Supermarkets are the Go-To Places for Status

The Lempert Report
March 13, 2017

Consumers value food product claims and are willing to pay more for differentiating attributes that matter to them.

A study entitled Fashionable food: a latent class analysis of social status in food purchases by Marco A. Palma Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University utilized a latent class econometric approach to investigate how prestige-seeking behavior influences food choices. They found evidence of food consumption driven by prestige, to the point of becoming a symbol of social status. 

The prestige-seeking behavior seems to be motivated by invidious comparison - or higher-class individuals seeking to differentiate themselves from lower-class individuals; and pecuniary emulation, or lower-class individuals buying prestigious goods in order to be perceived as members of a higher class. 

The findings from this study, according to the report itself, revealed that the effects of differentiating labeling attributes had a higher impact for individuals classified into classes with prestige-seeking behavior to attain an elevated social status. 

What does that mean for you? 

According to the study report, In the age of juicing trends and celebrities turning into clean-diet cookbook authors, the connection consumers make between health and food has become much stronger. A proliferation of food differentiation attributes has resulted in an explosion of studies examining consumer attitudes towards food production methods, policies, and technologies as first reported in “Food Values” by Lusk and Briggeman in the Journal of Agricultural Ecomomics. These attributes include organic, local, non-gmo, health and nutritional benefits, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible, just to name a few. The study shows that consumers value food product claims and are willing to pay more for differentiating attributes that matter to them. 

The study concludes that while nutritional policies promote the consumption of high-quality healthy food products, the reality is that the cost of healthy and nutritious food may be too high for some consumers to bear, deeming health promotion policies ineffective. It is precisely that cost differential in food that has opened the door for food to become a symbol of social status.