oa Journal of Family Ecology and Consumer Sciences = Tydskrif vir Gesinsekologie en Verbruikerswetenskappe - Geriefsvoedsels : beroepsvroue se persepsies
The purpose of the study was to understand and descriptionbe career women's perceptions of the product characteristics of convenience food. It is often assumed that career women should be a target market for convenience food because they have money, and experience time and role constraints. Perceptions are formed as a result of the interpretation of sensory stimuli (taste, smell, texture, vision and hearing) and storage thereof in the memory schemata. Consumers' perceptions of product attributes therefore serve as frame of reference for the choice, purchase and use of convenience foods and can be of value to the food industry. Convenience food is defined as any fully or partially prepared dish, food product or ingredient (s) in which significant preparation time and/or culinary skills, and/or energy inputs have been transferred from the homemaker's kitchen to the food industry. <br>A cognitive theoretical approach and a grounded theory approach (a qualitative methodology) were used in the study. Eight career women were chosen as participants who met the criteria for inclusion, eg a professional career and a workweek of at least 40 hours/week. Participants from two age categories were included. They were single or married, as well as with or without children. Hereby the differences between cases were maximised and minimized. Basic individual interviewing and a projective technique were used to gather qualitative data. Cash slips, field notes and observations in the supermarket were used as additional sources of data and for triangulation purposes. Data analysis included open, axial and selective coding. <br>The most salient findings were: Career women have both positive and negative perceptions about the attributes of convenience food. The attributes mentioned were price, taste, convenience, appearance, health, safety and quality. These attributes are interrelated and influence one another. The price of a convenience product is influenced by the number of portions, taste, convenience, the appearance of the product as well as the ambiance of the retail environment. Single career women seem to be more willing to purchase convenience products than those with families because of the cost involved in buying individual ingredients as opposed to a single product. Taste, the most salient attribute, is influenced by the perception of the taste of the home-made equivalent or what they are used to. Positive perceptions were attributed to products of which the taste could be adjusted to own preferences and where product ranges allow for choice between flavour variants. Negative perceptions were attributed to taste if the texture did not conform to the expectations of the individual. Convenience is experienced when products save time, physical and cognitive effort and energy when buying and preparing the food. Appearance was related to the colour and the neatness of vegetable cuts in particular, the packaging of the product and also the store appearance. Participants were very aware of the fat content of convenience products, especially during the week. Fat content of foods are related to body mass and health. During weekends, however, it seemed as if they were more relaxed in their attitude towards fat. The safety of convenience food was not uppermost in the memory schemata of these participants and it can possibly be explained by the fact that they are educated and able to distinguish between safe and unsafe food products. Some participants were cautious of fully prepared, ready-to-eat food products due to the fact that they were uncertain of the turnover as well as the temperature control of these foods in store. Although quality perceptions differ for different people, the above-mentioned attributes can all be linked to quality, because products bought represent the required quality by the participants. <br>Risk perception seems to result from negative perceptions of taste and price and may lead to avoidance of convenience food products. Some participants had risk perception regarding the microbiologic safety of certain fully prepared convenience foods. <br>Retail outlets (eg supermarkets) also seem to guide perceptions of participants regarding convenience foods. The ambiance of the retail outlet and the participants' familiarity with and trust in the outlet are all aspects that may influence their perceptions regarding the store and its products. <br>Understanding of participants' perceptions of the attributes of convenience foods could shape future product development or could be used to improve slow moving product lines. A multi-disciplinary approach among food scientists, marketers and consumer scientists in researching convenience food, is suggested.
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