Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marketing (Business Administration)

First Advisor

Alvin C. Burns


Food purchase options have expanded greatly in urban areas in the People's Republic of China as a result of recent market reforms. Still, given the influences sociocultural factors, the restructuring of food consumption in China need not be expected to follow patterns observed in the West. This investigation of food purchase behavior was based on a ten-month period of field study in Nanjing, China. The adoption of time related food purchase behaviors was studied, including use of processed food, restaurant use, and frequency of food shopping trips. Food consumption habits were investigated in the context of how these patterns contribute to the economic efficiency of the household, as well as the definition, maintenance, and enhancement of social identities and relationships. Methods used to investigate food consumption patterns included participant observation, structured observations of food shopping, household inventories, focus groups of primary food shoppers, food retailer interviews, and study of the popular media. Following a pretest of the measures, a representative sample of 330 primary food purchasers in the 11 zip code areas of Nanjing were surveyed via household interviews. These data were used to test a structural equation model linking sociocultural and economic factors to time reduction food purchase behaviors. The results of the study indicate that the availability of both time and money are important predictors of use of time related products of many types, but that attitudes toward change in general are also important influences. In addition, the findings from this study reinforce a growing stream of research that finds that consumption choices are linked to self definition and the maintenance of relationships. Food consumption patterns are rooted in a cultural ideology, influenced by material needs, but relying more on history, habit, inertia, and an aesthetic sensibility to shape consumption patterns. For urban Chinese food shoppers, maintaining traditional patterns of food consumption serves to reinforce the importance of family stability and ritual amidst the whirlwind of change.