Doctoral School of Economics and Regional Sciences, Hungary;
Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Doctoral School of Economics and Regional Sciences, Hungary;
Dr. Zsuzsanna Naár-Tóth
associate professor Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Institute of Agricultural and Food Economics, Páter Károly u. 1, 2100 Gödöllõ, Hungary;
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