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Consumption is fundamental in people’s everyday life, therefore many have attempted to analyse individual’s behaviour in regards to buying products of a marketplace. This paper’s aim is to analyse consumer behaviour within the food industry sector and, most importantly, to understand to what degree culture conditions food consumption. The food industry is a very complex sector, formed by various businesses that supply food for the marketplace. It consists of many divisions such as agriculture, processing of food, promotion, distribution and so on (Sharpton, 2012).
It is one of the biggest manufacturing sectors, hence it becomes of vital importance to deepen the knowledge around food consumption and the motives that lay behind every decision of purchase. Many factors contribute to food choices; for instance, socio-economic status ( Popkin, Duffey, Gordon-Larsen, 2005) or psychological behaviour, such as attitudes and beliefs (Warwick, McIlveen, Strugnell, 1999), but the main focus of this paper will be on culture. This term often refers to similar behaviours of a group of people, usually linked to each other by the geographic location, learned beliefs, shared values and customs (Szmigin & Piacentini, 2015). The latter is not the only definition of culture; on the contrary, the interpretations are numerous as culture is a very broad concept (Shaules, 2007) and can be seen in many different ways. For this paper purpose, culture will be referred to in terms of subjectivity, or rather the way individuals perceive the social environment (Triandis, 1972). Moreover, this work will follow the key characteristics of essentialism by identifying Hofstede’s cultural dimensions within the food industry sector. In contraposition, some evidence of the limitations of this point of view will be introduced, creating an argument over the interpretation of the data.
The essentialist view explains culture through the most evident characteristics of a certain nation. It usually relies on geographical borders, languages and stereotypical features of the national population and it tends to simplify people’s attitude and behaviour into the social norm. It is the dominant point of view because it is able to explain individual’s actions by fitting them into the norm. (Hofstede is the main mouthpiece of this model and dives deeper into it by creating the quantitative approach, which will be presented hereinafter in regards to the food industry sector). This theory defines boundaries and schemes of behaviours that people fit into and, by doing that, every individual’s conduct is generalised and becomes homogeneous (Holliday, 2000). Consequentially, culture is seen as a causal agent, or, in other words, as the ‘deterministic force’ behind every single choice human beings make (Shaules, 2007, p. 34) and that also includes the customer’s decisions.
In fact, consumer behaviour tends to satisfy social needs shaped by nations and cultures (CASE STUDY 2001). In regards to the main topic, food choices are influenced by national culture (Bareham, 1995), which is defined by Hofstede as ‘territorially unique’ and not only referring to a nation but also a country or a state (McSweeney, 2002, p. 92). Hofstede’s quantitative approach, as the name suggests, attempts to create a method to measure culture, although it is something intangible, by dividing culture into 5 dimensions. Most of the dimensions can be validated in the food industry, reinforcing how culture affects food choices. For example, individualism is an important factor in most cultures as it defines the connection between the individual and the society he lives in (Hofstede, 2001). This dimension relies on how integrated people are into the collectivity and how that affects their behaviour.
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