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British Food Journal

Attitudes and Food Choice Behaviour

Keith E. Thompson Nikolaos Haziris Panagiotis J. Alekos
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Keith E. Thompson Nikolaos Haziris Panagiotis J. Alekos, (1994),"Attitudes and Food Choice Behaviour", British Food
Journal, Vol. 96 Iss 11 pp. 9 - 13
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A study of consumers’ attitudes on the The objectives of this study were first to assess the
consumption of olive oil in the UK. efficacy of the theory of reasoned action as a predictor of
olive oil usage, second to establish the salient attitudinal
and normative factors associated with olive oil usage and
third to demonstrate the applicability of the method to
the problems of product positioning and message

Attitudes and The Theory of Reasoned Action

Food Choice
Ajzen and Fishbein’s[4] theory of reasoned action, has
been applied extensively to food studies and has been
shown to have good predictive power[5-16]. The theory,
an extension of Fishbein and Ajzen’s[17] earlier work on

Behaviour expectancy value models of attitude, is concerned with

rational, volitional behaviour – that is to say behaviours
over which the individual has control. Yet positive
attitudes towards an object, say a Rolls Royce, may well
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not be translated into the action of purchase, because of,

Keith E. Thompson, Nikolaos Haziris and for example, cost. Therefore, a model which evaluates
Panagiotis J. Alekos attitudes towards a behaviour rather than towards the
object itself (in this case the act of using olive oil) is
particularly useful in a marketing context.
British Food Journal, Vol. 96 No. 11, 1994, pp. 9-13
© MCB University Press Limited, 0007-070X
A schematic representation of the theory of the reasoned
action model is shown in Figure 1. The model predicts
behaviour by intention to perform the behaviour. This is
decomposed into two components: attitude towards the
behaviour and subjective norm, which are in turn
Introduction decomposed into their component parts. Attitude
In 1970 the well known “seven countries” study towards the behaviour is predicted by salient beliefs
showed that cardiovascular mortality was lower in about the outcome of a behaviour, weighted by the
Mediterranean countries than in northern Europe and the subjects’ estimation of the likelihood that performing that
USA and established the correlation between diet, behaviour will result in a given outcome. Subjective norm
cholesterol levels and the incidence of cardiovascular is predicted by normative beliefs about what salient
disease [1]. In Britain the COMA Report on diet and referents would advise, modified by respondents’
health recommended that consumption of both saturated motivation to comply with the advice of those referents.
and polyunsaturated fats should be reduced and olive oil, All components of the model are measurable on bi-polar
with its high monounsaturates content, was increasingly scales administered by questionnaire.
recognized as part of a healthy diet [2]. During the same
period of time rapid growth in tourism resulted in In proposing the theory of reasoned action, Ajzen and
increased exposure to Mediterranean food, and the Fishbein[4] argued that it provided a complete
combination of these factors lent impetus to the growth of explanation of volitional control, and that the addition of
olive oil consumption in the UK and other northern other variables would not significantly enhance the
countries. Consequently, UK sales of olive oil increased by prediction of behavioural intention. Nevertheless, a
72 per cent in volume and 158 per cent in real value terms number of additional components have been proposed,
between 1986 and 1992[3]. such as perceived moral obligation[18], past behaviour[19],
habit[20] and self identity[21]. Perhaps the most
Despite this rapid growth in consumption the culinary significant of these proposed additions involves the
use of olive oil is still relatively new to British consumers influence of perceived behavioural control initially
and very little research has been published on either the proposed by Ajzen[22] in his theory of planned
consumer or the supply side of the market. This article, behaviour. However, this approach has been criticized
part of a wider programme of research into diffusion of by Fishbein and Stasson[23] and Ajzen[24], who
the Mediterranean diet in the UK, addresses the former. acknowledged that problems associated with this
extension to the model have yet to be extensively
Received 15 October 1994 investigated. In the context of food-choice behaviour
Accepted 22 October 1994 Sparks et al.[25] conclude that perceived control is likely

Figure 1. A Schematic Representation of the Theory of Subjects

Reasoned Action Following the interviews a questionnaire was
constructed, pre-tested and sent with a covering letter to
400 households in randomly selected streets in London
Beliefs (St Johns Wood) and in Bedfordshire. Of these, 151 (38 per
cent) were returned in pre-paid envelopes. The sample
was weighted towards women (61 per cent), in the
heaviest user group of 25-44 year olds[3], who made up 60
per cent of respondents compared to 29 per cent
Intention Behaviour
nationally. The over-65 group (lightest user group[3])
beliefs were under-represented. The rest of the age distribution
Subjective approximated closely to that of the UK as a whole. Most
norm of the respondents (76 per cent) were users of olive oil in
to comply
the home; however, as the sample is skewed towards the
heavier user group this figure cannot be generalized to
the population as a whole (Table I). In the event the
sample was adequate for the purpose of this study.
However, use of a stratified quota sample would reinforce
to prove applicable to those classes of action where
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the rigour of future studies.

volitional choice is significantly impeded. Since the initial
stages of this study indicated that volitional choice of Questionnaire
olive oil usage was not “significantly impeded”, perceived The questionnaire included demographic questions on
behavioural control was not measured. A healthy debate age, sex, income and education. The main body of the
about additions and modifications to the theory of questionnaire consisted of the following measures:
reasoned action continues; other criticisms include
limited applicability[26] and conceptual problems[27]. ● Five “belief” items (e.g. Would you say that using
Meanwhile, the basic proposals of the model have olive oil improves the taste of salads?) which were
received widespread empirical corroboration (for accompanied by a seven-point rating scale ranging
example[4,25]). from “totally agree” to “totally disagree”.
● Five corresponding outcome evaluations (e.g.
Improving the taste of salads is…) which were
accompanied by a seven-point rating scale ranging
Method from “extremely good” to “extremely bad”.
Elicitation of Salient Beliefs and Referents
Semi-structured interviews with 15 consumers were
conducted in accordance with the procedures suggested
by Ajzen and Fishbein[4]. From these, five salient beliefs
and three referents were selected for inclusion in the main Table I. Percentage of Subjects by Age, Sex and User Status
(1) Beliefs: Percentage
● Using olive oil improves the taste of salads. Sex
● Using olive oil improves the taste of cooked Male 39
meals. Female 61
● Using olive oil is more healthy for me and/or
my family. Age
18-24 15
● Using olive oil is expensive for what it offers.
25-34 27
● Using olive oil is for special occasions.
35-44 33
(2) Referents: 45-54 13
● Family and relatives. 55-64 10
● Friends. over 65 2
● Guests. User status
The interviews revealed confusion among respondents Users 76
about the terms polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, Non-users 23
and how these related to olive oil. Consequently, these n = 151
terms were avoided in the questionnaire.

● Five items designed to assess attitude via seven Figure 2. Correlation between Components of the Theory of
point semantic differential scales (using olive oil Reasoned Action
is… e.g. “good-bad”, “useful-useless”).
● A measure of subjective norm (most people who Beliefs r = 0.63**
are important to me think I should use olive oil)
Attitude r = 0.71**
accompanied by a seven-point rating scale. B = 0.71
● A measure of normative beliefs for each of three Evaluation
salient referents (e.g. My family think I should use R = 0.71**
Intention Behaviour
olive oil) accompanied by a seven-point rating Normative
beliefs r = 0.13
scale. B = 0.02
● A measure of motivation to comply with salient norm
referents for each of three salient referents ( e.g. To Motivation r = 0.24*
to comply
what extent do you wish to fit in with what the
following people think you should do?) (**;p < 0.001 *;p < 0.01; n = 151)
accompanied by a seven-point rating scale.
● A measure of current behaviour (Do you use olive
oil?). Discussion
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● A self report measure of behavioural intention (all The model showed good prediction of reported intention
things being considered, what are the chances of to use olive oil. The outcome of R = 0.71 (p = < 0.001)
your using olive oil in the next month?) indicates a very strong correlation which compares
accompanied by a seven-point rating scale. favourably with the estimate of an overall result of R =
0.66 from two meta analyses conducted by Sheppard et
al.[30] involving 87 studies and over 12,000 subjects.
The rapid growth of olive oil consumption in the UK is
Responses measured on seven-point, bi-polar scales were
often attributed to healthy eating and avoidance of
scored +3 to –3 as advocated by Ajzen and Fishbein[4].
saturated fats. However, this does not seem to be the
However, the motivation to comply measures were scored
main determinant of usage. The attributes most
0-6 as Fishbein and Ajzen[17] later argued that these
measures are unipolar rather than bi-polar constructs strongly correlated with the intention to use olive oil
(see Ajzen and Fishbein[4] and, for a fuller discussion of were those regarding improvement to the taste of both
scaling issues, East[28], and Evans[29]). Statistical salads and cooked meals. For users, health
analysis was carried out using SPSS PC software (SPSS considerations were a secondary factor, while usage for
Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) on an Elonex PC-425X computer. special occasions yielded a just satisfactory, but
Data were combined using the formula from Ajzen and negative, correlation. The only belief-evaluation
Fishbein[4]. Each belief response (b) was multiplied by attribute which fell below an acceptable level of
the appropriate evaluation score (e) and the products were correlation was “is expensive” (Table II).
summed (∑be). The attitude components were summed to
give a total attitude score (Aact). Normative belief Although the inclusion of all subjects (users and non-
responses (NB) were multiplied by the corresponding users) in the analysis generally improved the correlation
motivation to comply responses (Mc) and the products of the key belief-evaluation attributes the data for non-
summed (NBMc). Simple correlation (Pearson correlation
coefficients) and multiple regressions were used to assess
the degree of association between the components Table II. Correlation Coefficients, Sum of Beliefs-Evaluation
(Figure 2). v. Behavioural Intent

The findings support the basic structure of the theory of Beliefs about All Users Non-users
reasoned action. Multiple regression analysis of the full olive oil use subjects* only* only
model yielded R = 0.71 (p= < 0.001), and adjusted R2 =
Improves taste of salads 0.6167 0.4000 0.1457
0.50. The sum of belief-evaluation products (∑be)
correlated significantly with the attitude measure (Aact) Improves taste of cooking 0.5845 0.4444 0.1682
(r = 0.63, p = < 0.01) and the attitude measure (Aact) in Is healthier 0.5033 0.3518 0.1683
turn correlated significantly with the intention to use Is expensive –0.1075 –0.1486 0.0852
olive oil (r = 0.71, p = < 0.001 ). However, inclusion of the Is for special occasions –0.2990 –0.3498 0.0463
measure of attitude of others (subjective norm) did not *p = < 0.001
add significantly to the prediction of intentions.

users only was seen to be weak across all salient beliefs Conclusions
(Table II). When the same belief list is applied to all This study reaffirmed the efficacy of the theory of
respondents it is inevitable that some of the items will be reasoned action as a means of identifying the major
non-salient for some respondents. Higher correlations factors influencing discretionary behaviour such as food
with the global measure of attitude have been reported in choice. Analysis of the aggregated data revealed a strong
studies using the belief items of greatest salience to each correlation between attitude-evaluation of attributes and
subject. This approach is complex and impractical for behavioural intention. The disaggregated data provided
widespread application, but it could be applied to sub- evidence of attitudinal-behavioural consistency with use
groups; for example, Kristiansen[31] found that smokers or non-use being strongly related to attitudes, especially
and non-smokers had different salient beliefs. In the those concerning the flavour-enhancing attributes of olive
current study non-users were found to represent only a oil. Health attributes were also found to be an important,
quarter of the respondents, and it is possible that at the but lesser, predictor of usage, which calls into question
elicitation stage the beliefs of this small group were some of the assumptions about reasons for growth in
discounted. Therefore, although over-extended belief lists olive oil consumption. Price considerations and special
are generally to be avoided as results are often improved occasion usage were found not to be important
by reducing the number of salient beliefs, it is possible determinants of the decision to use olive oil. These
that non-users have a different set of salient beliefs, the findings can usefully be applied to product positioning
inclusion of which would further improve the predictive and message construction.
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power of the model.

In common with other studies of food choice, normative
Intercorrelation between belief-evaluation variables was social factors were not found to be a good indicator of
tested and generally found to be of a low order, an olive oil usage. This may be because food choice is a
indication of their independence from each other. The relatively low involvement decision. Inclusion of a
exceptions to this were the two beliefs regarding flavour measure of involvement, and discrimination between the
enhancement which were, not unexpectedly, shown to be salient beliefs of users and non-users may further
measuring much the same thing (Table III). enhance the efficacy of the model in future food choice
In common with several other food choice applications of
the theory, subjective norm was not found to be a good
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Keith E. Thompson, Nikolaos Haziris and Panagiotis J. Alekos are at the Silsoe College, Cranfield University, Bedford.
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