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Sensory or non-sensory product attributes? Exploring motivations for students food purchasing decisions

Francois-Marriott, Jordan (2017) Sensory or non-sensory product attributes? Exploring motivations for students food purchasing decisions. University of Portsmouth. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Healthy dietary practices are essential for physical and psychological well-being. However, the vast majority of the population do not consume a diet which is compliant with UK recommended guidelines. Nutrition labels have been added to packaged goods to help consumers make more balanced food choices. However, food purchasing decisions are complex and there is growing concern about the prevalence of poor health behaviours and related psychological well-being amongst university student groups, in particular. The current study therefore sought to examine the importance of different selection factors which govern students’ food choices and their potential link with student mental health. An experiment was conducted in which 257 undergraduate students, drawn from six different universities, completed a series of product evaluation tasks. The nutritional information of each product was manipulated using the Multiple Traffic Light (MTL) system to reflect bad (red) or good (green) nutritional quality. The price (high or low cost) and manufacturer packaging (with health claims present or absent) were also varied across five food types commonly consumed by students. Participants’ perceptions of each product’s healthiness, appeal and value for money were examined. Findings demonstrated that whilst students were able to accurately differentiate the healthiness of products (based on MTL labelling and manufacturer packaging claims), low cost products and product packaging that did not make health claims, were consistently rated as more appealing and more likely to be chosen by students over ‘light’ or ‘diet’ products. Whilst sensory appeal and value for money were found to be primary determinants of food choice, amongst the sample as a whole, students who reported greater trait anxiety were more likely to base food purchasing decisions around issues of product cost, personal weight control and item familiarity. The implications of these findings for student well-being and potential health promotion schemes are discussed.

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