Exploring the factors influencing consumers’ motivation to use food product labels in their purchase decisions

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Tanner, Sean Anthony
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University College Cork
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Although online retailing has revolutionised consumption, traditional food retailers still play a dominant role in exposing consumers to product offerings, acting as one of the first points of interaction between manufacturers and consumers. Given increased interest in labelling as a means of facilitating healthy purchasing, in addition to informing consumer decisions and marketing product offerings, labelling has an important role in the food industry. The primary purpose of this research is to further our understanding of consumer motivation to use food labels in an unfamiliar product context by adopting a risk/benefit lens to consider motivation. Additionally, this study considers the role of digitalisation of food labelling in facilitating consumer decision-making and adding value to product offerings. A multi-stage, sequential qualitative approach was employed to understand the endogenous and exogenous determinants of label usage. Phase 1 drew on behaviourist and interpretivist methods combining eye-tracking methodology and introspective techniques to explore label usage determinants across 17 participants. Whereas previous research has predominantly considered attention through a behaviourist paradigm, this interpretivist study elaborated on eye-tracking data, offering a more holistic understanding of label usage. Phase 2 considered the role of risk and benefit orientations on consumer knowledge structures, through a segment-based approach, which considered product category ‘innovators/early adopters’ and ‘laggards’. Means-end chain analysis and semi-structured interviewing were employed across 38 participants to explore the role of risk and benefit orientations on the networks of meaning activated by labelling and to consider the role of digital labelling in consumer decision-making. Findings presented within this thesis relate to three key areas. Firstly, phase 1 addressed the mechanisms underlying participant interaction with label stimuli, considering attention, perception, and information processing. Findings support the role of both volitional, goal-directed and non-volitional, stimuli-driven attention in influencing consumer decision-making. Findings highlight the importance of motivational relevance in bridging the gap between attention and information processing. Additionally, goal specificity and extant knowledge structures influenced processing of information, and established information search behaviours, with associations in memory varying across participants and influencing subsequent label usage strategies. Secondly, phase 2 provides greater context for discrepancies in label usage patterns, and demonstrates the value of needs-based segmentation in the delivery and framing of label information. Findings suggest that consumers’ risk/benefit orientation influences the label attributes considered in purchasing, and the consequences and framing of implications arising from use of label information. In particular, analysis suggests that the valence of cognitive structures activated through interaction with labelling stimuli varies in line with the risk/benefit orientations of participants. Thirdly, in addressing the evolving nature of labelling through pull technologies such as QR codes, findings offer some evidence for the potential value of this more effortful information search, while signalling the role of expectancies as acting as a potential barrier to QR code usage in the low-involvement context. Despite the ubiquity of QR codes in the marketplace, participants were broadly unfamiliar with their functionality and purpose, signalling a broader failure of the marketing effort. Given the low involvement nature of food purchasing and ease of substitution, data suggest a need for digital labelling to move beyond product/brand centric information provision to add meaningful value for consumers. This requires deep knowledge about the core market in relation to both product and information needs. This research has implications for future labelling and consumer behaviour research as well as marketing practice. Much emphasis has been placed on promoting attention to labelling stimuli through both endogenous and exogenous means. However, this research suggests that there is a gap between attention and processing, resulting from a lack of perceived motivational relevance of label information. Consequently, there is a need to consider attentional mechanisms within the broader label usage and decision-making context to more clearly align label information to goal attainment. Furthermore, given the impact of risk/benefit orientations on label usage, there is need to consider both the saliency of label elements in communicating product attributes and the responses they elicit. Additionally, findings indicated that within the low-involvement context, the more effortful information search associated with pull-marketing conventions such as QR codes terminated at the product category, rather than brand level. Consequently, those seeking to add value to current food offerings through diversification of food labelling, should address information provision issues such as complementarity within the product category. There is a need to also consider the congruency of product offerings with subordinate and superordinate food related goals, rather than focusing inwardly on the specific brand offering. As smart labelling applications become increasingly feasible from a production perspective and desirable from a consumer perspective, there is a need to ensure relevant application of such applications to reflect consumers’ product and information needs. Future research may consider consumer technology acceptance not only in relation to the technology offering but the domain of its application.
Food labelling , Decision-making , Motivation , Eye-tracking , Cognition , Consumer behaviour
Tanner, S. A. 2019. Exploring the factors influencing consumers’ motivation to use food product labels in their purchase decisions. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.