U.S. college students' organic food consumption behavior
Liu, Ming E.
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As the organic market continues to grow, interest in United States (U.S.) consumers' organic food purchasing and consumption behavior have emerged as essential research topics. The aim of the present study was to obtain an in-depth understanding of U.S. college students' purchasing and consumption behavior with regard to organic food products. Three consumer behavior models were employed for comparison which best serve for the purpose: Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), Theory of Planned Behavior (TpB) and the Expanded Rational Expectations (ERE) Model. Based on the behavior models' constructs, different college students' organic food consumer groups were profiled. In addition, with the increasing consumer demand for health, food safety, and nutrition, the relationship between individuals' health consciousness and their organic food purchasing and consumption behavior was also examined. The participants in this study were a self-selected sample of college students from three public universities located in Texas. A self-report survey was administered to 675 students, and the goodness-of-fit of the three models' were evaluated using structural equation modeling. Results showed that the ERE model demonstrated a better capability in predicting and understanding college students' organic food purchasing and consumption behavior compared to the TRA and TpB. The study also determined that based on the constructs of the theoretical framework of the ERE model, individual's self-perceived subjective knowledge had a significant direct influence on college students' organic food purchasing and consumption behavior. Additionally, social acceptability had an indirect influence on college students' organic food purchasing and consumption behavior through subjective norm and intention. Based on the constructs of the ERE model, two distinctive college students' organic food consumer group profiles were identified. The two groups were labeled as the low organic food consumers and the high organic food consumers. The Health Consciousness Scale (HSC) developed by Gould (1988) was adapted in the study to measure individual's overall health consciousness; including his or her overall health alertness, health self-consciousness, health involvement, and self-monitoring of one's health. Respondents' health consciousness was found to be significantly correlated with their organic food purchasing and consumption behavior. A t-test was conducted to determine the likelihood of health consciousness between the two identified college students' organic food consumer groups. The result was found to be significant. Today's college students are on emerging market for the foodservice industry in the next decade and beyond. The hospitality industry could benefit from the study findings by developing tailor-made marketing strategies to better meet the dining expectations of college students. It is suggested that marketers of organic food products allocate their major efforts and resources in providing more organic-food-related information when targeting college students, rather than seeking endorsements from celebrities, the media, or related advocate groups. Forming strategic alliances with other products that target health savvy college students is also suggested.