Consumer Perceptions of Diverse Food Preferences: A Card-Sorting Exercise

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Wood, Bailey
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Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression
Iowa State University Conferences and Symposia

The Symposium provides undergraduates from all academic disciplines with an opportunity to share their research with the university community and other guests through conference-style oral presentations. The Symposium represents part of a larger effort of Iowa State University to enhance, support, and celebrate undergraduate research activity.

Though coordinated by the University Honors Program, all undergraduate students are eligible and encouraged to participate in the Symposium. Undergraduates conducting research but not yet ready to present their work are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the presentation process and students not currently involved in research are encouraged to attend the Symposium to learn about the broad range of undergraduate research activities that are taking place at ISU.

The first Symposium was held in April 2007. The 39 students who presented research and their mentors collectively represented all of ISU's Colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Design, Engineering, Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and the Graduate College. The event has grown to regularly include more than 100 students presenting on topics that span the broad range of disciplines studied at ISU.


Discussions about diversity typically focus on issues surrounding ethnicity, race or culture. This project takes a different perspective and examines the impact of diverse preferences, philosophical and belief systems, within the context of individual and household food consumption. In Phase 1 of the project, the focus is on individual food preferences and perceptions of others’ food preferences. Phase 2 then examines spouses and partnerships (heterosexual and same sex) within the household, where one partner has a firm or flexible preference for particular types of foods and the other partner does not share that food preference or philosophy. Ultimately, this research will help us better understand contemporary perceptions about food preferences and marketplace categorizations.

This first phase of the project, and the focus of this research paper, revolves around a key research question: How do consumer perceptions and categorizations of food options for meal selections converge and vary based on food preference or philosophy? To answer this question, the authors will develop an online consumer survey and card sorting exercise, where participants are asked general demographic and lifestyle questions, including whether or not they identify with a particular food preference category. Each participant also groups various food items into a “food plate” based on their perceptions of what those ideal food choices would be for breakfast, lunch and dinner, for an individual falling under each of the following categories: omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, gluten sensitive. Preliminary research indicates that individual perceptions of what constitutes an ideal meal, irrespective of food preference, has an underlying common structure, based on societal norms, which can prove challenging. Perceptions of what constitutes a typical vegetarian versus a vegan meal, for example, are also expected to vary based on the food philosophies of the individual participants.

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