Nav: Home

Research: Religion affects consumer choices on specialty foods

February 04, 2019

People with strong religious beliefs are more likely to buy fat-free, sugar-free or gluten-free foods than natural or organic foods, according to new research that could influence the marketing of those specialty food products.

Testing the theory that religious and moral beliefs are among the drivers of consumer decisions at the grocery store, researchers from the University of Wyoming, Arizona State University and Oklahoma State University found that such considerations are indeed a factor when it comes to purchasing what they describe as "diet-minded" and "sustainability-minded" foods.

"Religion is the deepest set of core values people can have, and we wanted to explore how those values impacted the market choices people make," says Elizabeth Minton, associate professor of marketing in UW's College of Business and lead author of an article in this month's edition of the Journal of Business Research. "We found religiosity influenced the selection of more diet-minded foods, which suggests the motives for consuming gluten-free or fat-free foods might not be the same as natural and organic foods."

In a series of four experiments, the research team tested the influence of religiosity, or how generally religious a person is, on the specialty foods people choose to buy and eat. The researchers also looked at which moral beliefs were behind those food choices. The study was carried out online and included responses from over 1,700 people across the United States.

"Often, people make intuitive decisions about food that could require more careful thought," says Arizona State's Kathryn Johnson, assistant research professor of psychology. "People might make choices based on a cultural narrative or their religious and moral beliefs, without giving measured thought to whether there is a better option."

The researchers hypothesized that highly religious consumers would be accepting of special food restrictions such as sugar-free, gluten-free and fat-free, based in part on scriptural condemnation of gluttony -- and the fact that some religions provide dietary guidelines. Previous research also suggested that highly religious consumers don't buy sustainability-minded foods because they don't want to be associated with groups that prioritize environmental issues.

The new research found that, in fact, diet-minded food products do have a particular appeal for religious consumers -- likely because they generally prioritize the moral principle of purity, and purity is associated with self-control and behaviors such as restrictive diets.

On the other hand, the researchers saw mixed results on the issue of whether religious people specifically avoid sustainability-minded products such as organic and natural foods. One of the experiments found that religiosity does have a negative correlation with such foods, but the others found no correlation.

In their examination of which moral beliefs influence food preferences for religious and nonreligious people, the researchers focused on the moral foundations of "care" and "purity." Care includes feelings of empathy and compassion toward others and has been linked to environmentalism. Purity is linked to attendance at religious services, cleanliness and self-discipline.

"People have different moral intuitions, or moral foundations," Johnson says. "Some people might be motivated to avoid harming others, including animals, while others might be driven by loyalty to their group or avoiding pathogens."

According to the research, the moral foundation of care drives the choice of sustainability-minded food products, and the moral foundation of purity is behind the choice of diet-minded foods. The combination of those values in many religious people could explain why most of the experiments found no relationship between religiosity and sustainability-minded food consumption.

Still, "(W)e can surmise that highly religious individuals may seek to be ideologically pure by actually rejecting organic or natural food products," the researchers wrote. "As such, marketers can leverage this knowledge to design better products and marketing communications to address the moral foundations driving special food consumption."

Overall, the research illustrates that there are ample opportunities for marketers of specialty food products, the team says. Marketers could consider integrating religion to create target markets for certain products, and they could pursue subtle ways to highlight the fit between specialty food products and a consumer's religion -- such as using the words "pure" and "purity" in labeling and advertising.

"The findings from our work can directly help businesses promote food products to specific groups of people without potentially alienating customers by including religion," says Richie Liu, assistant professor in the school of marketing and international business at Oklahoma State University and a co-author of the paper.
-end-


University of Wyoming

Related Food Articles:

Food or fraud?
Is the food on the shelf really that what is written on the label?
To ensure constant food supply edible dormice rather give up their favorite food
Edible dormice feed preferably on high-energy seeds for reproduction and putting on fat reserves.
Money, not access, key to resident food choices in 'food deserts'
A new study finds that, while access to healthy foods is a significant challenge, the biggest variable limiting diet choices in so-called 'food deserts' is limited financial resources.
Food on Mars, food on Earth: NASA taps USU scientists for space quest
To survive on Mars, explorers will have to be self-sufficient.
Fast food packaging contains potentially harmful chemicals that can leach into food
A comprehensive analysis of fast food packaging in the US shows that many restaurants use food packaging containing highly fluorinated chemicals, or PFASs.
New categorization of food scares will prevent food chain being compromised
Researchers from the University of Surrey have developed a new comprehensive categorization of food scares, a new study in the British Food Journal reports.
Nutrition program improves food stamp family's food security
Food stamp participants who participated in a supplemental nutrition education program were able to improve their food security by 25 percent, according to a study by Purdue University.
Food is hard to forget
A SISSA research study published in a special issue of Brain and Cognition analyzes the lexical-semantic deficits of the food category in patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Confusing food labels place consumers with food allergy at risk
Consumers with food allergies often misunderstand food labels
New food-ordering formula could lead to less food waste in buffet-style restaurants
Although food waste occurs in all stages of food production, some of the largest losses occur at all-you-care-to-eat, buffet-style facilities.

Related Food Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...