Consumer Perceptions of Convenience Food Users

John H. Antil, University of Delaware
ABSTRACT - There is widespread and frequent use of convenience foods by many American housewives. In spite of their ubiquity, very little is currently known about perceptions of users of convenience foods. The author presents current perceptions of women who are nonusers, light users and heavy users of convenience foods.
[ to cite ]:
John H. Antil (1987) ,"Consumer Perceptions of Convenience Food Users", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 558.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Page 558

CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS OF CONVENIENCE FOOD USERS

John H. Antil, University of Delaware

ABSTRACT -

There is widespread and frequent use of convenience foods by many American housewives. In spite of their ubiquity, very little is currently known about perceptions of users of convenience foods. The author presents current perceptions of women who are nonusers, light users and heavy users of convenience foods.

INTRODUCTION AND RELATED RESEARCH

Although the wide availability and use of convenience foods is not a recent phenomenon, research specifically focusing on convenience foods and their users is limited. Considering the billions of dollars consumers spend for these products and the huge sums manufacturers allocate to new product development and advertising, this lack of research is quite surprising. This exploratory study is designed to help fill this void by providing some preliminary evidence of consumer perceptions of users of different levels of convenience foods.

Two sets of studies are related to this research. The first was initiated by the now classic study by Mason Haire (1950). His "shopping list" study measured consumers' subjective reactions and underlying motives Involved in the decision to purchase or not purchase instant coffee. He found the instant coffee user was considered lazy, a poor planner, less thrifty, a spendthrift and bad wife much more frequently than the purchaser of regular coffee. In 1968, Webster and Von Pechman (1970) replicated Haire's study and concluded that, "There are no significant differences between characteristics ascribed to the Maxwell House shopper and those for the Nescafe shopper in 1968" (p.63). The authors hypothesize the difference between the results of the two studies is a result of the acceptance of convenience foods by the American housewife of 1968. They further suggest, "while convenience foods were viewed with caution and mild disfavor at the time Haire conducted his study, they now may be taken as a sign that the shopper is "with it".

While one may be willing to accept the conclusion that instant coffee users are no longer viewed as having negative characteristics, is one equally Justified to assume that what is true for instant coffee is also true for the use of convenience foods in general? The inferential leap from instant coffee to a blanket assumption that the use of convenience foods is currently acceptable and "with it" may be more than some are willing to accept.

Another set of related studies has developed out of an interest in the increase in married women working outside the household. Consumer researchers have hypothesized that one result of this trend would be an increase in the use of convenience items, time-saving durables, and lead to changes in shopping and meal preparation behavior (Nickols and Fox 1983; Reilly 1982; Strober and Weinberg 1980; Douglas 1976; Roberts and Worzel 1979; Anderson 1971). The results of these studies have not, however, confirmed higher convenience consumption for working wives. Even when time pressures were specifically taken into consideration, no significant difference in convenience food consumption was found by Reilly (1982).

METHODOLOGY

Data was collected through the use of a projective technique similar to that used by Haire (1950). Since it is quite possible that consumer perceptions of convenience food users will differ depending on the degree of convenience food consumption, three shopping lists were developed to test consumer reactions to different degrees of convenience food consumption. A "low" convenience oriented list included one convenience food item, while the "high" convenience food list included four items which could be easily recognized as being convenience foods. The nonconvenience food list consisted of eight items that could be considered "normal" or common purchases for most shoppers.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The data was collected over a two day period using a mall intercept procedure. Questionnaires were completed by 80 respondents (26 completed Lists I and II and 28 List III). To analyze the data, the coding procedure strived for a literal interpretation of the descriptions, that is, attempts were made not to "read into" the data. A total of 26 characteristics were reported by participants. The twelve most frequently mentioned characteristics (mentioned by at least 10 percent) were analyzed for differences among the lists.

The nonconvenience food shopper (NC) was much more frequently referred to as a housewife while both the low convenience food shopper (LC) and the high convenience food shopper (HC) were more likely to be viewed as a working wife with children or a single working woman who needs to prepare meals quickly. The perceptions of the HC shopper may be expected, but what is interesting is that the LC shopper was almost as frequently described in an identical manner. Evidently, the appearance of a single convenience food item conveys the impression of a working woman who is on a limited time budget. The association between a perceived shortage of time and use of convenience foods seems to be very apparent. The reverse also seems to be true, that is, those seen as having more time (housewives) are not so likely to be viewed as users of convenience foods. The NC and LC shoppers are viewed as more concerned with nutrition while this is much less frequently mentioned about the HC shopper. It would seem that there is some association between high use of convenience foods and a lack of concern for nutrition.

L One could conclude that tn today's society convenience foods are considered acceptable, even relatively frequent use seers to have reached a level of approval. It must be emphasized though, that the convenience food user seems to have acquired acceptability through her position not as a housewife or homemaker but because she is a working wife with children or single working woman who needs to prepare meals quickly. It should be recalled though, that the research which has specifically addressed this assumption has not confined higher use of convenience foods by working wives. Thus, we see an apparent contradiction between the perception of the reasons for convenience food usage and the actual situation surrounding usage.

For further information contact:

John H. Antil / Department of Business / University of Delaware / Newark, DE 19716.

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