Degree Name

Masters of Health Sciences - Research


School of Health Sciences


Inadequate fruit intake is a major public health problem, and Energy Dense Nutrient Poor (EDNP) snack foods often replace nutritious foods such as fruit. This research examines the perceptions and beliefs, purchase intentions and purchasing behaviours of mothers of young children regarding fruit and competing EDNP snacks by providing detailed descriptive data regarding the role of consumer perceptions in fruit and EDNP snack purchasing.

Study 1 was designed to elicit mothers’ perceptions (constructs) of six fruit and six EDNP snacks. The data was obtained through semi-structured interviews with 12 mothers of young children. Constructs were elicited through the triadic sequential method and analysed using the Repertory Grid Method (RGM). The constructs provided most of the perceptual items used in Study 2.

A questionnaire was developed for Study 2 based on Grunert’s (1998) Food Related Lifestyle Model (FRLM) as a framework for considering various factors which influence perceptions and beliefs, purchase intentions and reported purchasing of fruit and EDNP snacks. Questionnaires were administered to mothers who had at least one child aged 2-5 years at a Learn to Swim school in Southern Sydney, NSW. The quantitative data was analysed in SPSS 19 using descriptive statistics, factor analysis and multiple regression to examine the influence of hypothesised predictors of fruit and EDNP snack consumption and purchasing.

Study 2 had a 78% response rate with 238 mothers completing the questionnaire. The results showed the use of fruit and EDNP snacks in relation to the time of day mothers gave their child fruit and EDNP snacks and the availability of these in the home, as well as mothers’ feeding practices. Four key perceptual factors were identified; Convenience, Satisfying snack, Eating good foods and No additives. The perceived sociability and expensiveness of fruit versus EDNP snacks and the influence in predicting mothers purchasing habits was also identified in the findings.

Mothers who perceived it was important that the food they gave their child: satisfied their appetite, was a good snack, provided them with energy and satisfied their hunger through ‘Eating good foods’, were more likely to purchase fruit over EDNP snacks. Mothers’ perceived both fruits and EDNP snacks to be inexpensive except for mangoes and bananas, however, generally cost did not impact on their intentions to purchase these foods.

The mothers’ perceived EDNP snack foods as more convenient than fruit. It was important to them that fruit and EDNP snacks were: easily accessible in supermarkets, ready to eat, did not require preparation before consumption and could be served without having to be cut-up. It was also found that many mothers’ were concerned about the additive content of foods. The more importance mothers’ placed on the avoidance of additives the more likely they were to purchase fruit.

Mothers’ personal values had no effect on their intended purchasing of fruit. However, the mothers’ hedonism scores did predict their intention to purchase EDNP snacks. The more they valued hedonism, the less likely they were to purchase EDNP snacks.

Reported purchasing of EDNP snacks for mothers with one child was predicted by sociability consumption of EDNP snacks, no additives (factor score 4), hedonism values and convenience (factor score 1). Reported purchase of EDNP snacks by mothers’ with more than one child was predicted by sociability consumption of EDNP snacks, satisfying snack (factor score 2) and mothers’ health practices.

Mothers’ reported purchasing of fruit for mothers with one child was predicted by mothers’ health practices, no additives (factor score 4) and convenience (factor score 1). The reported purchasing of fruit by mothers with more than one child was predicted by satisfying snack (factor score 2).

These findings demonstrate the likely influence of food perceptions on the purchasing of fruit and EDNP snacks for young children. Most of the findings, particularly the relationships between food perceptions and purchasing have not been reported previously. Communication of the positive aspects of fruit and the negative aspects of EDNP snacks to mothers may help promote the purchasing of fruit and inhibit EDNP snack purchases. For example, the positive health properties of fruit could be promoted to mothers in order to increase their intentions to purchase fruit. Similarly, if fruit is made more convenient perhaps by having ready to eat fresh fruit packs available in places such as supermarkets, mothers may be more likely to purchase fruit rather than EDNP snacks.

The present study contributes to the limited knowledge about mothers' purchase intentions, purchasing behaviours, perceptions and beliefs regarding fruit versus EDNP snacks. The more negative mothers' evaluations of EDNP snacks are, the less likely they will be to purchase them. The more positive mothers’ views of fruit are, the more likely they will be to purchase it. By determining how mothers perceive fruit and EDNP snacks may enable better communication and strategies to increase fruit consumption and reduce the consumption of EDNP snacks.