Exploring processes and devices behind consumer purchases of sustainable groceries in a Danish supermarket: Application of Actor-Network Theory to sustainable consumption

Tennae Rix Kristensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis was initiated by the puzzlement that many consumers express a desire to buy sustainable products but fail to show this in their behaviour. In this thesis, I argue that the purchase decision is situated in the shop, and taking provisioning of groceries as a case, this thesis therefore explores how the purchase decision relating to sustainable products is shaped in the supermarket. This is done with a point of departure in Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and its approach to studying market transactions. The ANT approach argues that devices are used to facilitate markets transactions and this thesis therefore explores how devices created by the supermarket and consumers respectively influence the purchase decision. Data was produced in two rounds. First through two qualitative interviews with representatives from the supermarket franchise Rema 1000, and subsequently through 41 observation-interviews with consumers, consisting of interviewing consumers in the supermarket to simultaneously observe and ask questions about their grocery shopping. Analysis of the first set of data revealed 5 devices that are used by Rema 1000 to influence sustainable consumption: 1. Placement 2. Product assortment 3. Price tags with certificates 4. Savers catalogues 5. Price and temporary savers The second set of data revealed that consumers also bring devices of their own to help them in the decision-making process. The most commonly used devices were: 1. The shopping list 2. “Wish lists” from close others 3. Home tests 4. Attitudes 5. Habits In addition to the devices the consumers brought, they also made use of the devices supplied by the supermarket. The analysis therefore revealed a complex interplay of between devices that are used to facilitate decision-making. In terms of understanding the purchase decision relating to sustainable consumption the study reveals and discusses the following: - Consumers use a multiplicity of devices in their purchase decision, and they often combine devices for a single purchase as well as use different devices for different products. The use of devices is inconsistent and unpredictable and relates to product qualities that are negotiated at the product level. This means that those who wish to influence sustainable consumption might also have to work at the product level in order to promote sustainable qualities and related devices for each product category. The influence of the devices the supermarket supply is moderated by the consumers’ own devices. This indicate that to influence sustainable consumption, it might also be necessary to work to influence the consumers devices, and thus influence decision-making indirectly. This research provides a peak into the complexity and unpredictability that must be considered by anyone who wish to work with consumers or sustainable consumption.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages82