«Saoussen LAKHDAR Assistante contractuelle, ISCAE Tunis, Tunisie Doctorante en marketing, Faculté des Sciences Economiques et de Gestion, Tunis, ...»
The next phase of focus groups involved two projective techniques: association and analogies construction. Two forms of association were involved: word association and image association. Word association is the most practical and effective projective tool for market researchers. Introduced by Houghton in 1936, this method consists in presenting a word to respondents and asking them the first words, thoughts, feelings or images that come in mind.
The answers provide a long list of vocabulary which helps researches to generate a set of items concerning the studied concept. In this study, participants were asked to give the first thoughts that come in mind when they see or hear the word “healthy food”. This term was used instead of “functional food” because the definition of this category of food products seemed not clear for the participants as there is a large variety of food under the umbrella of functional food that Tunisian consumers are getting confused. This exercise is a kind of brainstorming that helps us to generate a large number of ideas concerning functional food and the perception of healthiness in this category of food. The participants were asked to focus on extending or adding to ideas without judgment. An extension discussion was held after the association’s exercise to evaluate the generated items and get more detailed information about the reasons of their selection.
Word association was followed by image association. This technique is similar to word association except for the stimulus used. Instead of words, pictures were shown to participants. A random sample of pictures was presented to participants with two categories of foods and beverages: dairy and juices (Fig. 1). Each category included four functional products with different health claims and one control product. Brands were deleted to neutralize their effects on the pictures’ perception. For each picture, participants were asked to give thoughts, words, feelings, etc. that come in mind. If no ideas relating to healthiness of the shown food are forthcoming, moderator can suggest questions like “Is it good for health, why?”, “How do you evaluate the healthiness of this food, by which cues?” etc.
Fig. 1. Pictures of diary and fruit juices with different health claims presented in image association exercise After word and picture associations, the next exercise belongs to the construction’s category.
It consists on creating analogies. Generally, analogies are in the form of metaphors or similes.
Regardless of their exact form, analogies have two components: the target and the base. The target is the unfamiliar domain under mental investigation and the base is the familiar domain to which the target is compared.
In analogy, the base domain and target domain are equated in some way. This “equality” can be a mapping of attributes or a mapping of relationships (Gentner, 1983). In our study, the base is a “planet” and the target is “functional food”. In fact, the aim of analogy is identifying equality between these two terms. The participants are asked how “functional food” would be like if it were to be a “planet” and have to describe of the atmosphere, natural resources, habitants, nations, etc. The purpose of this analogy is to understand respondents’ mindset and feelings about functional food and the healthiness aspect of this category of food. By this way, views, perceptions and attitudes are revealed without direct questioning. In the end of this exercise, participants were requested to elucidate their analogies by explaining the reasons of the choice of this kind of planet, with this atmosphere and habitants.
In the end of the discussion, a reformulation which consists in a transition from the analogy to reality was done to make ensure that everyone understand their ideas and to confirm that they express the meaning intended. Finally, the list of generated items and major findings were discussed.
In-depth interviews Ten in-depth interviews were also conducted in Tunis. Participants were selected with different age, gender and socio-economic characteristics. There were 7 women and 3 men (70% vs. 30%). Ages ranged from 20 to 58 (mean age = 39). The majority of the recruited participants had middle or high socio-economic situation as they had to have developed a good familiarity with functional foods. Moreover, participants should actively participate in the food buying decision of the household. The interviews lasted approximately 1 h 30.
Similarly to the focus groups, the discussion started with open questions concerning the relation to food choices values such as taste, convenience, etc. and the relationship between health and food. In the next phase of the interview, the technique of completion was used.
This technique is defined us a verbal stimulus containing words that present either the beginning of a story or sentence. Piaget (1932) introduced story completions to study moral judgment. The technique was later borrowed by Madeline Thomas in 1937 to clinical psychology. It suggests that when individual is asked to impose a completion to a story, his response is a projection of his thoughts, feelings, anger, beliefs, attitudes and desires (Frank, 1984). The interpretation of the outcomes of this technique is made by examining the proposed problem-solving and decision making. Two techniques are used: the formal analysis by evaluating the length of completion, time, range of words, etc. and the content analysis to understand attitudes, perceptions, wishes, reactions to external states, fear, etc.
During the interview, respondent was furnished with six incomplete stories and asked to complete them (see Appendix). The six stories are related to the six dimensions of attitude toward functional foods that were identified in the findings of focus groups. These dimensions were termed similarly to the dimensions identified by Urala and Läteenmäki (2004). The first dimension is related to the perceived reward of using functional foods. The second dimension is related to the perceived risk in functional foods. The third dimension is related to the confidence in functional foods. The fourth dimension describes the fact that functional foods are perceived as necessity. The fifth dimension describes the fact that functional foods can be a part of healthy diet. The sixth and final dimension is related to the perception of functional foods’ taste. The aim of this exercise was to project respondent into the imaginary person mentioned in the story (Gordan and Langmaid, 1988). The respondent had to use his or her imagination to find an end to the presented stories. The idea was to use stories as discussion stimuli to better understand the different dimensions of attitude toward functional foods. By completing each story, respondent reacted indirectly to the different attitudes he or she may have toward this category of foods.
Finally, to generate more items of perceived healthiness in food in general and functional foods in particular, the same association techniques used in focus groups were involved.
Respondent were asked to reveal the first thoughts, words, images, feelings that come in mind when they hear the word “healthy food”. The same set of pictures of diary and juice products used in focus groups were then presented. The respondent was requested to generate all ideas that come in mind when he or she was viewing the pictures of the product.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Focus groups and in-depth interviews were very informative. They provided large and rich amounts of data on food healthiness perception and attitudes toward functional foods. For a better understanding of generated ideas, data have been divided on three main themes: (1) health effects versus other food choice motives, (2) impressions on food healthiness and (3) attitudes toward functional foods.
Health effects versus other food choice motives Almost all participants were aware of the importance of healthful food choice for their individual diet but also their family needs. They expressed their fear about the increased risks of several diseases including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and attested that resistance to such diseases could be enhanced by choosing healthy foods.
Furthermore, the participants had different levels of knowledge concerning nutritional needs.
Their health knowledge consisted of ideas formed from sources like television, books and press but also consisted of common-sense knowledge learned from family and friends, in particular and cultural norms in general concerning what makes a healthy diet, how to obtain healthy foods, and how to combine them to meals that preserve or promote health.
Although the majority of participants had good knowledge and strong beliefs concerning the benefits of healthy eating to maintain a healthy life, these beliefs did not necessary guides their choices. This gap between knowledge, attitude toward healthy eating and dietary behavior can be explained by several factors. Some participants, for example, clearly attested that their eating habits are unhealthy due to different reasons including other food choices motives such as sensory appeal, price, convenience, familiarity, mood or ethical concerns (Steptoe, Pollard and Wardle, 1995).
The following extracts illustrate how participants placed importance on other motives versus health benefits in making food-related decisions. The citations were translated from French. A number describing age and gender refers to participants. For example, number-F-42 refers to a 42 year old woman. “F” or “I” refers to the focus group or the in-depth interview in which the informant participated.
Health vs. sensory appeal I3-H-31: “Good for health means that it not tastes great.” F3-16-H-29: “...I usually buy my sandwich in the same Fast Food, perhaps I should eat in healthier restaurants, but they make so delicious sandwiches especially with cheese (laugh).” F1-2-F-53: “I usually buy guava juice not especially for health benefits but for taste. For me the juice should not be tasteless, you know joyless.” F1-6-F-39 “It is quite difficult to choose healthy foods. I want to eat healthy but at the same time, taste and flavour should also be there... Whole grain bread for example is less tasty than white bread.” Health vs. price I2-F-23: “Sincerely, I admit that my eating habits are very bad... As a student, you know I have a little budget and buying healthy foods may be challenging.” I6-F-21: “I want to lose weight, become healthier... In the beginning of the month, I usually go to healthy restaurants and take care of my choices by buying healthy foods like fruits, fish, and light juices but a couple of days later, money begins to dry up (laugh) and I go down the road of eating the food that was the most affordable and so the most unhealthy.” F1-1-H-48: “I bought enriched milk for my kids but it is really more expensive than normal (conventional) milk. Taking into account the quantity of milk we consume in my family, I cannot continue to buy it regularly.” Health vs. convenience F3-14-F-29: “I want to find the way to help me lose may fat and change my unhealthy ways, but as I am a PhD student, I spend the majority of time studying and when I go home, I am generally exhausted and stressed, so I just eat the easiest thing to prepare, which is generally pastry and then sleep.” F3-13- F-33: “Anecdotally, I believe that whatever you do, whatever you say, you will finally eat the most easy to buy and prepare.” Health vs. familiarity F2-7-H-41: “I don’t really care about nutrition claims. I usually buy the same food products.
You know I’m very particular about food. If I don’t know the product, I won’t buy it.” Health vs. mood I4-F-20: “When I find myself irritable and cranky, I eat more foods; you know more unhealthy foods, such us chocolate and sweet things.” F4-19-H-32: “When I am studying, eating particular foods may be a way of suppressing my stress. It’s a chance to let off steam by only eating a hamburger with French fries and a soda.” Health vs. ethical concerns F3-17-F-50: “In the past, I usually bought the same yoghurt, I admit that it is the tastiest and healthiest one in Tunisian market but when their prices rose sharply, I gave up buying this yoghurt. Currently, their prices are astronomical in comparison to other brands. I won’t encourage food sales monopoly... Actually by displaying this price levels, this brand clearly favors the upper class. You know, indirectly they say that the poor should not eat my yoghurt...” F4-20-F-35: “I’m not sure that milk fortified with vitamins and minerals is good for me...
Food must be natural and nowadays manufacturers don’t know what else they can think up to keep consumers amused. They make more and more less natural products. They only think to seduce consumers but they don’t think to human health.” Impressions on food healthiness The projective techniques, association in particular, generate a long list of 75 items related to ideas behind what are widely known as “healthy foods”. For a better understanding of the meaning of these items, the generated list was merged into four groups: categories of healthy foods, dimensions of healthiness, motives related to healthy foods choice and consumers of healthy foods (Table. 1).
Categories of Dimensions of Motives related to Consumers of healthy foods healthiness healthy foods choice healthy foods
Table 1. Example of items related to healthy foods This categorization is useful as it helps to understand that healthy foods are perceived as specific foods which are popularly believed to provide essential nutrients and to support health like fruits and vegetables, diary, organic foods, local foods, etc.
The category most frequently mentioned as healthy foods was fruits and vegetables (n=43).
Besides, when talking about “healthy foods”, respondents usually mention intrinsic and extrinsic cues of foods. It is a way to say that they use these cues to evaluate food’s healthiness. Most frequently mentioned cues are “natural” (n=56), “nutritious” (n=51), “low fat” (n=43), “vitamin content” (n=38); “without additives” (n=35), “fresh” (n=28); “low in sugar” (n=25), “easy to digest” (n=21), “unprocessed” (n=19). Similarly to literature (e. g.
Roininen et al., 1999; Bech Larsen, 2001; Oakes and Slotterback, 2001; Tudoran et al., 2009), Tunisian consumers used the same cues to judge food’s healthiness but not in the same order.