The Theory of Planned Behavior: Understanding Consumer Intentions to Purchase Local Food in Iowa
Alternative agriculture is an expansive movement which involves many different types of crop and food production. Participating in alternative agriculture markets, including organic, minimally-processed, natural, and local food systems is a growing consumer trend. Regarding the latter, there is a gap in knowledge that specifically focuses on the social-psychological motivations of consumers to participate in local food systems. Studies more often compare local to other types of alternative or conventional agriculture. Further, within alternative agriculture, gender dimensions of consumer intent are prominently stated with numerous studies comparing and contrasting the different beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors that men and women attribute to food produced in an alternative manner, yet specific focus on the element of gender in local food systems using a social-psychological framework is less common.
My research aims to better understand how attitudes and beliefs influence consumer intention to purchase locally grown or produced food rather than non-local food. This research is guided by three research questions: 1) how do consumers define 'local' food?; 2) what consumer beliefs and attitudes influence intention to purchase locally grown or produced food?; and 3) are there differences in beliefs or attitudes between males and females that influence decisions to buy local?
For this research I collected survey data using a purposive sample of members from an online local foods cooperative. To answer the research questions, I utilized the Theory of Planned Behavior, a social-psychological framework to address individual motivational factors within unique contexts to explain the execution of a specific behavior. I found that consumer intent to buy local was influenced by the belief that local is better for the environment. Intent to buy local was also influenced by attitudes of community economic wellbeing, suggesting that survey respondents buy local to support the economic viability of their community. Alternatively, attitudes about freshness, better taste, and better look of local food slightly negatively influenced purchase intent, suggesting that survey respondents were less likely to consider superiority and aesthetic characteristics of local food as influencing their intention to buy local. Finally, perceived influence from family members, including parents and children, increased intention of survey respondents to buy local. Female respondents, in particular, were also influenced by their partner or spouse. I also found that survey participants tend to be female, older, and more educated. Moreover, the most commonly associated definition of ‘local’ was food grown or produced in Iowa. These findings contribute to the field of sociology and advance understanding of who participates in local food outlets, specific beliefs and attitudes towards local food in contrast to non-local, and the nuances of what ‘local’ food means to consumers.