Cross-Cultural Food Buying Behavior

ABSTRACT - The objective of this article is to examine the food shopping and consumption patterns of individuals living in urban areas of LDCs with special reference to Turkey. Such characteristics as type of food retail institutions patronized, important elements in the purchase decision process and patronage motives of shoppers are examined. The results should be useful to both marketing academicians and international marketing managers because they provided insights into a country's retail food distribution system and the effect consumers have on it.


Erdener Kaynak (1985) ,"Cross-Cultural Food Buying Behavior", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 82-90.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 82-90


Erdener Kaynak, Mount Saint Vincent University


The objective of this article is to examine the food shopping and consumption patterns of individuals living in urban areas of LDCs with special reference to Turkey. Such characteristics as type of food retail institutions patronized, important elements in the purchase decision process and patronage motives of shoppers are examined. The results should be useful to both marketing academicians and international marketing managers because they provided insights into a country's retail food distribution system and the effect consumers have on it.


Various market segments and the food shopping behavior of individuals in the U.S.A have been studied from innumerable perspectives, and many of the concepts and findings have helped marketers gain a better understanding of the characteristics of American food shoppers (Martineau 1958; Rich and Jain 1968;' Green and Langeard 1975). The results have often provided a basis for more effective marketing strategies. Much also has been written about the need for increasing the general knowledge of marketing in other countries and how different marketing systems operate in delivering food products to consumers (Jaffe 1968; Goldman 1974; Bucklin 1977, Kaynak 1985). Analysis of the structural and environmental factors of foreign countries' food marketing systems are necessary to the success of an American firm's marketing efforts in those countries.

Most of the prior research on food marketing in both developed and less-developed countries of the world has been primarily on micro-economic studies (Erickson 1963; Copulsky 1959; Harper 1966; Hirsch 1962; Moyer 1964; Goodman 1968; Sturdivant 1969; Hirschman 1978. Takeuchi and Bucklin 1977) or studies of specific market processes and institutions (Slater 1968; Dannhaeuser 1977; Guerin 1965; Harrison et al 1974). As well, most of these studies, if not all, have used ideographic or case study approach (Amine 1983). In recent years, however, there has been growing interest in the development and improvement of the food retail systems. This is reflected in numerous discussions of how to modernize the food retailing systems of less developed countries (Goldman 1974 and 1981) and in the growing number of studies devoted to the analysis of the food retailing structure of ghetto market areas in the United States (Sturdivant 1970; Sexton 1973). The literature related to the shopping practices of food consumers in less-developed countries also shows that their pattern of shopping and the behavior for purchasing food is similar to the patterns of consumers in the ghetto market areas of developed countries (Kaynak 1979). Table 1 illustrates the similarities and differences between LDC and American ghetto food shoppers.

One key factor to understanding the nature and operation of a food retail system is to analyze the characteristics and behavior of food shoppers of that system. What differentiates the more advanced food systems from the less-developed ones is the difference in the nature of their basic food retailing institutions and the prevailing characteristics and patronizing behavior of food shoppers (Kaynak 1985). Unfortunately, data about the characteristics and behavior of food shoppers in a given retail system is not usually available and is not currently collected in a systematic manner. For this reason, cross-cultural/national type studies are needed to facilitate nomothetic analysis across several cultures. Studies of foods shopping behavior in diverse cultures will provide such information (Kaynak 1980).

Characteristics of Food Consumers in Less-Developed Countries

In the rapidly growing cities of less-developed countries the socio-economic environment of food retailers is extremely heterogeneous (UNIDO 1974; OECD 1976). There are acute disparities of income, education, and life style among the residents of these cities. These disparaties make it very difficult for both government officials and businessmen to design food retailing systems that can adequately meet the needs of all segments of markets (Kaynak 1980). Institutional elements of a less-developed economy, such as small grocery stores and public markets co-existing with modern, large-scale, mass merchandizing food retailers who use marketing and distribution techniques similar to those found in North America are hard on the small operations.



Food retailers in less-developed countries contend with a scattered, relatively immobile population who buy on a small scale (Moyer 1964). Diverse income levels within less-developed economies cause major differences in food retail systems, particularly in the assortments offered and in the type of retail outlet found. For instance, income is distributed very unevenly between the northern and southern parts of Italy and Greece and eastern and western parts of Turkey. There are marked differences between the various regions of each country and in the ' shopping behavior of the consumers (Kaynak 1976). One cannot simply judge the character of consumer demand for the type of goods bought and food retail outlets patronized by studying averages of the incomes received in each area of a less developed country. Averaging the incomes received can be deceiving for this reason, the distribution of income is of paramount importance within less-developed countries in influencing the food retailing system.

Many of the food consumers in less-developed countries remain tied to shopping in traditional general stores. They do not require the services of an improved food retail system because they are unable and, therefore, unwilling to pay extra for the services offered by an improved food retail system (Goldman 1982). Food retailing systems serving consumers in most parts of less-developed countries seem to be totally conditioned by the fact that the consumers do not have enough income. The food consumers are sparsely scattered, and the retaining system serving them is fragmented. These consumer characteristics have also fostered the development of a large number of food market areas in the largest cities of less-developed countries (Kaynak 1978).

Food retail systems prevalent in less-developed economies adjust themselves to the characteristics of the food consumers. Even within a particular country there may be different groups of co"umer classes requiring different food retail arrangements (Goldman 1975-1976). An obvious distinction can be drawn between consumers residing in upper and lower income areas who will each require different food retail systems. One can easily give some illustrations to substantiate this statement by saying that traditional general stores (corner shops) which are successful in low-income areas have certain difficulties in high-income areas. Different classes and different types of customers have different outlooks and expectations and would patronize different retail stores. For instance, in Venezuela supermarkets attract primarily the middle class and upper class families. The masses shop for their food needs at public market places and at smaller food stores (Boyd et al 1958).

In less-developed countries there are simple food retail systems where, for example, most grocery retail outlets cater to the customers living in the immediate neighborhood. Most of the customers trade regularly at the same place. Customers in such systems usually divide their food purchases among a number of different types of food retail outlets. They buy groceries in the grocery store; fresh meat from the butcher; and purchase produce, dairy products, eggs, and fresh baked goods in other speciality food stores (Kaynak 1985). Purchases are usually small in quantity and the shopping trips are frequent. In Recife, Brazil, for instance, food shoppers shop on the average of four times a week in neighborhood stores, and in La Paz, Bolivia, some 90 percent of the consumers surveyed by the Latin American team were found to shop at least once a day in food stores (Slater 1968). Most urban food shoppers tend to buy small amounts of food products on each shopping trip. For example, the mean purchase of food on each shopping trip to a neighborhood food store in the Recife area of Brazil was $1.79 U.S.; where as it was $0.88 U.S. for Istanbul and $1.22 for Ankara, Turkey (Kaynak 1976). As a result of such food shopping patterns and other factors, the food retail structure encountered in simple food retail systems is characterized by a large number of small grocery stores carrying only a few lines of groceries (Goldman, 1975-1976). Similarities and differences between simple and complex retail systems is shown in Table 2. In less-developed countries, low disposable income, inadequate cash reserves and poor storage facilities also force food consumers to buy small quantitites of food frequently (Goldstucker 1968). All of these factors, along with inadequate transportation systems make such food retail developments as supermarkets and self-service stores available only in highly prosperous areas of less-developed countries.



Consumer-Retailer Interface

The way consumers generally perceive a food retail outlet and its operational policies such as price, quality, assortment, and location affects both the type of food retail outlet patronized and the amount of money spent in different types of grocery stores. Consumer perception will also have some effect on the level of satisfaction with different food retailing systems existing in different parts of a less-developed country. For this reason, in less-developed countries the relatively small middle and upper income groups have formed the major markets for modern types of food retailing. Supermarkets, self-service stores, and other modern types of food retail outlets have all been introduced in those countries largely at the top of the social and price scales. This is contrary to the Wheel of Retailing pattern (Kaynak 1979). These institutions only cater to the needs of the upper income groups of less-developed countries.

It must be pointed out here that research in recent years has focused on the performance of f ood retail systems in developed countries (Marion et al 1979). Unfortunately, very little work has been done on the food -retailing practices in less-developed countries and very scanty information is available on the actual shopping and decision making behavior of consumers in these countries (Goldman 1974). The evolution of food retailing institutions in less-developed countries is a complex process which can only be understood by an analysis of the cultural and economic factors presently prevailing in those countries. Very little is known about the evolution of food retailing institutions in less-developed countries and the role consumers play in this process of change. Do these patterns of different and contrasting consumer shopping practices appear in different areas of a less-developed country like Turkey? The findings of the author's empirical study established distinct relationships between certain specific forces in the environment and food retailing institutions, methods, and techniques used therein. In this study, the effect of consumer environment will be examined.

Shopping Practices for Food

In this part of the article, the researcher presents the findings of a survey undertaken among 241 food consumers located within the boundaries of three selected boroughs of Istanbul, Turkey. Of the sample households, 80 were in the most developed area of Istanbul, 84 in the semi-developed area and 77 in the less-developed borough of Istanbul. The consumer survey analyses serves two purposes; firstly it develops a foundation for understanding a comparative analysis of food retailing systems in urban Turkey; secondly it describes the differing behavioral characteristics of food consumers residing in the various boroughs of Istanbul. The findings of the survey are based on the following questions (Kaynak 1979):

a) How do their food purchasing habits in terms of area of residence differ?

b) Who makes the decision of what food products to buy for the family and where to buy them? Does this vary by type of product and food retail outlets?

c) How frequently do food shoppers purchase, and does this vary by type of product or type of food retail outlet?

d) Do food shoppers appear to be loyal to certain food retail outlets? For instance, small corner shops might operate as social, thus impeding a shift to impersonal, large food stores such as self-service stores, supermarkets and co-operative shops. Credit extension might be a powerful force in the attraction and maintenance of customers.

Distribution of Purchase Among Types of Outlet: 'Preference for Spatial Convenience

As might be expected, the percentage expenditure for food declines with the increase in the incorne level, and just the reverse trend is apparent for expenditures in the non-food category (i.e. health, transportation, cultural and entertainment.) The highest income bracket allocated nearly 21 per cent of their expenditure for food. In this group, the expenditure for cultural and recreational activities accounted for 7 per cent of the total expenditures as compared to 57 per cent food and 3 per cent cultural and entertainment expenditure of the lowest income bracket of Istanbul. These figures indicate that poorer households of Istanbul typically spend a higher proportion of their income on food. There are significant differences between households living in the developed and less-developed areas of Istanbul in the amount and type of food products purchased and consumed. The other factor affecting consumption and demand for food products is the size of the family. This is generally larger in the less-developed areas of Istanbul.

Small grocery stores were the principal outlet patronized for most food products by a majority of the respondents in the less-developed area. It is interesting to note that typically grocery and dairy goods purchases from grocery stores was higher in the less-developed areas than it was in the developed areas. Similarly, survey results showed that more shoppers, 80 per cent, of the less-developed area preferred to buy their fresh fruit and vegetables needs from market stalls of the public markets and again more food shoppers, 22 per cent, of the less-developed area purchased meat in the Municipal Government owned (Tanzim Satis Magazalari) shops. The reason for buying fruit and vegetables from the public markets and meat from the Municipal Government owned shops was their low prices.

The functions performed by the several types of food retailers become clearer when products purchases are analyzed. The respondents were asked what products they purchased most often at each type of food retail outlet. Most of the staple items were purchased by the low-income consumers from grocery stores, followed by the public markets. of the total 77 shoppers interviewed, 75 per cent purchased sugar, 83 per cent bought tea, 70 per cent bread and 89 percent purchased soft drinks from grocery stores. For most of these products grocery stores charged the same price as other food retailers and they offered that spatial convenience advantage over other food ret.ailers. Most food shoppers of low-income areas of Istanbul buy perishables such as meat, bread, greengrocery and delicatessen items like coffee from speciality food stores. It must be pointed out that bread, greengrocery and meat were considered separately on the assumption that they are frequently bought and needed fresh, where-as groceries can be stored for longer periods since they are only needed periodically. Consumers purchase their non-perishable staples from grocery stores which are within easy walking distance.

Factors Influencing Choice of Outlet

The reasons given by low-income area respondents for use or non-use of the various types of food retail outlets provide insight into both the nature of food store use and the conditions under which changes in the retail shopping patterns might occur. Respondents were asked what were the most important factors they would generally consider in deciding where to shop. Irrespective of the type of product and area of residence, most- respondents mentioned low-prices, nearness of the shop, familiarity with the store personnel, honesty of weights and measures, and cleanliness and attractiveness of the stores as the most important factors they would consider in selecting which food retail outlet to patronize. The type of factors considered as most important by the three selected borough respondents in deciding where to shop are shown in Table 3.



In the order of importance to the less-developed area respondents, nearness of the store (convenient location of food stores), low prices of groceries, credit facilities, honesty of weights and measures, familiarity of the store, and its personnel were all mentioned as the major reasons for patronizing the food stores. On the other hand, good attitude of the store personnel, quality of goods sold, service and attention, self-selection of goods, variety and selection of goods were cited as major reasons by developed area respondents. When the respondents were asked the type of things they disliked about the food stores they generally patronized, both developed and less-developed area respondents repeatedly mentioned the uncleanliness and unhygienic conditions of the food stores they patronized. Only less-developed area respondents mentioned unfavorably the high prices of groceries sold at their usual shopping place.

Studies of food shoppers' movements within urban areas suggest that there are important differences between shoppers in their willingness to shop outside their home area. Little is known, however, about the willingness of food shoppers to travel longer distances in order to shop outside their local retail area. For this reason, the research has focused chiefly on the type of products for which consumers shopped in the close vicinity (i.e. within one kilometer radius) of their homes and the reasons for shopping in the surrounding and outside areas. Differences in responses of developed and less-developed respondents for shopping in the close vicinity of their homes gave us an indication of their pattern of food shopping behavior. Respondents were asked if they shopped for any food product groups very near to their homes. Irrespective of the borough and group of product, most respondents claimed that they shopped within one kilometer radius of their residence. Neighborhood shopping for food products among less-developed area respondents was higher than it was the for the developed area respondents. (Table 4).



Shopping Frequency for Food: Hand-to-Mouth Purchasing Patterns

The research also investigated the type of food retail stores frequented by the shoppers of selected areas outside their local retail area and the factors affecting it. Most of the food shoppers of the less-developed area and the factors affecting it. Most of the food shoppers of the less-developed area frequented public market places and co-operative shops outside their neighborhood. Low prices of food items in the public markets and co-operative shops outside the home area was frequently cited as the primary reason for food shoppers shopping outside their home areas.

The frequency with which customers shop in food retail outlets for different type of products was estimated by the respondent consumers. In the low-income area of Istanbul, the frequency of shopping for dry grocery goods was about once a week; for dairy goods and fresh fruit and vegetables twice or three times a week; for meat once a week; finally for cleansers it was generally once every two weeks. There are a number of reasons which cause almost daily shopping trips for some group of products. However, there is no clear way of determining which is the most important or even which are more important than others. One of the more important reasons for this is a more pronounced attitude for the preparation of food in Turkey. Women in the main, spend most of their time in household chores and especially in the preparation of meals. Cooking is still an art which is practised as often as possible. Other reasons are the lack of storage facilities, especially for dairy and meat products, the lack of preserved foods such as canned or frozen foods while the availability of fresh produce increases the purchase frequency (Yavas, Kaynak and Borak 1981).

Shoppers of dry grocery goods, fruit and vegetables and meat products 'in the less-developed areas shop less frequently than the developed area shoppers. The low-income shoppers mainly shop at public markets once a week. These people have limited cash reserves in their pocket and they can not afford to buy expensive types of food frequently. The other important factor in the low buying frequency of meat is the quality consideration of meat and meat products, a far more important determinant of retail outlet choice for meat than for any other product. Consumers are more willing to travel for meat so it tends to be less frequently bought. It is also a high priced food product and this fact also reduces the purchase frequency. The frequent purchases of fresh fruit and vegetables can be explained by the popularity of market stalls and peddlers of fresh fruit and vegetables. Shopping frequency for dairy products was twice or three times a week as most people in Turkey prefer to have products like cheese, butter, eggs, yoghurt f resh and buy them frequently in small quantities. Unless they have consumed the previous dairy products they bought they would not purchase new stocks. Limited refrigerator ownership for certain families might be another factor which forces shoppers to buy dairy products in small quantities, frequently.

Irrespective of the area of residence some 62 per cent of the less-developed area respondents did food shopping on their own. Shopping for food for the Turkish shopper, especially for housewives, is a pleasurable experience. Most housewives visit their local food store each day or three to five times a week to purchase smaller amounts of staple items. This is in certain cases a daily morning and afternoon routine, which must not be rushed. Further they revel in the social possibilities of the occasion (Savitt, 1974). Twenty-seven per cent of the food shopping in the less-developed area is done with other people. This shows some appreciation of shopping as a social event. It seems certain that food shopping is a dual purpose activity, fulfilling a social function as well as an economic one, serving not only as a means of meeting the food needs of shoppers but also providing some social intercourse.

Study Findings

The analysis of characteristics of the less-developed area consumers of Istanbul explains clearly why some of the features of retail food institutions and techniques in Istanbul can be traced to the food purchasing habits and preferences of Turkish food shoppers. A number of traits that characterize the behavior of food consumers in Istanbul are listed below:

- Food consumers of low-income areas divide their food purchases among a number of store types. They distribute their purchases among many specialist shops.

- Low-income food shoppers shop very frequently (two or three times a week) for most foods and buy very small amounts in each shopping trip.

- The majority of the food shoppers do their shopping on foot and in close proximity (within a one kilometre radius) of their homes. This low outreach of food shoppers in low-income areas of Istanbul is a major constraint in the development of large food retail institutions. They trade regularly in the same stores because of certain financial and social ties that they maintain with them.

- There is little comparative shopping undertaken by the food shoppers among different retail outlets as they have little or no market information to utilize.

- Decision making of the selection of food retail outlets and the actual shopping behavior for different groups of food products varies from area to area but for products like meat, poultry and fresh fruit and vegetables, the husband (and/ or a senior male in the family) makes the decision. Husband and wife joint decisions prevail mostly among the developed area households.

- Nearness of the stores, credit facilities offered, low price of dry groceries, honesty of weights and measures, familiarity of the store and its personnel, and attitude of the store personnel towards customers were cited by the respondents of the low-income area of Istanbul as the most important factors considered in deciding where to shop.

- Most of the food shoppers of Istanbul do their food shopping individually and on foot.

- Food shoppers in urban Turkey are generally willing to devote more time to shop for food than those in developed countries. Furthermore, they are not able to make large purchases infrequently. This is true in general because of the small amount of cash they have to spend and it is true in particular of food, because of the lack of refrigeration.

- Store loyalty patterns of Istanbul food consumers show that approximately two thirds of the food shoppers make most of their food purchases from a single food store - a corner shop. Under these circumstances it is not possible to have many large food retailers like self-service stores and supermarkets. This pattern of shopping mainly from a single food store can be interpreted in such a way that the drawing power of a retail food store does not seem to stem from the type of product it offers, but rather from the longer hours it is open, the granting of credit, its location and the familiarity of the store personnel. Retail food stores that offer such services are generally the small grocery stores which is so common on the food retail scene of the less-developed- area of Istanbul.

- Very few consumers shop in self-service food stores and supermarkets in Istanbul. They do not generally have the convenience of an automobile to go shopping. Even private automobile owners would not use their cars for purposes of shopping.

- The existing food distribution system of Istanbul provides most food consumers with either locational convenience of high prices or with low prices in distant locations (public markets).


A number of factors stand out here as relatively important for future government planners and the food retailers who will alter their policies in the light of consumer wants and desires. The reasons given for liking or disliking the food stores various shoppers patronize reflect consumer perceptions of these stores. Consequently, the perceptions are essential to an understanding of the shopping process and the changes which would occur if the food retail structure were to change. First, irrespective of the area, locational convenience (nearness to the store) is of utmost importance to the shopper. Secondly, price of groceries plays an important role in determining where shoppers shop, given locational access to various alternative food retail outlets. In isolated areas where the only food retail outlet available to the shopper is a corner shop which charges higher prices, the shopper because of its location and range of food products is forced to patronize these stores without taking into account the high prices they pay for goods they purchase. Thirdly, most respondents are looking for retail food outlets which are pleasant to shop in and clean. Respondents complained about the unhygienic and unclean conditions of the food stores they patronized. Fourthly, most respondents of the selected areas complained about the poor attitude of the store personnel and their cheating on weights and measures. This can, of course, only be overcome by training the small food retailers.

In spite of efforts by planning agencies and governmental bodies to open supermarkets for low-income consumers, most of such stores continue to be located in high income neighborhoods, and those opened in other areas cater mainly to high income consumers. The main obstacle to the success of the modern food store in the low-income urban areas of less-developed countries and in ghetto market places, is the difficulty these stores face in generating a large enough sales volume. This volume is a function of the number of customers patronizing the store and the average amount spend per customer. Since the low-income consumers divide their food purchases among different stores and the purchasing power of most consumers is small, volume can be increased mainly by attracting new customers from other stores.

Significant differences were found among the food shopping habits of individuals living in different areas of an urban town. Effective food marketing policy in three cities should involve consideration by the business community and the governments concerned of how to design innovative and evolutionary types of food marketing institutions and practices to serve these low-income group people better, and how to use the existing market structure more efficiently and effectively to distribute the food products cheaply and at desired locations. The food shopping preferences of food consumers in different areas of Istanbul suggest that they are not acutely aware of the differences in the various types of food retail outlets. The popularity of the neighborhood type of grocery store implies that these food shoppers would not easily be switched from that pattern of shopping.

The mass media do not reach most consumers of low-income areas concerned. Most of the advertisement used by the food retailers of low-income areas is to inform the consumers of the opening of a new food store. If the food retailers are encouraged to use promotional tools more effectively by the policy makers, they would have some influences on consumer purchasing behavior. This fact indicates that the use of the media would increase awareness among food consumers of low-income areas and change attitudes toward products and outlets. This information can be an important force for the good of low-income area food consumers, informing them of the savings available from more selective shopping. Thus, there is an indication that there are many food consumers of low-income areas who could be helped through a consumer education programme. This programme could help the poorer consumer use her limited income to better feed her family and thus raise the real income of those helped in terms of volume of food and nutritional value.


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Erdener Kaynak, Mount Saint Vincent University


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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