One Sunday afternoon I was standing in the long corridor of the supermarket near my home, watching convenience foods and wondering what my family would eat next week. I prefer to buy basic food and prepare it myself, but long days at work, evenings at school and everyone’s hobbies make it often impossible. I still want to live healthy life and eat healthy food. At times I wonder, can healthy life mean also mentally healthy life? Sometimes it can be okay to buy convenience food, warm it up in the microwave and to know that you will make it in time to your children’s football practice.
The question is, how much we want or let values affect our decisions?
Convenience food is a subject that is in the news every now and then. Everybody has an opinion on it. There are people who couldn’t care less of what they put in their mouth, as long as it can be done fast and easily. And on the other hand there are people who want as little processed food as possible, preferably organic food, and they make everything from the beginning by themselves. The majority of consumers falls somewhere in between and they use convenience food now and then or buy semi-finished products.
There are both positive and negative experiences in the consumption of convenience food. These experiences are mainly due to the norms of preparing food and that convenience food is still considered rather nutrition poor. However, demand for convenience food has increased in the last years and product manufacturers have responded to consumers’ expectations by improving food quality and offering more information about the products.
Cooking and basic ingredients are in fashion these days. People don’t necessarily boast with complicated recipes or unusual ingredients, but prefer simple food made of good and fresh ingredients. When healthy lifestyle is also in fashion, people want to show it in what they put in their mouth, too.
Consumers’ basic values, interest in food and preparing food are connected to each other. MTT Agrifood Research Finland made a study four years ago about Why does a consumer buy convenience food? In the study consumers were divided into five groups according to their basic values to investigate the influence of their values. Groups were traditional consumers, realistic consumers, hedonistic consumers, universalistic consumers and multi-value consumers. However, groups don’t have clear boundaries and classification depends slightly on what things are being studied.
At the hedonistic group there were mostly people under the age of 35, whereas universalism was more typical for people over 45 years. In the countryside and among older people there were more traditional consumers. But for example people under 45 years didn’t differ much from each other no matter that some lived in the countryside or small towns and some in the capital area. Universal and multi-value consumers can be separated only by values related to pleasure and variation. In this classification I am able to connect my friends and relatives. My uncle in the countryside eats definitely different kind of food than my young cousin living in the city.
The traditional group ate convenience food a lot and that was explained by the information on packages, informal dining and the need of variation. The realistically reacting group needed also variation, but they also felt that they got value for their money. The hedonistic group felt guilty of using convenience food and had experiences of conflicts. The universalistic group used convenience food mostly if they didn’t like cooking. And the multi-value group didn’t want to use convenience food because they were strongly health conscious and wanted to foster self-making tradition.
According to the study, domestic food is the most common feature, that people are willing to pay some extra. Recent fuss about the convenience food containing horse meat strengthens this even more. For that matter Finnish people are used to trust food made in Finland and of Finnish ingredients. Although domestic tomatoes taste like nothing at winter, why do we still buy them instead of Spanish ones?
No matter how much we want to, we don’t always do shopping decisions according to our values. Sometimes it’s the price that counts, sometimes availability, sometimes easiness. It’s good to live according to your values, but if it doesn’t always work out, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
The next time I go to the supermarket, I’m going to buy ready vegetable soup for the busy Thursday evening. But for the Friday night’s feast I’m going to buy domestic meat from the meat counter and domestic potatoes and ingredients for salad from the vegetable department. Both purchases are in line with my values and I’m going to enjoy them.
What about you, what’s for dinner today?
Source: Kupiainen, Terri. & Järvinen, Eeva. 2009. Miksi kuluttaja ostaa valmisruokaa? Valmisruokien valintaan vaikuttavat tekijät eri kuluttajaryhmissä. MTT:n selvityksiä 174. Helsinki. Also available on internet: http://www.mtt.fi/mtts/pdf/mtts174.pdf