Academic journal article Management & Marketing

Sugar in Disguise or Healthy Indulgence: A Cross-Cultural Comparision of the Perceptions of Dietary Vice/virtue Bundles

Academic journal article Management & Marketing

Sugar in Disguise or Healthy Indulgence: A Cross-Cultural Comparision of the Perceptions of Dietary Vice/virtue Bundles

Article excerpt


Many consumers assume that food cannot be tasty and nutritious (Raghunathan et al., 2006) and thus tend to employ a heuristic that classifies virtuous foods as "healthy but not tasty" and vice foods as "unhealthy but tasty" (Chernev and Gal, 2010, Rozin et al., 1996, Wertenbroch, 1998). This trend can be observed even in the most health conscious consumers, which shows that they consider such characteristics during real food purchases (Istudor and Pelau, 2011). As such, consumers envision dietary choices as a tradeoff; consume virtuous foods to attain health goals, or consume vice foods to indulge. However, food and beverage companies have begun to nullify this perceived dichotomy by bundling vice and virtue ingredients (for example, Oreo cookies in Yocrunch Yogurt), which addresses the consumer's desire to gain health benefits, but without the cost of adopting extreme measures to do so (Kristensen et al., 2013). Although such products have become more common, few researchers have examined how consumers evaluate a combination of vice and virtue within a single food product (Liu et al., 2015). Moreover, little is known how individual characteristics impact the evaluation of these vice-virtue bundles.

The current research seeks to understand the role of one individual characteristic, culture, in consumers' perceptions of dietary vice-virtue bundles that contain varying ratios of vice and virtue ingredients. We do this by conducting two related studies: In the first, we draw from the holistic thinking literature (summarized in Nisbett and Miyamoto, 2005) which identifies the different heuristics Asians and Westerners deploy when making sense of objects in the environment. Asians display a propensity towards holistic thinking and thus are more likely to consider the context in which the items appear. In contrast, Westerners tend to engage in a more analytic thinking style and are prone to focus more upon the functionality of an item rather than the context in which it appears. Therefore, relative to Asians, Westerners may perceive greater conflict between vice and virtue components since their purposes seem contradictory. Results of our study indicate that differences between the cultures exist, as Westerners showed stronger preference for vice-virtue bundles with a higher virtue ratio (vs. higher vice ratio), while Asian consumers exhibited no preference between the bundles.

In the second study, we sought to determine the existence of boundary conditions of the cultural differences observed in Study 1. To do so, we primed the subjects' regulatory focus and found that the regulatory condition often negates the influence of culture upon the perception of vice-virtue bundles. The results revealed that relative to prevention-focused participants, promotion-focused participants were more likely to choose both types of bundles. These results led to the conclusion that Western and Asian consumers perceived vice-virtue bundles differently, with Asian participants' holistic thinking contributing to more positive evaluations of the bundles. Moreover, we demonstrate that an activation of an individual's regulatory focus (Higgins, 1998) can override these cultural differences. These findings will assist businesses to better understand consumers, particularly when they do not simply average the characteristics of the bundle (Chandon and Wansink, 2007, Chernev and Gal, 2010, Schuldt et al., 2012), but engage in a more complex calculation that assesses both their taste and health goals.

The remainder of the article is structured as follows. We begin by reviewing related literature to discuss our hypotheses. Then, we present our method and results of the two analyses, followed by a general discussion of our findings. The article concludes with our theoretical contributions, managerial implications and limitations, as well as possible extensions of our research.

Theoretical background

Categorizing vice and virtue

Prior research suggests that consumers often rely upon a typology that classifies choices as either bad (vice) or good (virtue) (Chernev and Gal, 2010). …

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