Sustainable food consumption

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Theoretical framework

The following chapter introduces the chosen theoretical tools that are used to analyze the empirical data of this study. The Social Identity theory and Green Purchase Perception matrix will be the foundation for understanding the research topic in order to answer the research questions further on.

Theoretical tools

The Social Identity theory (Tajfel, 1979) and the Green Purchase Perception matrix (Peattie, 2001) are used as theoretical tools in order to interpret and analyze the empirical data of this study. These theories become relevant to the study as they can be used to analyze different motives and tactics within consumer behavior. Additionally, the theories are applicable to the empirical data collection when the aim is to further investigate the respondents’ perceptions and real-life experiences. However, through this analysis, the theories are the primary tools to evaluate all dimensions of sustainable food consumption when exploring the different trends and directions the responses progress. More specifically, the Social Identity theory describes the possible causes for why individuals are motivated or not to act in a sustainable manner. Hence, whilst the Green Purchase Perception matrix can identify possible inconsistencies between the attitude and behavior gap. A detailed explanation of the two theories follows below.

Social Identity theory

The Social Identity theory is based on social psychology in relation to self-concepts, cognitive processes and social beliefs when interacting in various social contexts such as intergroup relations. The theory was originally introduced in the early 70s and has developed into becoming significantly extended through a range of sub-theories focusing on for instance leadership, group norms, uncertainty reduction, self-enhancement and social influences. Furthermore, the framework of social identity has been applicable to analyze intern conflicts and deviance within groups (Guan & So, 2016).
The basic concept of the Social Identity theory refers to an individual process of forming a unique self-identity that will evolve to a social identity based on the group circumstances to whom the individual feel commitment and belongingness to (Glassner & Tajfel, 1985). To illustrate this further, one example could be that a consumer’s view of sustainability in any social environment is an interactive composite of his or her personal values, the values of the influence group, as well as the values of the industry, organization or business in which the person is employed (Pearce, 2013).
The Social Identity theory framework consists of several components that each plays a vital role explaining why individuals think or act in certain ways. When Tajfel (1979) first introduced the theory of social identity he suggested that groups in which people belong to are a significant source of pride and self-esteem. Groups help us to create a social identity: a sense of comfort and belonging to the social world (Tajfel, 1979). In order to impact our own self-image, we start by embracing the status of the group to which we feel committed.
On the other hand, one can increase his or her self-esteem by discrimination against the so-called “out-group”, which is the group we do not belong in (Tajfel, 1979). Therefore, individuals tend to divide the people in their environment into “us” and “them”, which are referred to as in-group and out-group in the social categorization (Tajfel, 1979). According to Social Identity theory, the in-group will discriminate the out-group to boost their own self-image. Therefore, one central part of the theory is that members of an in-group unintendedly seeks to distinguish negative aspects of an out-group and vice versa. Hence, when groups are acting in that sense, they end up in the state referred to as intergroup comparison (Tajfel, 1979).

Green Purchase Perception matrix

Created by Peattie (2001), the Green Purchase Perception matrix strives to explain consumer behavior in a buying situation when linked to sustainable consumption. The matrix is structured as a foursquare model, where the customers’ degree of confidence is examined in relation to the degree of compromise.
According to Peattie (2001), the model works as follows:
In cases where the persuasion or degree of confidence is high in combination with a low need for the consumer to compromise, the so-called win win-purchases occur. The consumer is convinced that the product or service is sustainable, and feel no obligation to compromise in any way to obtain the product. Furthermore, in win win-purchases, the consumer is confident that the product is not a part of any type of misleading advertising, as for instance greenwashing, and also, that the purchase does not imply for any type of sacrifice, such as paying a premium price (Peattie, 2001).
In situations where both the degree of conviction and compromise is low are called the why not-purchases. These situations occur when consumers suspect that the product is not as sustainable as it was supposed to be. However, the low compromise rate acknowledges the purchase to be accepted anyway since there is not much to lose, creating the “why not?” mindset and attitude towards the product or service (Peattie, 2001).
When the confidence rate is low and compromise claims are high there is a third situation referred to as why bother-purchases which significantly decreases the probability for sustainable consumption due to large sacrifices in relation to the low degree of confidence. However, when the confidence rate is high, these circumstances generate the so-called feel good-purchases. In these cases, the conviction that the product is sustainable is strong. Hence, the consumer needs to take an active decision when making the purchase to evaluate whether the sustainability is worth compromising or not, which it generally is in a feel good-purchase situation. The consumer is normally willing to do some kind of sacrifice to obtain the product, such as paying a premium price (Peattie, 2001).

Methodology & Method

To construct an accurate analysis, the methodology used is required to fit the intended purpose of the study. The first part of this chapter will discuss the research philosophy and the research approach with it, further on the method of semi-structured interviews and data collection with its trustworthiness will be discussed.

Research philosophy

There are four different philosophies within the area of business and management, pragmatism, interpretivism, realism, and positivism. These philosophies hold essential assumptions about the way in which people perceives the world (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2016). To fully understand the chosen philosophy is of high significance in order to adapt to the research process and to gain support when interpreting the findings (Saunders et al., 2009).
Regarding the previous matter, in social sciences and business management, there are two central philosophies; positivism and interpretivism. Positivism focuses more on research that can be analyzed and considers credible data through hypothesis that later on will be tested and confirmed, in opposite to interpretivism (Bryman & Bell, 2011). Since this study is qualitative, the focus will be to use the interpretivism philosophy when conducting the material (Saunders et al., 2009). Interpretivism supports the belief that it is essential for the examiner to understand the weight of the human behavior and how direct contact with an individual differs from results through technology and computers. This, in order to perceive the human role as a social actor (Saunders et al., 2009).
Due to this matter, the philosophy accentuates that research should be conducted among people instead of through statistics. Therefore, this approach is suitable for the intended study to get a deeper understanding of what drives sustainable consumption and how different dimensions is related to the consumers’ identity construction.

Research approach

Since this study is to explore the behavior of consumers, an inductive approach has been used in order to draw conclusions. Inductive approach, also known as inductive reasoning begins with observations and later on theories will be applied to the findings in order to identify preliminary relationships throughout the research process (Goddard, 2004). Strauss and Corbin (1998) describe the understanding of inductive analysis as “the researcher begins with an area of study and allows the theory to emerge from the data” (p.12). Therefore, data will be gathered from semi-structured interviews and subsequently compared and related to appropriate theories and frameworks (Saunders et al., 2009). With this approach, the authors will be able to get a deeper understanding of how consumers perceive and act in a sustainable manner, and later on, draw conclusions of how it is related to their identity construction.


Norikov and Norikov (2013, p.2) presents the methodology as “the theory of organization of an activity”, meaning the order and description of how a study will be conducted. The structure of the method is at most critical when the forming the purpose and organizing the key activities (Norikiov & Norikov, 2013). They continue by describing an activity as the operating behavior of an individual which signifies the understanding of the livings decisions and actions. Moreover, the definition explicates the process of arrangements with activities in a certain order to facilitate development for future studies. Since this study is conducted on a specific occasion with a constrained amount of time, it holds classified as a cross-sectional study (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, Jackson & Lowen, 2008). Therefore, it will examine the phenomenon of sustainable food consumption in relation to consumers’ identity, and seek to describe what drives people to act as they do in regards to consumption. In order to present accurate answers to the research questions, the structure of the method and presentation of the findings will be delivered in sequential order.

Method – semi-­structured interviews

To fully understand consumers´ motives of why they engage in sustainable food consumption and how this relates to their identity, primary data were collected from semi-structured interviews (Saunders et al., 2009). With this method, valid and reliable data which is relevant for the research was collected. Also, the possibility to get ambiguous information directly from the consumer perspective with emotions, interactions, and experience of the sustainable practice (Saunders et al., 2009).
McCracken (1988) explains in his book The long interview, that an interview is one of the most authoritative techniques in the qualitative area for definite descriptive and analytic objectives, as no instrument of analysis is more revealing. Hence, the method helps to gain a better understanding of the mental world of the respondent. For instance, by being a useful tool to observe how individuals perceive the world and how he or she comprehends it (McCracken, 1988). Furthermore, using semi-structured interviews as a method is the perfect way to get the information needed in the area (Saunders et al., 2009). In that sense, the interviewer has an agenda of topics and pre-prepared queries to cover, although these may differ slightly between the various interviews. However, there might be situations were questions need to be excluded or added in relation to the research matter (Saunders et al., 2009). Lastly, the dialog with the interviewees will be recorded by an audio-recorder and documented by note-taking.
When applying the method of semi-structured interviews to this research it was decided to have a time-frame of 30-40 min for each interview to certainly have time for all the questions and further discussion. When questioning the respondents, it was important to ask questions that were of an abstract concept (Saunders et al., 2009). Therefore, the authors chose to use the critical incident technique when doing the interviews which help the informant to answer in detail and to describe the root cause of the question (Saunders et al., 2009). A critical incident is defined by Keaveney (1995) as an action or occurrence where the consequences are so clear that the contributor has a distinct idea concerning the effects. This approach is relevant for the analysis of theories and for the authors to be able to draw conclusions regarding the research questions. Furthermore, when the information from the interviews was collected, a verbatim transcript was used in order to retain the integrity of the data (Saunders et al., 2009). This means that the authors transcribed every word from the recordings just the way it was said from the respondents, and then quotes were carefully selected and translated into English for the analysis of the study.


Selection of respondents

This research aims to study what motivates consumers to engage in sustainable consumption and how sustainable food consumption is related to their identity. To be able to investigate this, only consumers that consider themselves as sustainable and environmentally conscious were chosen for the interviews. According to research by LOHAS (2017), women in the age from 30 to late fifties with an average income of 300 000 SEK per year are considered as most likely to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. With this research in mind, this study will be targeting women in the age between 30 to 60 with an annual income of minimum 300 000 SEK. To easier identify the target population and avoid shortfall due to non-compliance with the criteria set, people that openly display a sustainable lifestyle in social media and within their social circle was contacted and interviewed by the authors.
Table 1 illustrates the list of respondents that participated in the semi-structured interviews. It is provided with a fictive name, gender, age, occupation date and time of the interview. As shown, the target population is narrowed since the intention is to analyze a specific pattern in sustainable food consumption in relation to the identity. When the process of interviews started, the goal was to have enough respondents to reach saturation level for the results. After eight extended meetings, eight was adequate to collect the material needed.

Data collection

For this research, primary sources were gathered by the authors themselves, which was studied further to meet the purpose and research questions. The material consists of semi-structured interviews done on the selected target respondents. Regarding the previous, for these interviews people that consider themselves environmentally conscious was carefully chosen to access the depth of perceptions.
Furthermore, when conducting the material for this research, the authors decided to work with peer-reviewed journals and articles in order to maintain high relevance and credibility. Therefore, only limited time was made searching for secondary data. In order to select the targeted population for the interviews, it was essential to locate a reliable and trustworthy source that can confirm the previous research on the subject of sustainable consumption. LOHAS (2017), which is the only secondary data used in this research was found when searching for what group in Sweden that consider themselves as the most sustainable ones. Keywords used was: Individuals + sustainable + lifestyle + Sweden + regeringskansliet. Additionally, the source where verified as credible after observing the organizations operations both in Sweden and internationally with its marketing research and reports.

Data analysis

An interpretive, inductive approach is used within the borders for this study, and characteristics of the technique is applied when creating the analysis. When conducting this qualitative research, it was vital for the project to implement a structured categorization of the gathered data as stated previously in this chapter (Saunders et al., 2009). Therefore, two steps were used when categorizing the collected information. The first step consisted of extensive reading through, and understanding of data, which implies the foundation of categories and also leveraged prior literature and theoretic concepts. Next section is made of the primary data collected form of semi-structured interviews that represent the uttered ideas and interactions regarding the subject.
For the implementation of the empirical data collection, the eight respondents were interviewed through the semi-structured interviews, thus they were open and had room for supplementary questions. The conversations could flow continuously and continue to be of high relevance for the study. The sound and speech from the interviews were recorded with the respondents’ consent.

Credibility of research findings

In order to reduce the possibility of attaining unreliable answers and information, attention has to be taken to the highest grade on two particular areas in the research design; reliability and validity (Saunders et al., 2009). Reliability and validity are in qualitative research different measurements of quality, accuracy and general research potential which is achieved through methodological and substantive principles and conventions (Bryman & Bell, 2011). Therefore, as Bryman and Bell (2011) states it is almost impossible to achieve complete reliability. With this in consideration, the authors cannot assure the findings to be 100 percent accurate.
Data reliability
There are always some questions regarding how the knowledge in a study has been conducted if the results and conclusions stand up to the nearest scrutiny. Saunders et al. (2009) describe that the answer of course, in the literal meaning is that you cannot know for sure. What can be done is to make sure reducing the errors that can occur and result in getting the wrong answer. Easterby-Smith et al. (2008) refer reliability as “the extent to which your data collection techniques or analysis processes will yield consistent results”.
Saunder et al. (2009) declare that there can be four different threats to reliability. Subject or participant error and observer or bias error. Firstly, subject or participant error, refers to choosing a suitable time for the interview which will not affect the outcome. When interviewing the selected informants, it has been important for the authors to choose a calm environment and to ensure that the participant is concentrated on the matter (Saunder et al., 2009). Secondly, subject or participant bias may appear, meaning that there can be circumstances which make the participating parties modifying their answers to fit the situation. For instance, the issue of biased participants is commonly appearing in an authoritarian management style (Saunder et al., 2009). In the case of this study, there was no higher authority to consider since the people chosen was ordinary people, and the errors were therefore minor. Moreover, for this study, it was chosen to keep the respondents anonymous in their answers to keep the personal interpretations as high as possible. Also, in order to keep it intimate, semi-structured interviews were chosen one on one, instead of focus groups to minimize the errors of misinterpretation.
Due to the matter of observer error and bias, some issues have been identified that was needed to be taken into consideration. Regarding the interviews, all three authors participated in conducting material which results in three possible ways of questioning to stimulate answers. Therefore, it was important to have a clear structure and schedule of the interviews and the questions. Furthermore, in order to decrease the risk of misinterpretation, the authors chose to implement cross-validation to ensure consistent quality and high credibility. Meaning, that each writer analyzes the gathered information individually before cross-checking each other´s findings (Saunders et al., 2009). This technique was applied throughout the whole thesis and all its interviews.


Validity can be divided into two different sections, external and internal validity. The external validity deals with the result and the extent to which they can be generalized. Generally speaking, this approach is low for qualitative research. Because of this, it is not applicable to this study since it is based on a relatively small selection which is not sufficient to represent a whole population. Nevertheless, the result of this study is thus not to be generalized (Bryman & Bell, 2011). Moreover, to receive a more initial reply and reaction from the respondents, it was vital to make them feel comfortable and confident in the interview setting. Therefore, the strategy was to start asking broad questions concerning the subject to guide the informants into the core thoughts of the topic without leading them to much.

Trustworthiness of research data

When analyzing the findings of this study through the tradition of qualitative approach, the use of quantitative tradition such as the ones mentioned above, reliability and validity is still very common in various research (Graneheim & Lundman, 2004). Hence, in the case of trustworthiness, the research concepts of credibility, dependability and transferability have been used to explain several characteristics of the phenomenon (Graneheim & Lundman, 2004). Long and Johnson (2000) propose an application of qualitative tradition when delivering the outcomes for the analysis. Although the separation of aspects regarding trustworthiness is stated, they should be considered as interrelated.
Credibility is one of the key criteria of trustworthiness that deals with how coinciding the findings are when compared to the reality (Shenton, 2004). When applied to this study, the authors have as stated before addressed the threat observer error and bias and decided that all the writers’ material will be cross-validated to ensure consistency and keep high credibility. Shenton (2004) describes dependability as the part where, if the work were repeated once again with the same circumstances, comparable results would be attained. Therefore, the process of this research will be described in detail, allowing a future researcher to repeat the work and with an understanding for the research model gain a similar result. Additionally, trustworthiness also incorporates the subject of transferability, which refers to the extent to which the findings of the study can be transferred to other situations or groups (Graneheim & Lundman, 2004). This research focuses on a very specific group of people to generate a pinpoint result. Therefore, to enable transferability, the authors believe that this study can be transferred to another population in the future or directed towards other definite groups. An interesting approach could be to compare the women’s perceptions of sustainable food consumption in relation to their identity with the male perspective in the same matter.

Table of Contents
1 Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Problem
1.3 Purpose & Research questions
1.4 Perspective
1.5 Delimitations
1.6 Key definitions
2 Literature review
2.1 Sustainable lifestyle
2.2 Sustainable consumption
2.3 Sustainable food consumption
3 Theoretical framework
3.1 Theoretical tools
4 Methodology & Method
4.1 Research philosophy
4.2 Research approach
4.3 Methodology
4.4 Method – semi-­structured interviews
4.5 Data collection
4.6 Data analysis
4.7 Credibility of research findings
5 Empirical material & Analysis
5.1 Consumers perceptions of sustainable consumption
5.2 Environmental Dimension
5.3 Individual Dimension
5.4 Social Dimension
5.5 Societal Dimension
5.6 Economic Dimension
5.7 Emotional Dimension
6 Discussion & Critical reflection
6.1 Additional findings
7 Conclusion
7.1 Implications of findings
7.2 Limitations & Future research
7.3 Contributions

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