Research proposal: How do the emerging healthy eating campaigns affect the consumption patterns in the Australian fast food industry

Subject: Nutrition
Pages: 13
Word count: 3397
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Executive Summary

With the recent changes in the Australian fast food industry, it is likely that consumers have emerging needs due to their increasing awareness of the need for healthy eating. Particularly, the fast food industry will need to understand the dynamics of the industry and the expected outcomes of the healthy eating campaigns. The industry already foresees a potential change in consumption patterns of fast foods. Consumers are less likely to purchase fast foods due to their associated risks of increasing the prevalence of different chronic illnesses. The objective of this study is to determine how the emerging healthy eating campaigns are likely to affect the consumption patterns in the Australian fast food industry. Undoubtedly, consumers are likely to be cautious of the calories in their foods as well as the health benefits of the main ingredients. For this reason, such emerging attitudes are likely to reduce the consumption of specific fast foods. The study will adopt a qualitative approach in which the researcher will use purposive sampling to select participants. For the data collection process, the researcher will rely on semi-structured interviews and use the thematic analysis approach in the data analysis phase.

Introduction

The Australian fast food industry has registered significant growth in the recent past. Many players in the industry seek to increase the profitability as well as market share. However, in a highly competitive industry, only players that understand the factors that influence consumer behaviour are likely to succeed (McQuarrie 2015). For this reason, there is an increased effort to research with the core objective of determining recent trends that influence consumer behaviour in the fast food industry. Notably, the consumption of fast foods and the increasing number of fast food outlets in different locations has served to signify the remarkable level of growth in the industry. There is a significant interest in different fast food outlets and their products. Players in the industry have sought to diversify the number of products available for customers. However, the most significant step that companies in this industry should take is to carry out a rigorous research that analyses emerging consumer attitudes towards the consumption of fast foods as well as the main factors that determine the purchasing behaviour of potential customers in the industry (Laužikas et al., 2015). With the emergence of healthy eating campaigns, it is apparent that the fast food industry will exhibit some dynamics and consumption patterns may change significantly. For this reason, it is imperative to consider how these social and health trends will influence consumer behaviour in the Australian fast food industry.

Research Question

The primary research question will be:

How do the emerging healthy eating campaigns affect the consumption patterns in the Australian fast food industry?

Research Objectives

The specific aims and objectives will be:

  1. To investigate consumer behaviour in the fast food industry
  2. To determine the factors that influence consumer behaviour in the fast food industry
  3. To investigate the effect of healthy eating campaigns on consumption patterns in the fast food industry
  4. To present recommendations to fast food companies on how they can meet emerging consumer needs

Literature Review

Marketing experts agree that there is a need to understand consumer behaviour and the factors that influence the buying decision. Each set of individuals in a specific market segment considers certain factors before making a buying decision. Marketers need to recognize the need for critically analysing the consumer behaviour to develop better marketing strategies. Moreover, understanding consumer behaviour makes it easier for companies to introduce product features that have the ability to meet the emerging consumer needs. Fast foods denote food products dispensed in different outlets at reasonably affordable prices. In the view of Jafari at al. (2013), the production of fast foods involves the use of a standardised approach that allows for the production of large quantities. In the view of experts, fast foods have a low nutritional value but a high level of unhealthy fats and calories. Nutritionists have categorised fast food products as highly processed an aspect that reaps them of any meaningful nutritional value. Fast food restaurants have gained increasing popularity due to their outstanding level of convenience. Many consumers consider fast food restaurants as remarkable places where they can access their meals easily. Consumer behaviour in the fast food industry focuses on understanding how customers make important decisions regarding the utilisation of resources in the consumption and purchase of certain products.

The Australian fast food industry has exhibited remarkable growth and popularity because of the change eating habits and preferences. One of the important factors that affect consumer behaviour is the level of satisfaction that consumers experience after purchasing and consuming fast foods. In the fast food industry, consumers are likely to consider several factors such as the quality of the food products, the service quality, the diversity of food products available, the prices of the items on the menu, the environment of the fast food outlets, as well as the location of the restaurant or outlet (Laužikas et al., 2015). For many customers, the food price, the speed of service, the variety of the menu items, the attitudes of the employees, and the level of cleanliness are factors that influence the purchasing behaviour of fast foods. There is an increased sensitivity to the price, the quality of the food, as well as the quality of the services. For this reason, fast food restaurants have introduced measures of increasing food quality and providing exemplary services while ensuring that the prices are affordable.

The economic theory plays an important role in understanding the existing relationship between disposable income and consumption patterns. Many middle-class consumers have the disposable income to spend on fast foods. As the disposable income increases, there is a remarkable change in the food habits and preferences of the population (Tan, Ismail, & Rasiah 2011). For this reason, the availability of disposable income is a major factor that affects the buying decision of many consumers in the fast industry. There is evidence that consumers associate certain brands in the fast food industry with quality foods. For this reason, the remarkable level of loyalty towards certain fast food brands depends on consumer perception and the brand identity that the company has established. According to Tan, Ismail, and Rasiah (2011), many recent studies have emphasised the significance of hygiene, the ambiance, the seating space, and the general environment of fast food restaurants as significant determinants of the consumer behaviour. Many consumers associate fast food outlets with significant social relationships. In the view of many customers, fast food outlets serve as meeting points where a significant level of socialisation takes place. For this reason, customers are likely to prefer restaurants that provide a great environment for socialisation.

Despite the popularity of fast food restaurant, emerging trends such as healthy eating campaigns and the efforts to reduce obesity have affected consumer behaviour. Unlike in the past, there is an increased level of awareness that the heightened consumption of fast foods is responsible for the alarming rates of obesity and other non-communicable diseases. For this reason, an increasing number of health campaigns seek to create awareness about the need for the adoption of healthier lifestyles. These healthier lifestyles involve the consumption of healthy meals, less processed food, and a regulated level of fats. Unfortunately, experts have categorised fast foods as having high-calorie levels and a minimum level of nutritional value. Due to the processing of fast foods, menu items at different fast food restaurants comprise foods that are high in unhealthy fats and excessive calories (Winson 2010). None of the menu items has the recommended levels of fibre that can help consumers to have an efficient metabolism. As a result, different health campaigns have urged members of the public to avoid fast food consumption or reduce their levels of consumption. These health campaigns have registered a significant effect on the attitudes of consumers. In the modern day, consumers are aware of the need to check for the number of calories in each food item (Priyadharsini 2011). Moreover, consumers are likely to consider the long-term effects of increased fast food consumption.

The financial burden associated with the management of obesity and other related diseases also makes consumers conscious of their eating decisions. These emerging trends have influenced the perception of consumers towards fast foods. There is an increased recognition that fast foods are leading culprits in the increasing levels of obesity. Consumers are making healthier decisions that involve the complete avoidance of fast foods. The increasing popularity of social media trends regarding fast foods emphasises the significance of homemade meals (McQuarrie 2015). Consumers have expressed their concern about the lack of healthier products on the menu of fast food restaurants. In the past, fast food restaurants exhibited an effort to conform to the emerging needs of consumers. As a result, many of the companies introduced healthier fashions of the menu items. However, the most recent trend concerning the adverse effects of fast foods and the need for healthier food choices is likely to limit the number of consumers who prefer fast foods. Many adults who consumed fast foods previously have embraced new eating patterns that emphasise home cooked foods, less oil, and the focus on the nutritional value of different items (Winson 2010). It is apparent that these trends have influenced the attitudes of consumers and convinced them that they need to be responsible for their health.

Despite the increasing awareness of the need to embrace healthier eating habits, there is a challenge that many people face in accessing healthy foods. In the view of many consumers, healthy foods are less accessible and quite expensive. As a result, consumers settle for the easily available fast foods. In every location, a fast food restaurant serves to increase people’s convenience in accessing ready-made foods (McQuarrie 2015). Nutritionists have made efforts of emphasizing the availability of healthy foods. Despite such efforts, there is evidence that many consumers prefer the cheaper options in the form of fast foods. Many studies have revealed that consumers prefer fast foods because of the convenience involved (McQuarrie 2015). The busy schedules of many people prevent them from having adequate time to prepare their meals. Many working class parents are unable to balance work and a preparation of healthy meals that may require more time.

The younger generation prefers fast foods because of the unique taste of the fatty and deep-fried items on the menu. Unfortunately, young people find healthy foods less appealing. Fast food restaurants have excelled in providing consumers with tasty food varieties that keep consumers going back to the restaurant. The accessibility, convenience, and great taste of fast foods continued to prove appealing to consumers who are trying to make healthier food choices (Priyadharsini 2011). For this reason, it is apparent that fast food restaurants will continue to register a remarkable level of profitability. The fears that healthy eating campaigns will have an adverse effect on the industry are still unfounded. Only a small percentage of the population has exhibited a commitment to healthier food choices. The rest of the population still prefers fast foods.

If the fast food industry is to attract more customers in the future, it will need to incorporate a diverse range of products that nutritionists consider as healthier options. Recent studies have revealed that fast food restaurants have introduced some items in the menu that have fewer calories (McQuarrie 2015). Health conscious customers can opt for the food products that have a smaller percentage of calories and unhealthy fats. There have been efforts to incorporate healthier ingredients into the products to make them more appealing to the health conscious populations (Winson 2010). With such measures in place, the fast food industry will continue to register increased profitability. However, there is a need for more studies that seek to determine the preferences of the health conscious population and develop more products that conform to their lifestyle.

Research Methodology

Research Approach and Method

The study will adopt a qualitative approach to determine how consumers interpret the experiences. The interpretivism paradigm is the underlying philosophy that governs qualitative research (Belk 2006). The interpretivist approach allows researchers to give attention to the experiences of participants a well as their perceptions and feelings. In qualitative research, the researchers rely on the interpretation of the experiences that the participants encounter (Belk, Fischer, & Kozinets 2013). It is logical to focus on the meanings and interpretations when interviewing participants. Under interpretivism, the researcher establishes a remarkable context that the participants can use when giving meaning to their experiences. With the ongoing health campaigns that promote a healthy lifestyle, consumers are likely to change their perspectives towards fast foods. For this reason, it is imperative to determine the emerging perspectives of consumers regarding fast foods in the modern day. The qualitative paradigm represents a social inquiry used in business studies with the core objective of understanding the perspectives of consumers towards specific products (Keegan 2009). It will be possible to determine the emerging attitudes towards fast foods as well as the expectations of consumers from fast food companies using this approach.

Sample Size and Selection

For this study, the researcher will rely on purposive sampling to identify regular customers using the restaurant’s loyalty programs. Notably, the loyalty programs contain important information regarding loyal customers and their preferences. It is possible to determine the emerging perspectives of consumers by contacting the loyal customers. For this reason, the researcher will identify five of the most loyal customers from each fast food restaurant. After identifying the participants, the researcher will contact them through a telephone call. The initial call will focus on introducing the participants to the purpose of the study. The researcher will explain the main objectives of the study and explain the selection of the particular customer as a participant in the study. After the initial contact, the researcher will be in a position to determine whether the participant is interested in the research project or not. For the interested participants, the researcher will go ahead and send the informed consent alongside other documents presenting the details of the study. The participants will be required to send the signed consent form before participating in any other activity in the study.

Data Collection Process

For the data collection process, the researcher will use semi-structured interviews. Notably, semi-structured interviews allow the researcher and the respondents to engage in a formal interview. The interviewer has the opportunity to develop an interview guide before the interview session. The interview guide comprises the main questions of interest as well as the topics that the interviewer must cover during the interview sessions. The interview guide ensures that the researcher has an explicit direction of where the interview is headed (Chrzanowska 2008). It becomes easier for the interviewer to assess whether all the relevant topics have been addressed effectively during the interview. In many instances, the interviewers use the interview guide to give them proper direction and to help them focus on all the significant aspects that are needed to address the research question (Takhar-Lail & Ghorbani 2015). The interviewer engages the participant in an in-depth discussion and open conversation regarding the selected research question. Semi-structured interviews are of great relevance in qualitative studies. They present an opportunity for the interviewer to analyse the perspectives of the participants using open-ended questions critically. For this study, the researcher will develop an interview guide that highlights all the relevant topics related to the research question. Through the use of open-ended questions, the interviewer will solicit the views of participants concerning their perceptions of fast foods and the impact of healthy eating campaigns.

Through an open conversation, the researcher will be in a position to maintain a relationship of trust in which the participant can share different views or personal convictions. Without a relationship established on trust, it may be difficult for participants to open up about personal belief systems that may influence their consumption patterns (Taylor, Bogdan, & DeVault 2016). As a result, the interviewer will ensure that the interview sessions are interactive and that the participants are open to discussing their perspectives. In this study, the semi-structured interviews will be tape-recorded. The researcher will seek the consent of the participants before tape-recording the interviews. Each of the participants will have an opportunity to listen to the tape-recorded interview and ascertain that it is a reflection of their views. Undoubtedly, the semi-structured interviews will allow the interviewer to comprehend the perspectives of participants (Bradley 2013). Throughout the interview, the researcher will maintain a favourable relationship with the participants while exhibiting high levels of professionalism. The interviewer will be in a position to clarify the perspectives of the participants by requesting them to give detailed responses when necessary.

Data Analysis Approach

The study will adopt the thematic analysis approach in the analysis of the data collected during the interviews. As highlighted above, the researcher will use semi-structured interviews in the data collection process. The interviews will give insight into the emerging dynamics and consumer perspectives towards fast foods. As a result, the thematic analysis approach will serve as the most effective conceptual framework for analysing interview data. The thematic analysis allows the researcher to identify, critically analyse, and report emergent themes from the collected data (Morrison 2011). In this case, the researcher will carry out a rigorous thematic analysis with the core objective of interpreting the data and addressing the research question. From the interviews, it is possible to identify the main themes as key ideas that the participants highlight. In this specific study, the researcher will be able to explore the various themes of patterns and describe them thoroughly. The main reason for conducting interviews is to ensure that the researcher can identify the dominant themes highlighted in the interview data.

The concepts that the participants will emphasize will form the main themes in this specific study. The themes will reflect the main ideas obtained from the interviews, depending on the underlying convictions of the participants (Keegan 2009). For the study to be successful, the researcher will need to demonstrate a remarkable level of rigour in the transcription and translation of the interviews. It will be important for the researcher to listen to the audio recorded interviews and translate them effectively. Moreover, transcription will allow the researcher to consider the meaning of the statements before interpreting the entire interview (Belk 2006). After transcription, the researcher will code the transcripts based on the dominant conceptual framework. After coding, the researcher will focus on developing various themes or categories that represent the main ideas in the interviews. After identifying the themes, the researcher will aggregate the related themes into smaller categories. Under each category, the researcher will be able to define the main perspectives of the participants.

Proposed Outcomes from this Research

Based on this study, some of the expected findings will be the changing perceptions of consumers towards fast foods. Due to the ongoing healthy eating campaigns, consumers are likely to gain new knowledge concerning the adverse health effects of fast foods. Moreover, consumers will expect fast food restaurants to introduce healthier food choices for their esteemed customers. Many consumers will express their concern over the development of chronic illnesses and the increased risk associated with the consumption of fast foods (Tan, Ismail, & Rasiah 2011). Undoubtedly, consumers will exhibit a higher level of awareness when assessing the quality of food provided. Before the healthy eating campaigns, many consumers were comfortable with fried foods as well as sugary meals.

However, the healthy eating campaigns are likely to highlight the adverse effects of fried foods as well as the empty calories in sugar. Undoubtedly, the consumers will be keen when opting for food products from fast food restaurants. Additionally, the consumers will expect fast food restaurants to introduce healthier choices as a way of meeting emerging customer needs (McQuarrie 2015). The participants will also be in a position to express their views concerning the recently launched healthier choices and whether they meet their expectations. Notably, the participants will be able to pinpoint main areas of concern that restaurants can work on in launching healthier food choices. For instance, the participants will highlight their expectations for restaurants to serve whole foods and increase the amount of fresh vegetables sold in fast food restaurants.

Appendix

Interview Guide

  1. Have you gained awareness of the trending healthy eating campaigns?
  2. Do you believe that fast foods have a negative effect on your health?
  3. Are your consumption patterns going to change based on the new information concerning healthy eating?
  4. What are your expectations concerning healthier food choices that the company can provide?
  5. Do you believe that fast food restaurants can provide healthier fashions of foods to protect your health?
  6. Will you be willing to try out new healthier meals at the restaurants and give your feedback?
  7. Is the company doing enough to promote health and inform customers of the calories in different menu items?
  8. How have your views towards food changed after the healthy eating campaigns?

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