Fowler Researchers Reveal Important Findings About How We Perceive/Purchase Consumer Products

May 23, 2023

Academic research cluster at San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business uncovers the factors and trends that lead to how, when and why we buy what we buy

If you purchase, consume, sell or manufacture goods and services, you have probably been involved with some type of consumer behavior research. This research can consist of something as simple as taking a free sample or as complex as answering survey questions over a prescribed period of time. 

Professors at San Diego State’s Fowler College of Business have formed a research cluster that has published dozens of articles on the topic of consumer psychology covering their findings on how consumers react to various environmental stimuli, the over purchase and over consumption in group social activities, purchase satisfaction matters, specific sales techniques — even the eating of insects!

What Influences Our Food Choices? 

A significant portion of the research conducted and published by Fowler professors between 2019 – 23, centered on consumer food choices including entomophagy (eating insects). Marketing professor

Woman in grocery storeOpen the image full screen.
Paula Peter co-authored a study of how entomophagy — a common practice in many parts of the world — might be introduced to consumers in cultures where eating insects is taboo. The article, “The healthy and sustainable bugs appetite: factors affecting entomophagy acceptance and adoption in Western food cultures”,¹ notes that while edible insects have been shown to be easily produced and high in protein, iron and other nutrients, consumers with Western palates are likely to reject bugs as a food source. To encourage greater acceptance of entomophagy, the researchers suggested that effective marketing, education campaigns and packaging edible insects with “Western characteristics” may make the practice of entomophagy more palatable in the future. 

“In fact, some studies suggest that western consumers are more likely to consume insects if they are incorporated as processed ingredients instead of presented as whole,” said Peter. 

Notably, SDSU’s Snapdragon Stadium sells a toasted grasshopper-peanut mix during the Aztecs’ home football games as an homage to the Mesoamerican culture and the team’s namesake. 

While insects are not on the shopping lists of many consumers, four other SDSU researchers found that foods low in nutrients and high in fat frequently are the choice of parents who bring their children with them to the grocery store. Using eye-tracking glasses on the parents of 76 parent/child teams, SDSU marketing professors Iana Castro, Morgan Poor Miles, Gabriel Gonzalez and SDSU public health professor, Guadalupe X. Ayala, found that child-initiated requests frequently led to the purchase of nutrient-poor foods and beverages. 

Their research, “Children’s perceptions of their parents’ parenting strategies and child influence on purchases in a supermarket”² also indicated that children who perceived their parents were monitoring — though not controlling — their food intake made different choices that impacted their parents’ purchases.  

“Specifically, we found that when children perceived that their parents kept track of what they ate, child-initiated requests resulted in the purchase of fewer unhealthful items, and fewer food and beverage items were purchased overall,” said Castro. “We found that the more a child perceives the parent as monitoring their food intake, the less influence that child has on actual food and beverage purchases in a food retail store.”

How Retail Displays Drive Consumer Reactions

Castro also explored retail displays and settings when she and Fowler marketing professors Heather Honea and Erlinde Cornelis, with SDSU communication studies student, Anuja Majamundar, studied consumer reactions to marketing displays in various business environments. Their published research, “The Friluftsliv Response: Connection, Drive, and Contentment Reactions to Biophilic Design in Consumer Environments”³ detailed the positive reactions consumers have to displays incorporating natural elements (such as natural ventilation, light, shapes and materials). The researchers used a Norwegian term “friluftsliv” (meaning a positive connection to natural outdoor environments) to describe the reactions of their study participants. 

Consumers “indicated a stronger sense of contentment and drive (also described as happy tranquility or joyful calm) with designs incorporating wood, greenery and natural lighting,” said the researchers. “The results suggest that the design elements can influence consumer responses in the environment, underscoring the importance of taking a consumer-centric approach during the design process. This increases consumer willingness to engage with the environment.” 

Environmental factors, family influencers and food taboos are just part of the psychology behind what drives consumers to make purchasing decisions. It is precisely this type of behavior currently studied by the faculty at the Fowler College of Business. As consumer tastes, technology and societal factors evolve, so too will college’s research as academics continue to study what motivates our choices as consumers and why we buy what we buy.  

¹ The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

² Funding for this study was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, R21 HD085086.

³The pilot study was supported by the Department of Marketing at the W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University. The funder did not have involvement in study design, analysis, or writing.

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