Food-selection decisions made by consumers carry important health implications and affect the types of food offered in the marketplace. Cultures differ in their food selections because of biological and psychological differences, but economic factors are the biggest drivers in determining consumer food selection. These economic factors include cost, time, consumer tastes and political factors.
Cost and Accessibility
The financial cost of food is the primary economic factor affecting food selection. The European Food Information Council says healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are less accessible in urban areas than on the outskirts of cities due to their higher prices. Price is the great indicator to consumers and producers that informs their economic decisions.
Some economic factors of food selection are political in nature, such as farms that are subsidised by the government. Governments in rich countries can afford to set high tariffs and subsidise local farmers, regardless of the success or failure of a given crop season. Major political activities such as civil wars disrupt the flow of agricultural goods and limit production, which increases the price and lowers accessibility.
Food consumers must calculate the amount of time it will take to prepare particular foods. Time is finite and requires economic trade-offs by self-interested consumers. If people decide they want to allocate more time to non-food activities, they must spend less time preparing their food. In the United States, this trade-off has led to diets higher in fat and sugar. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 64 per cent of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in 2008. According to the Humanity Development Library, consumers tend to have healthier diets when they devote more time to food preparation.
Consumer tastes vary greatly from culture to culture, and the tastes of each culture changes over time. Multiple senses come into play when consumers decide which foods to consume. Food choices depend on smell, texture and appearance, in addition to taste. Taste preferences develop over a lifetime of food experiences, based on the limited food offerings available to each consumer's culture.