By Kirsten Juchem
During the last 50 years, life in the western world has changed dramatically. The revolutionary decades of the 60s and 70s broke conservative traditions, conventions and taboos, radically altering our day-to-day lives and initiating a process of change that is still ongoing. It has seen us relinquish seemingly mundane, nonsensical and restrictive social norms, but at the same time abandon the sense of security we drew from them.
In all our studies on food we find that consumers now lead highly fragmented daily lives without routines or fixed eating patterns. While consumers beef about “the rat race” they also boast about their busy lives. The backlash from this is already being keenly felt: people long to return to old eating norms and customs, to sensual and palpable food products, and intimate family meals.
At the heart of this issue lies a dilemma: consumers want to uphold their acquired freedoms but also re-confirm and strengthen (family) meal-time rituals. So how does this dilemma manifest itself in different countries and how do different cultures deal with it?
In an international food study conducted in Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Poland and the United States, cross-cultural differences were identified by analyzing daily routines.
Countries like Germany, France, the UK and the US revealed the most fragmented every day structures. Individuals in these societies tend to organize their daily lives according to their work or personal schedules. Being ‘on’ the go, ‘on’ the job, ‘on’-line translates into an ascetic food culture, which puts the greatest value on individual self-profiling, almost in the same way as individuals demonstrate and ‘profile’ themselves on Facebook. Thus, food becomes a badge of personality.
Analyzing the daily routines in these countries shows that snacking has long since replaced traditional meals. During the day consumers switch between seemingly paradox mind-states: On one hand “Public Fueling”: fast, politically correct - a salad in the office. On the other “Mean Eating” - excessive, often secret, indulgence in tasty, fatty foods - French fries in the closet.
For many, evening meals in front of the TV now represent the norm. Yet the longing for sensuous, home-made meals enjoyed in the company of others is reflected everywhere - not least in the plethora of cooking shows on TV. But in reality we partake in family meals less and less. We can call these “schismic societies” where food is either considered a public badge of personality, or a secret vice. By the way - these are the societies that have long stamped the overweight as ‘losers’.
Double Standard Societies
We found things to be slightly different in Italy, Spain, and Poland. With their long-standing family and community norms these societies have a more traditional approach to food, and more rituals around shared meals. People in these countries still make an effort to maintain mealtimes and value the communicative above the self-profiling aspect of meals.
Here, snacking mind states are still mostly ‘in-between’ situations through which consumers can express their individualism when eating alone. The impromptu TV dinner for one also exists here. But to eat the main meal of the day alone is considered extremely sad and almost unendurable in these societies.
The process of meal-making and the food’s ability to bring the family together still retain an intrinsic value that people seek to maintain in face of the loss of values brought about by individualization and the modern world. Not appearing at a regular meal is seen as a transgression that you’d rather not commit. Alongside the communal function these societies also put a greater emphasis on enjoying the meal: the key issue remaining not what the meal contains but with whom you eat it.
We have dubbed these food cultures “double-standard societies” because in them individualization can only be lived out alongside communal norms.
There are some basic differences between schismic societies and double-standard societies:
E.g. double-standard societies are more process-oriented when it comes to cooking. It is important to reinforce the sovereignity of cooking and the role of the cook. Convenience means ‘shortening the process’ not avoiding cooking altogether.
Ready-to-eat meals resonate more readily in schismic societies. But here, marketing needs to highlight the contents and ingredients of the food. We call this substance orientation. One future challenge in marketing to these societies is the creation of “gour-mean-dise”– to combine aspects of goodness (nutritious ingredients) with aspects of indulgence (junk food).
For food marketing, the challenge is to embrace the reality of day- to-day life in the different cultures yet manage their heterogeneity.
Different countries cannot be understood by different eating ‘milieus’, since individuals alter their eating style repeatedly throughout the day. In our understanding, rheingold’s VerfassungsmarketingTM provides efficient and profound answers to the cultural diversity that surrounds food and eating habits. With the help of these psychological eating patterns, we can understand how cultures use products differently, yet keep an eye on what they have in common.