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‘We Are Family’—How Urban Specialty Shops Portray the Consumers of Rural Provenance Foods

Teresa Forte
1 and
Elisabete Figueiredo
Department of Social, Political and Territorial Sciences, University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
GOVCOPP (Research Unit of Governance, Competitiveness and Public Policies), University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(6), 250;
Submission received: 31 March 2022 / Revised: 27 May 2022 / Accepted: 31 May 2022 / Published: 2 June 2022
(This article belongs to the Section Social Economics)


The literature on food consumption and marketing has been mainly concerned with identifying the appeal of the physical and sensorial features of food products, consumer choice determinants and their profiling according to socioeconomic characteristics, and perceptions and practices. This paper takes a different approach by analyzing how consumers are being represented and engaged with in the promotion of rural provenance foods, an overlooked topic within the literature. For this purpose, a content analysis was conducted on promotional materials (printed materials—including brochures, business cards and leaflets), website publications and social media (Facebook and Instagram) posts issued by 30 specialty shops located in three Portuguese cities (Aveiro, Lisbon and Porto). A total of 7491 files were analyzed. Empirical evidence shows that consumers are mainly portrayed through references to their symbolic features or as elements of a connection established and nurtured by the shops. Sociodemographic features lack relevance in opposition to the relevance attributed to the interaction between the shops and the consumers. All in all, the analysis highlights the significance of the interaction between the shops and the consumers in the promotion of products, fostering close and familiar relationships attentive to consumer preferences, emotions and values.

1. Introduction

In the last few decades, a change in food consumption has been noticeable, featuring an increasing interest in rural provenance foodstuffs and a shift away from massified foods. This interest pairs with the growing number of specialty food shops selling and promoting those products within city centers among urban residents and tourists (Silva et al. 2021). This phenomenon has inspired a growing, yet well-established body of literature addressing the determinants of the consumer choice for rural provenance foods, consumer segmentation based on socioeconomic profiles (Caputo et al. 2018) and the exploration of the role exerted by them on local food systems (Skallerud and Wien 2019). The analysis on how consumers are portrayed, represented and engaged with in the marketing and promotion of rural provenance foods has, however, been overlooked.
The inattention to this topic by food consumption and marketing research can be partially explained by the tendency, reported by Evans et al. (2017), in both the public and academic spheres to treat ‘the consumer’ as a self-evident category and as an indisputable character. However, ‘the consumer’ takes a myriad of forms shaped by attitudes, behaviors, choices and representations, varying according to the different sociocultural contexts (Ariztia 2015). The multidimensional and multilayered nature of consumers has been considered by more recent trends in marketing strategies, namely those experience-centered (Ketter 2018), focused on meeting different needs, feelings, engagement levels and rationales.
This article intends to contribute to closing this research gap by analyzing how consumers are portrayed in the promotional materials of urban specialty food shops. Specifically, we intend to analyze not only the extent to which ‘the consumer’ is included in food marketing strategies, but also the framing employed to do so and the interplay between marketing aims and consumer choices and values. Besides focusing on a scarcely addressed topic, this article intends to advance knowledge on how different types of more established versus recent urban specialty food stores in medium and large-sized urban settings are trying to reach different consumer segments. How consumers are portrayed and addressed are fundamental aspects, since they are the main target of promotions. Furthermore, these types of stores are growing in urban settings and are becoming the main representatives of these products. Studying their promotional materials sheds some light on how promotional strategies align with representations of consumers preferences, as well as of the rural territories of origin and the added value of rural provenance food.
This contribution is based on the content analysis of promotional materials (N = 7491 text (3744) and image files (3747) gathered from Facebook and Instagram pages, websites and printed materials) issued by 30 specialty food shops located in three Portuguese cities (Aveiro, Lisbon and Porto). The empirical evidence collected provides insightful cues on how those materials symbolically and objectively represent different types of consumers of rural provenance food products. The analysis highlights the significance of the interaction between the shops and consumers in the promotion of these products, fostering close and familiar relationships attentive to consumer preferences, emotions and values.

2. Literature Review—Rural Provenance Food Products: Consumption Determinants and Representation of Consumers

Within an ever-growing connected and information-based society, consumers are more interested and knowledgeable about what they eat (Caputo et al. 2018), especially amid the alternatives overload offered by globalized food supply chains (Kaya 2016). The well-studied personal and sociocultural factors underlying consumer choices indicate that food products are evolving from lower engagement assets into central elements of people’s lifestyles (Gomes et al. 2017; Napoli and Ouschan 2020), corresponding to a wider quality change in food practices (Goodman 2003). Furthermore, consumers are more exposed to information about food from a wider range of sources, including social media, blogs and websites, issued by a variety of agents within the food chain (Napoli and Ouschan 2020).
Although the strength of food choice determinants and appeals vary across cultural contexts and over time (Blake et al. 2010), there are specificities depending on the type of food. In this paper, we focus on rural provenance food products, as defined by Figueiredo (2021). This notion, as also put forth by Figueiredo et al. (2022) and Forte et al. (2022), is an overarching one and has similarities to the most commonly employed definitions of traditional, authentic or local foods. However, we believe this defines, in broader terms, the embeddedness in and reflection of biophysical and sociocultural elements of the territories of origin. The notion of rural provenance foods, therefore, encompasses a wide variety of products with distinctive features which reflect the heterogeneity of the territories of origin, with different geographic and biophysical conditions, raw materials, cultural-based processes and practices of production and transformation, dietary habits and history.
The valorization and preference for rural provenance food products (Caputo et al. 2018; Gangjee 2017) is particularly driven by health; well-being and appearance concerns (Bianchi 2017; Kim et al. 2009); environmental and sustainability awareness (Eriksson and Machin 2020; González-Azcárate et al. 2021); safety and trust (Rizzo et al. 2020); hedonic and sensorial elements, such as odor and taste (Sidali et al. 2013); convenience and price (Grunert et al. 2014); distinctive quality and status of the products (Blake et al. 2010); authenticity (Lacœuilhe et al. 2017; Mapes 2020); and provenance (Gangjee 2017). Recognizing the role that consumers may exert on local food systems (Skallerud and Wien 2019), the literature on local and rural provenance food has sought to explore its determining choice factors, its physical and sensorial qualities and consumer socioeconomic profile, including their attitudes, perceptions and practices (Skallerud and Wien 2019), hoping to unveil some cues that may inform strategic action to increase demand (Vega-Zamora et al. 2020). As mentioned, how consumers are portrayed, represented and engaged with in the marketing and promotion of rural provenance foods has been, for the most part, ignored.
In this regard, one can outline three distinct, albeit interconnected, marketing approaches to consumers (Morris and Schmolze 2006). The first categorizes and targets them according to factual sociodemographic data, such as age, profession or location. The slice-of-life (SOL) marketing strategy, employing real-life, positive and happy situations with a typified consumer who can be relatable (Belch and Belch 2009), is an example of this angle. Briefly put, it portrays consumers of specific segments (age, social milieu) within an attractive context and good mood while consuming the product. Appealing to the respective segments, it elicits and associates positive emotions with the product is, means or adds to their lives, hence, enhancing its attractiveness.
The second wave, keener in manufacturing a symbolic identification between the consumer and the goods (Ariztia 2015), employs marketing choices based on emotionally charged appeals and an evocation of values (explored in Pícha et al. 2018). Therefore, it frequently promotes rural provenance products as healthier, fresher, safer and more trustworthy (Rizzo et al. 2020; Skallerud and Wien 2019), and produced with respect for resources (mainly natural) and the well-being of the future generations (González-Azcárate et al. 2021). This strategy is intimately connected and appeals to the values of environmentalism, universalism and altruism, as well as to the ‘ethical consumer’ (Carolan 2020), and assumes that consumers will be more likely to choose products whose character and production aligns with their own values and beliefs. The same is true for foodstuffs recalling the past or the preservation of a given rural culture and picturesque imagery. This frame may elicit certain elements that predict preference, such as consumer ethnocentrism (Bryla 2019; Fernández-Ferrín et al. 2018) or patriotism (Skallerud and Wien 2019), based on social identification and categorization or an affective commitment to further develop the economy and production of one’s national or local context, thus supporting producers and local communities (Carolan 2020; Skallerud and Wien 2019).
The diversity of consumers and their unprecedented access through multiple media channels to an array of information and choices is no longer fully encompassed by values-based marketing strategies (Morris and Schmolze 2006). The third approach to marketing, aligned with the growing trend of experiential marketing (Ketter 2018), is perceived as more suitable and fine-tuned to today’s consumers, mostly due to its acknowledgment of the role of consumption in satisfying sociopsychological needs (such as the need for identity, meaning, security and authenticity, referred by Boswijk et al. 2007). This approach privileges a multidimensional engagement of consumers, appealing to their senses (through pleasant sensorial evocations), feelings (by prompting moods and emotions), thinking (by promising an enriching or learning experience), acting (by framing the experience of consuming it) and relationships (through social interaction, embeddedness and belonging) (Ketter 2018).
Interestingly, the more complex the determinants of consumer choices, the stronger the focus on essential and all-encompassing elements in an archetypical manner (Morris and Schmolze 2006). For example, concern with farmers, rural territories, sustainability and health appears associated with the idea of consumers as citizens oriented for social change (Carolan 2018, 2020). Similar concerns, when segmented according to food-related lifestyles and political ideology (Witzling and Shaw 2019) relate to adventurous consumers (more liberal, younger, mostly women).
In addition to values-based, personal and experience determinants, a symbolic representation of consumers in rural provenance food marketing is also conveyed through contextual determinants, such as the ambience of shops or places of consumption (Samoggia et al. 2019; Szente et al. 2015), as well as marketing strategies and product framing (Singer 2019). Besides point-of-sale characteristics (such as light, space, cleanliness; Gomes et al. 2017), a retailer’s real and symbolic dialogue with consumers is known to influence specific choices of food based on identity and connection. The generally small dimension of shops selling rural provenance foods, together with their frequent location within city centers (Silva et al. 2021), may have strengthened those aspects, promoting closer relations with consumers while expanding food choices to a wider public. In the same vein, the retailer’s ethical positioning, expressed through source labels, staff presentations or the creation of a home-like atmosphere where consumers may experiment and taste products at will, are also seen as beneficial for a rural provenance product’s success (Szente et al. 2015).
The material determinants framing the physical context of product promotion (such as online and grocery shop flyers, product placement, shop layout, space arrangement, amount of shelf space) (Gomes et al. 2017; Samoggia et al. 2019) are an important complement to the main element, that is, the interaction established. Falling under the dominant paradigm of relationship marketing (Morgan and Hunt 1994), the promotion of foodstuffs is increasingly concerned with fostering long-term relations with consumers while also cultivating a shop’s image and loyalty (Belanche et al. 2013). Besides the emphasis on strong, personal and long-term consumer relationships, the differentiated character of rural provenance food products is often revealed by marketing strategies using stories or a specific framing best conveyed by a storyteller, who may be embodied by the producer, intermediary or retailer (Eriksen 2013).
Be that as it may, both the creation of specific environments, on site and via promotional materials, and customized communication in the form of suggestions, invitations and general check-ins are known to foster attention, build trust, familiarity and proximity with the consumer (Haugun and Grande 2017).
The explicit, latent and metaphorical content conveyed by these products’ marketing strategies is very much framed by the communicator and the chosen medium. Nowadays, most consumers access digital landscapes, particularly websites and social media, both enablers of the relationship marketing approach (Lhadari et al. 2020; Singer 2018). Its potential lies in delivering content to the public while also fostering and following exchanges and conversations with the business, with the benefits of increasing sales, enhancing retailer visibility, attracting new consumers, building networks and fostering closer relations with consumers of all ages (Lhadari et al. 2020).
Additionally, digital marketing tools promote more dynamic interactions than traditional media. A customized personalization of social media enables advertisers and retailers to define their target audiences based on sociodemographic variables or behavior, such as consumer search or browsing histories and past purchases (Witzling and Shaw 2019) with tangible, immediate feedback. Social media targeting is also found to reduce psychological distance and stimulate positive attitudes, being particularly beneficial to consumers who deeply value the fulfilment of their personal needs. On the contrary, for those consumers who value status more, alongside the exclusive and differentiated communication that enables it, websites may be more appropriate, as they are able to provide more information on products, including product, producer and shop histories, and online ordering (Barska and Wojciechowska-Solis 2020).
Overall, albeit varying across the types of products and values, consumers are addressed, to a lesser or great extent, as “citizens with knowledge to select, prepare, and cook foods, eaters that empathize with and thus make food decisions in part based on the invisible others that help feed us” (Carolan 2018, p. 148). In the specific case of Portugal, similar to other southern European countries, the dynamics of recent de-ruralization play an important role in food habits and in the connection and contact with territories of origin, often very familiar to the average urban consumer (Figueiredo et al. 2022). Increasing embeddedness in the supply chain (Skallerud and Wien 2019) is, as mentioned before, very much explored in the literature, in contrast with how consumers partake of and are represented in the marketing of rural provenance products, a topic to which the present article intends to contribute to.

3. Materials and Methods

3.1. Data Collection

The present article addresses how consumers of Portuguese rural provenance food products are represented in the promotional materials of urban specialty food shops by exploring the following dimensions:
  • The emphasized sociodemographic characteristics of consumers;
  • The symbolic characteristics and the representations conveyed by different types of consumers of rural provenance products;
  • The interaction between shops and consumers, specifically how consumers are addressed and/or represented in this relationship.
The analysis is based on a set of digital and printed materials used for product promotion by 30 specialty food shops located in three Portuguese cities: Aveiro (n = 5), Lisbon (n = 12) and Porto (n = 13). These cities were chosen since Lisbon and Porto are the first and second larger cities in Portugal, having ranked, respectively, 63rd and 96th among the most visited cities before the pandemic in 2019 (Silva et al. 2021), whereas Aveiro is medium sized but has had a steady rise in tourism over the last few years.
These 30 shops were randomly selected—using a random number generator and considering both the number of stores per city and per cluster—based on a hierarchical cluster analysis performed on the results of a previous survey applied to a universe of 113 shops in the three cities. This analysis led to the identification of three clusters of shops (for a detailed characterization of these clusters, see Silva et al. 2021):
  • The Wine-Focused, including 13 shops mainly commercializing wine primarily from Lisbon and Porto;
  • The Rural Provenance-Focused, integrating 49 shops selling mainly rural provenance food products in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro;
  • The Generalist, including 52 shops commercializing a wide range of products of diverse provenances in the three cities.
The 30 shops selected from this cluster analysis include 4 from the Wine-Focused, 13 from the Rural Provenance-Focused and 13 from the Generalist clusters. The printed promotional materials (brochures, business cards and leaflets) were collected in person at the stores. All the website publications and social media (Facebook and Instagram) posts issued by the 30 shops, from the first publications until 31 December 2019, were collected online by the research team. However, only those posts and publications alluding explicitly to Portuguese rural provenance food products were considered for analysis. These included the promotion of the following type of food products: wine; vegetables; olive oil; cheese and other milk products; honeys; jams and jellies; meat, cured meat and other meat products; and other beverages. The promotion of products also sold by these stores, but without the rural anchoring, such as salt or traditional urban sweets, were not considered. All these materials were manually collected, transcribed and/or copied and converted into Word and JPEG files. As Table 1 shows, a total of 7491 files (3744 text and 3747 images) were analyzed.

3.2. Data Analysis

Both the text and image files were subjected to content analysis using NVivo 12 software. A coding frame containing 13 categories was elaborated based on a literature review and on a preliminary assessment of the materials collected, considering 4 vectors of analysis: one related to the products, producer and processes of production; a second referring to the geographical and rural origin of the products; a third one concerning the shop and the consumers; and a fourth applicable only to images assessing ways of photographing the products. We coded objective references to the categories alongside the symbolic and intangible aspects depicted, to what it was necessary and beneficial to have two coders and a high interrater agreement.
This article addresses a third vector, analyzing the category related to consumers and their corresponding subcategories and attributes (Table 2). Additionally, where there were allusions or visual representations of consumers, these were coded according to formal aspects of photographic framing, such as image quality, scenario variety and type. Consumers are represented in only 46 of these images, the majority (52.2%) referring to the interaction between store and consumer, followed by their symbolic (15.2%) and sociodemographic characteristics (8.7%).

4. Results

4.1. Sociodemographic Features of Consumers Highlighted in Promotional Materials

The symbolic and material characteristics of the products and their territories of origin are categories related to rural provenance food products that aggregate a higher number of references in the promotional materials analyzed (Figueiredo 2021). Next come the envisaged consumers, speaking favorably of their importance in the marketing of these products, where they are either referenced solely, through a characterization of their symbolic and sociodemographic characteristics, or as an element of a connection established and nurtured by the shops.
As shown in Table 2, sociodemographic features are not a relevant aspect when addressing consumers in promotional materials, at least in relative terms, as, considering the few overall references and scarce distribution among categories, it is in absolute terms (as shown in Table 3 below).
These references pertain mainly to shops located in Lisbon (85.1% of the total references), which were particularly conveyed by Instagram posts (87.8%), mostly targeting tourists, especially by the Wine-Focused shops (80.5%). This is also evident in the common use of hashtags such as #visitPortugal; #travelling; #holidays (L1.2, Instagram) or #tourism. The emphasis on the national character of the products sold is also found in materials from the Rural Provenance-Focused shops, with the frequent hashtag #visitPortugal (L2.4, Instagram) or the direct appeal of “dear tourists” (P2.3, Facebook). In turn, in the Generalist cluster materials, tourists are often mentioned together with residents: “tourists and Portuguese alike love and are fascinated with the richness of this product” (L3.2, Facebook), which may relate to the variety of products sold in these shops targeting a wider range of consumers, from the sporadic buyers to the loyal and frequent customers.
The targeting of mature and older consumers is almost exclusive to the Rural Provenance-Focused shops, as are references to children. This may reflect its emphasis on family, as evidenced by the interaction between shops and consumers. Claims addressing children reference how this particular group is fond of a certain product or how it can be integrated in child dietary habits—for example, in #childfeeding, #babyfood, (L3.3, Instagram) and “the little ones love it” (L3.2, Instagram). Both references to children and mature clients are more frequent and detailed on websites. The second is found either objectively, such as ‘elder’ (L2.1, Websites), or as an emotional tone suggesting long-term loyalty to the store: “clients with more than 100 years old” (L2.1, Websites), while children are always mentioned straightforwardly.
The remaining categories, referring to common sociodemographic segments (such as gender, location, socioeconomic status) aggregate very few references.

4.2. Symbolic Features of Consumers Portrayed in the Promotional Materials

Regarding the symbolic features of consumers, the most frequent representations and claims relate to the ‘desire for authenticity and typicality’ (Table 4), mostly present in the Wine-Focused cluster and in the city of Porto (50.3%), mainly due to wine production in the neighboring region of Douro. This dimension features a profusion of emotional and subjective appeals to “true product lovers”: directly on hashtags, as in #winelovers, #winelover (L1.2, Facebook), #welovewine’ (L3.1, Instagram); discreetly, as in “those who truly appreciate wine” (L1.1, Instagram); and blatantly, as in “lovers of wine” (L1.1, Instagram). These textual references to consumers in wine marketing are usually next to pictures of the products, the shops or the shop owners.
To a lesser extent, products promoted by the stores in the other two clusters of shops are also presented as objects of a true, loving relationship. Such is the case of olive oil: “If you are in love with olive oil flavour” (L3.2, Facebook), #oliveoillovers (L3.2, Instagram); cheese: #cheeselovers (L2.3, Instagram); or bulk dried fruits: #almondlovers (L3.3, Facebook). Interestingly, this claim refers mainly to products requiring transformation and artisanship, even if simple. Images of happy and engaged consumers purchasing or consuming products at the shops reinforce, vicariously, a feeling that may be achieved through acquiring them. What is more, the chosen consumers in these images are not prototypical of a given segment, and there is no clear emphasis on recognizable features, but rather, on their visible satisfaction with the promoted products.
Within the same dimension, consumers of the three types of shop are also depicted, albeit less so, as ‘knowledgeable’, ‘gourmand’ and able to identify the product authenticity and genuineness, which evoke the distinct character of rural foodstuffs anchored in national, local and regional heritages. This suggests an acknowledgement of a sense of expertise and familiarity in opposition to mindless and massified buying. References to consumers “faithful all year” and “faithful to specific seasons” are suggestive of targeting consumers who are already persuaded, aimed precisely at nurturing an existing relationship. Valuing what is ‘national’ and ‘regional’ is also a feature of consumers, especially of the Rural Provenance-Focused shops.
The representation of the consumer as someone searching for authenticity and typicity in food products follows from a characterization of consumers concerned with ‘health’ and ‘environment’ (Table 4). Representations of consumers as ’healthy’ and appreciators of ‘what is natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ are, again, more evident in the Rural Provenance-Focused shops, in mottos such as #saveourplanet, #peoplesclimatecase, #livewell (L2.4, Instagram), whereas the Generalist shops allude more concretely to consumers who value what is ‘natural’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’, as in “for those who follow a healthy lifestyle” (L 3.6, Facebook) and “for consumers whose priority is what they eat” (P3.5, Facebook). As in wine marketing, textual references to consumers are often accompanied by appealing images of the products rather than images of consumers experiencing them. While general environmental messages are more common in Instagram posts (46.7%), websites mainly address consumers ‘concerned with health’.
‘Belonging and relationships’ is another important dimension in the representation of consumers by the promotional materials analyzed (Table 4), particularly in the Rural Provenance-Focused and Generalist shops. The emphasis on the consumer as part of the shop’s close family is evidenced by catchphrases such as “if you are not yet part of our family, come to join us” (L2.1, Websites) or “our relationship with our customers is familiar” (P3.5, Facebook), on par with a few images of consumers in comfortable settings beside the shops’ owners and products.
Consumers are also depicted (although, as shown in Table 4, slightly less so) as ‘novelty and emotions seekers’, particularly ‘adventurous’, ‘passionate’ and ‘curious’. Those references are mainly presented in Facebook posts (63.4%) and in Generalist shops linked to the marketing of olive oil: “take a chance and try it” (L3.2, Facebook), “if you are passionate about gastronomy and the taste of olive oil” (L3.6, Facebook). Finally, ‘status’ is a less relevant dimension when portraying consumers, and it is referred to only by the Wine-Focused shops, which reinforces wine marketing’s strategic device of elite authenticity (Mapes 2020).

4.3. ’We Are Family’—Interaction between the Consumer and Rural Provenance Food Shops Portrayed in Promotional Materials

Interaction between the shops and the consumers, as seen before, can be found in the majority of the references in the analyzed materials (59.9%). As shown in Table 5, shops portray the connection with their consumers through four dimensions: ‘suggestions’, ‘invitations’, ‘warnings/announcements’ and ‘proximity’. The most frequent dimension—‘suggestions’—is used both for special occasions and everyday moments, at the same time, emphasizing a product’s availability at specific times and seasons. All these are conveyed through catchphrases related to specific opportunities and moments: “only tomorrow, enjoy!“ (L2.4; Facebook), “for tomorrow’s breakfast?” (L3.1, Facebook); to special occasions: “it will be lovely on the Christmas table” (L2.1, Facebook); to seasons: “enjoy summer with the best wines” (L1.1, Facebook); through discrete presentations of the stock: “have you tried the many varieties of cheese available in our shops?” (L2.2, Facebook); and to general teasers, such as “try it out!” (L2.1; Instagram).
‘Suggestions’ to consumers, although common to all shops analyzed, are considerably more frequent in the Generalist type, particularly those aimed at olive oil consumers (mainly in Lisbon shops)—“a delicious PDO olive oil in an elegant and beautiful bottle. Come and try it with us” (L3.2, Facebook)—with specific usage recommendations: “ideal to use with meat and strong flavored sauces” (L3.2, Websites). In Porto shops, specific recommendations on usage, recipes and dietary habits are found in a wider set of products: “recipes, tricks and hints to include them in your daily routine” (P3.4, Facebook) and “to put on toast or healthier sauces” (P3.5, Facebook). Surprisingly, wine only appears paired with specific foodstuffs—“its profile goes really well with white meat and grilled fish” (L1.2, Instagram)—or when suiting the weather: “nothing will taste better in this hot day” (L1.1, Instagram).
‘Invitations’, as shown in Table 5, are also a common strategy of interaction, being explicit in luring consumers into visit the shop: “come and have lunch with us” (L2.4, Instagram); “we are waiting for your visit” (P1.2, Instagram); “come and discover for yourself” (L2.1, Instagram); or “a true meeting place of the Azoreans and all those in love with this magical archipelago” (L2.2, Facebook). It is interesting that Lisbon shops are keener than the others in inviting consumers for future visits to the city itself, and to the country as a whole, for example, in #visitlisbon or #visitportugal (L3.2, Instagram), together with the salience of the sociodemographic group of tourists in Lisbon (95.1% of the references per city) and its exclusive appeal to the symbolic feature of ‘city lovers’ (see Table 4).
‘Warnings/announcements’ partake in the same promotional logic of fostering close relationships, engagement and experiences between shops and consumers. Through them, the consumer is informed about the availability of certain products and of the need to try them—“available again” (L1.1, Instagram); “we have just received the wonderful S. Jorge cheese” (L2.2, Facebook)—or the welcoming character of the store: “officially, at your disposal” (A3.2).
The former three dimensions, though different in nature and extent of reach, share a common ground of ‘proximity’ with the consumer, ranging from evident friendly and engaging communication—“we want to know everything about your experience with us!” or “we have all flavors and scents for you” (L3.2, Facebook)—to more emotionally-charged expressions such as: #warmyourheart (A3.2, Instagram); #yourhouse (P3.4, Facebook) or “we really like to make you smile” (P2.3, Facebook). The multidimensional nature of consumer preferences and satisfaction is illustrated by two strategies employed by the clusters of shops that value proximity more—the Generalist and the Rural Provenance-Focused. Whereas the first type of shop enhances food products while being nice and helpful—“are our tomatoes, really Portuguese? Should we save them for you?” (L3.3, Facebook) or “come to visit us and choose a special gift for a special person. This olive oil is unique” (L3.2, Facebook)—the second group emphasizes family and tradition while advertising products: “for you Christmas, full of flavor and tradition (…) for all the family” (L2.2, Facebook) or “taste it at home between friends and family” (L2.4, Instagram).
Be that as it may, marketing strategies aimed at promoting closer interactions between retailers and consumer preferences, needs and values justify the higher frequency in social media (Facebook—47.1% and Instagram—43%) than in printed materials (2.3%), or even websites (7%), corroborating what was discussed previously.

5. Discussion

As discussed in the previous sections, a large body of research on food consumption has pointed out transformations in consumption patterns, consumer preferences, perceptions and behaviors, as well as socioeconomic profiles (Bianchi 2017; Goodman 2003; Silva et al. 2021; Skallerud and Wien 2019). The materials analyzed here reveal that the promotion and marketing of rural provenance foods appeal to representations of consumers with specific symbolic features and the interaction between shops and consumers, those being more relevant than socioeconomic and demographic aspects.
Indeed, besides a higher number of references to tourists and a few to children and mature consumers, sociodemographic elements are almost absent, especially when compared to the profusion of other categories. This may be understood in light of currently preferred marketing strategies, which are less focused on segmenting consumers per this type of feature (as explored in Morris and Schmolze 2006). Furthermore, the general lack of focus on the fixed sociodemographic profiles of consumers in the materials analyzed suggests that the shops, although self-reporting the trends of the typical sociodemographic profiles of their visitors (see Silva et al. 2021), adopt a broader marketing strategy of symbolism-based segmentation.
In fact, our findings show that the symbolic elements of consumers are, by far, much more relevant than their specific sociodemographic features. Symbolic elements are put forth either as describing consumers or addressing who they aim to become, henceforth privileging a values and emotional-based marketing approach focused on creating a symbolic identification between consumers and products (in line with, among others, Ariztia 2015; Pícha et al. 2018).
The emphasis on an emotionally charged relationship with the product is particularly evidenced by the high rank of references related to the consumer’s ‘desire for authenticity and typicality’. This is especially salient, as shown in the previous section, in the Wine-Focused cluster, reflecting a wine marketing trend of targeting a typified consumer with a particularly close relationship to the products (in line with Belch and Belch 2009), mainly tourists. To a lesser extent, this appeal to truly faithful consumers of the products can also be found in shops belonging to the other two clusters, but with a specific mention to artisanship, resembling the discursive strategy of food production as a ‘labor of love’ (as put by Singer 2019).
Common to all clusters, there is a visual portrayal of consumers that, again, rather than highlighting specific individual characteristics, emphasizes feelings of joy and satisfaction (as seen in Boswijk et al. 2007; Ketter 2018), in line with the typical nudge of suggesting that, regarding the same food product, similar feelings can be experienced (as exemplified in Belch and Belch 2009 and others).
Being knowledgeable and able to identify a product’s distinctiveness also reveals how specific these products that incorporate different dimensions of national, local and regional heritages really are (in line with Bryla 2019; Figueiredo 2021; Lacœuilhe et al. 2017; Skallerud and Wien 2019). As found by Kaya (2016) and Napoli and Ouschan (2020), the emphasis on knowledgeable consumers who appreciate authenticity also suggests a targeting of consumers who are experts and/or familiar with the products, as opposed to the massified purchase of indistinct food products. This idea is corroborated by the salience of our results with respect to notions of customer and consumer fidelity, indicating a goal of reaching consumers who are already convinced (as per Boswijk et al. 2007; Ketter 2018). The national and regional features of these products are particularly valued, mostly by the Rural Provenance-Focused shops, which is consonant with the respective strong anchoring of products in the biophysical and sociocultural contexts of their provenance (Figueiredo 2021; Gangjee 2017) or the evocation of consumer ethnocentrism and patriotism (Bryla 2019; Skallerud and Wien 2019). Furthermore, this is in line with the still strong ties the Portuguese urban population has with rural territories due to recent de-ruralization dynamics in the country (Figueiredo et al. 2022).
Promotional strategies also echo consumer environmental, ethical and health-based preferences and concerns, signaling a value-based position on social change (as explored by Carolan 2018, 2020; Grunert et al. 2014).The same portrayal of consumers as being concerned with health and the environment (correspondent to images of health and a fondness for organic, natural and sustainable products) appears in the Rural Provenance-Focused shops, especially through Instagram mottos, and in the Generalist stores with more concrete allusions. These more specific appeals are especially found on websites, capitalizing on the medium’s potential to present more detailed information, as the nutritional values and processes of production are of particular importance to consumers with these concerns (Barska and Wojciechowska-Solis 2020; Kim et al. 2009).
‘Belonging and relationships’ are another important dimension in the representation of consumers by the promotional materials analyzed (as shown in Table 4), particularly in the Rural Provenance-Focused and Generalist shops. Another relevant dimension of these two clusters is the idea of ‘consumer as family’, common to both clusters, which reinforces the importance given to interactions based on ‘proximity’ (as in Haugun and Grande 2017). The major role of social media in this interaction speaks favorably of their ability to enable bidirectional relationships and co-construct meanings (as emphasized by Lhadari et al. 2020; Singer 2018) and is corroborated by Facebook and Instagram posts presenting similar references to this dimension.
In a different vein, results show that consumers are also portrayed as adventurous and novelty seekers, which is a counterpart of the appeal to tradition and typicality. This perspective is mainly found on Facebook ads referring to olive oil, hinting at a specific promotional strategy for this product that draws on an emotional range of exploration, enthusiasm and experience (Boswijk et al. 2007; Ketter 2018) vis-à-vis a narrative of attachment to tradition, local and regional identities and stability (Bryla 2019).
The majority of references in the analyzed materials focus on the interaction between shops and consumers. This emphasis on belonging and relationships in the promotion of rural provenance food products by specialty shops is further reinforced by the importance of interaction and connection with consumers, rather than a focus on particular segments. The aforementioned small scale and urban location of these shops is certainly a perk for this type of interaction, as noted by Ketter (2018), with respect to experiential marketing. Furthermore, the personality and value of these products, being heavily built upon their places of origin, history, local communities and culture and raw materials, as highlighted by Figueiredo (2021) and Silva et al. (2021), may require or, at least, greatly benefit from, a more personalized and intimate narrative expressed by someone regarded as trustworthy and reachable (Belanche et al. 2013).
Our results show that suggestions, recommendations and invitations seem to respond to consumer needs and preferences, emphasizing the convenience (as in Grunert et al. 2014) and distinctive character of the products (Blake et al. 2010) and the shops selling them. They are also in line with the satisfaction of sociopsychological needs through food consumption, as discussed, especially the need to be engaged in rewarding learning experiences (Boswijk et al. 2007) through the use and taste of rural provenance food products.
Invitations, on the other hand, promote layered, closer relationships with consumers, appealing to their sense and desire of discovery and experiment, as well as to their sense of belonging and familiarity (as in Ketter 2018, albeit referring to tourism experiences). The higher frequency of Lisbon shops inviting consumers to visit the city or the country suggests a more cosmopolitan approach, understandable in that it is the country’s capital and largest city, with especially high tourist inflow in the last decade. Explicit and enthusiastic invitations to appeal both to national and overseas consumers may also result from a wish to create an image of loyalty and long-term interactions (in line with Belanche et al. 2013), again demonstrating the desire to build closer and familiar connections. Another form of interaction is the warnings/announcements that appear in all types of shops analyzed, corresponding to the standard and default communication practice in commercial settings where a store presents what it has to offer under specific conditions (Haugun and Grande 2017).
Suggestions, recommendations, invitations and warnings/announcements, despite their different manifestations, share the common denominator of promoting proximity. Proximity is related to familiarity and trust building, which, as discussed, are the nuclei of relationship and experience-based marketing strategies (Haugun and Grande 2017), on par with the development of affective commitments to meet consumer satisfaction and happiness (as put by Belanche et al. 2013). The stores considered here heavily rely on these approaches, especially through social media. When compared with traditional promotional materials, such as leaflets or brochures, the advantages of social media advertising are quite evident in promoting closer and more dynamic interactions, mostly relevant to increase retailer and product visibility and placement, as well as to increase sales and attract new clients (Lhadari et al. 2020; Singer 2018). This relates to the potential of social media in reaching and adapting to trends, needs and distinct segments of consumers (Witzling and Shaw 2019) while checking their reactions (e.g., likes and comments). The more frequent use of social media (especially Facebook) to interact with consumers is in line with modern consumers’ preferred sources of information about food (Napoli and Ouschan 2020).

6. Conclusions

This study focused on an under-researched topic within rural provenance food consumption and marketing studies: the analysis of how consumers are portrayed, represented and engaged with in the promotion of those foodstuffs. This focus is especially relevant since the type of specialty shops responsible for the promotional materials analyzed here are of great diversity and becoming more and more common in urban settings. How these retailers portray the consumers and try to reach different consumers’ segments according to the type of products, mission and location informs us about marketing trends and patterns, such as representations of consumers, rural provenance products and rural territories that are the most disseminated to the larger public and current or potential consumers.
This article corroborates the central role and place of the consumer in the promotion of rural provenance food products, put together with the symbolic and physical characteristics of the products and their origin.
Our findings show that, in the promotion of these products, consumers are not particularly segmented according to their sociodemographic features—as is often the case—but rather, according to more encompassing approaches. Nevertheless, as discussed, the empirical evidence analyzed here reinforces other findings in the literature of marketing and consumption studies, particularly the outdated approach of segmenting consumers according to sociodemographic features, as evidenced by the lack thereof in our promotional materials. Besides its scarce presence, the main sociodemographic category referenced is related to tourists, a broad and unspecific category following the wide-spanned segmentation currently preferred in marketing approaches. This is particularly true for the shops included in the Wine-Focused cluster in Lisbon, a city with an increasing touristic influx.
Our analysis shows that the promotion of rural provenance foodstuffs, when including consumers, opts, on one hand, for more encompassing approaches of values-based and emotional appeals, and, on the other, experiential and relationship perspectives aimed at creating symbolic identifications between consumers and the food products promoted. Both of these marketing approaches emphasize the symbolic characteristics of the consumers, either being factual or aspirational. These salient dimensions reflect the central representational elements of the products, privileged by a marketing increasingly fine-tuned to consumer-specific wants and needs. Along these lines, it is understandable that consumer desire for authenticity and typicality is met in products strongly anchored in local, regional and national provenance and heritage. This is also true for health, environmental and social concerns, widespread in the social arena and feeding more conscious choices with respect to the perception of these products (as pointed out by Carolan 2018 and by Grunert et al. 2014).
The symbolic features of the consumers highlighted in the promotional materials analyzed especially reflect an emphasis on belonging and relationships, which are transversal to all the shops, although particularly evident in the Rural Provenance-Focused and Generalist shops, keen on addressing the consumer as family or with whom a close relationship and proximity can be established. These are interesting findings that need further exploration, particularly on how proximity and close interactions with the consumers impacts a shop’s marketing and success.
In the same vein, our findings also reveal the significance of the interaction between consumers and rural provenance food shops. Such interaction is conveyed by suggestions, invitations and announcements aimed at building trustworthy relationships. These three interaction elements, albeit diverse in character and extent, share a common ground of proximity with the consumer, ranging from friendly and engaging to more emotionally-charged messages targeting the specific desires, needs and values of consumers. The role of social media (Facebook and Instagram) is central in fostering interaction between shops and their consumers, mostly due to the potential for customized personalization, tangible immediate feedback and the targeting of audiences. However, the limited number of shops analyzed here, and the fact that not all use (apart from Facebook pages) the exact same type of promotional materials and media, suggests the need for further research on the exact potential of social media in fostering closer interactions with consumers when it comes to rural provenance food marketing. In that vein, research on a wider set of urban contexts, with different features and consumer segments in diverse countries, could be important, as our analysis encompasses two large cites (by Portuguese standards) and one medium-sized town. All three cities are located in coastal areas, which is a common denominator that may influence some of the results, either concerning the type of consumer envisaged, the influx of tourism as the extent of proximity and the embeddedness of territories of origin, which are mostly located on the inland parts of the country.
All in all, expanding the notion that food is more than just nourishment (Napoli and Ouschan 2020), we may argue that the potential of rural provenance foods lies not only on the products themselves but in the symbolic richness of their origin and genuine processes conveyed by them. These intangible elements appear to be quite important in building specific, values and experience-based interactions with consumers. Therefore, besides the centrality of the consumer in the promotional materials analyzed, there is an evident focus on their multidimensionality, both by representing them in a variety of forms and by focusing in their multiple needs, feelings, concerns and rationales, in line with current marketing strategies.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, T.F., E.F.; methodology, T.F., E.F.; validation, E.F., T.F.; investigation, T.F.; E.F.; resources, E.F.; data curation, E.F.; writing—original draft preparation: T.F., E.F.; writing, review and editing, E.F., T.F.; project administration, E.F.; funding acquisition, E.F. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research is funded by national funds through the FCT/MCTES and the co-funding from the FEDER within the PT2020 Partnership Agreement and Compete 2020 for the research project STRINGS—Selling The Rural IN (urban) Gourmet Stores—establishing new liaisons between town and country through the sale and consumption of rural products [(PTDC/GES-OUT/29281/2017/POCI-01–0145-FEDER-029281)].

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

The data presented in this study are available on request from the corresponding author.


The authors would like to express their gratitude to the funders of the research. The authors also express their gratitude to Alexandre Silva for the collection of printed materials from the shops located in Lisbon.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Table 1. Materials analyzed by type and number of shops.
Table 1. Materials analyzed by type and number of shops.
Facebook PostsInstagram PostsPrinted MaterialsTotal
Number of shops15302319
Number of text files1026124813691013744
Number of image files1024121913681363747
Table 2. Number of subcategories and attributes analyzed within the general category ‘References to consumers of the store and rural products’.
Table 2. Number of subcategories and attributes analyzed within the general category ‘References to consumers of the store and rural products’.
Sub-Category (N = 2267)Number of AttributesNumber of References% of References
Interaction between store and the consumer5136658.8%
Consumer symbolic characteristics3480735.4%
Consumer sociodemographic characteristics11944.1%
Table 3. Consumer sociodemographic characteristics represented in promotional materials.
Table 3. Consumer sociodemographic characteristics represented in promotional materials.
Consumer Sociodemographic Characteristics (N = 94)n%
Fathers and Mothers22.1
All Socioeconomic Statuses11.06
Table 4. Consumer symbolic characteristics and dimensions portrayed in the promotional materials.
Table 4. Consumer symbolic characteristics and dimensions portrayed in the promotional materials.
Consumer Symbolic Characteristics (N = 806)n%
Desire for authenticity and typicity53566.4%
True lovers of the product45384.7%
Who value what is national71.3%
In love with gastronomy40.7%
Who value what is regional40.7%
Faithful all year30.6%
Who trust what is national30.6%
Faithful to specific season20.4%
Searching for the roots10.2%
Concern with Health and environment13717.0%
Concerned with health5842.3%
Concerned with environment4230.7%
Who appreciate what is natural118.0%
Who value what is organic96.6%
Who value what is sustainable42.9%
Focus on belonging and relationships809.9%
Client as family3948.8%
City lovers2126.3%
Who value proximity2025.0%
Emotions and novelty seekers415.1%
Refined taste545.5%
Good taste327.3%
Used to the best218.2%
Less bold150%
Concerned with savings150%
Table 5. Interaction between the store and the consumers portrayed in promotional materials.
Table 5. Interaction between the store and the consumers portrayed in promotional materials.
Interaction between the Store and the Consumer (N = 1366)n%
Client satisfaction614.5%
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Forte, T.; Figueiredo, E. ‘We Are Family’—How Urban Specialty Shops Portray the Consumers of Rural Provenance Foods. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 250.

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Forte T, Figueiredo E. ‘We Are Family’—How Urban Specialty Shops Portray the Consumers of Rural Provenance Foods. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(6):250.

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Forte, Teresa, and Elisabete Figueiredo. 2022. "‘We Are Family’—How Urban Specialty Shops Portray the Consumers of Rural Provenance Foods" Social Sciences 11, no. 6: 250.

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