Vegetarianism as a Consumer Culture: Studying the Movement Through the Lens of Consumer Culture Theory and Branding.

Michelle Rolf Jensen & Sofie Rosenbaum Roslind

Student thesis: Master thesis


The emergence of vegetarian consumption as a dominant human practice has the potential to reconfigure current cultural and social practices connected to the food industry. The overall aim of this study is to analyze how the vegetarian movement and the three consumer behavioral arguments; health, environment, and animal welfare, align with the arguments chosen by selected multinational brands in the vegetarian food market. Three corporate brands are singled out, Naturli, Oatly, and Quorn, to reflect branding approaches in the market, and showcase how the arguments are presented from a corporate perspective. The study is framed using insights from two theoretical bodies; Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) and Branding. The Vision-Culture-Image (VCI) model is partly adopted to show any alignments or gaps between the selected brands’ corporate visions and the consumer images in the market. Conclusions about the observed alignment are made in context of the observed brand awareness, to validate the consumers’ familiarity with the brands. This is supplemented by an analysis of the characteristics of the movement, its values, meanings, and social practices. The research is conducted using an interpretivist approach, through an exploratory qualitative data collection using personal semi-structured interviews. The collected data is coded using the qualitative analysis software, NVivo, to reflect the main trends in the data. The findings show that the main consumer behavioral argument for purchasing vegetarian products is the environmental argument. It is concluded that there is vision-image alignment between two of the consumer arguments, health and environment, and the observed branding approaches by the selected brands. A vision-image gap is seen connected to the animal welfare argument. Due to the exploratory nature of the research, additional considerations emerged, which supplement the conclusions drawn. This include insights about consumer opposition to artificial food products; the prevalence of individual motivations opposed to collectivist motivations; and the obstacles of traditions and resistance in society. Previous studies within CCT have investigated cultures of consumption such as fandoms, sports communities, and the fashion industry, however, new insights are needed in the context of emerging plant-based diets; and the social consumer practices surrounding them. This study is centered around a contemporary movement, which has rapidly changed within recent years. Therefore, due to the dynamic nature of the topic, the research reflects new insights not previously achieved within this specific field.

EducationsMSc in International Marketing and Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages225
SupervisorsAnna-Bertha Heeris Christensen