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Study Explores How Products Make Us Feel Grounded To Places, People And Past

Popularity of farmer’s markets and the locavore movement reflect a need of consumers to feel grounded.

NEW YORK — Researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business and Cornell University have found that consumers are increasingly seeking local, traditional products, or those that remind them of their childhood and family.

The study, “Connecting to Place, People, and Past: How Products Can Make Us Feel Grounded and Why Marketers Should Care,” is authored by Isabel EichingerMartin Schreier, and Stijn M.J. van Osselaer. The findings of the study are published in the “Journal of Marketing.” 

Consumers’ need to feel grounded is evidenced by the ever-increasing popularity of farmer’s markets, hand-cut soap, artisanal bread, the locavore movement, and the return to familiar grocery brands during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Locally rooted microbreweries, for example, were at the forefront of this renaissance of artisan, indie, and craft production. In 2019, craft beer accounted for 13.6 percent of total United States volume sales, a 4 percent increase even while overall beer sales dropped by 2 percent.

Similar trends can be found beyond the food and beverage sector. They are surprising given modern society’s aspirations to globalize, automate, and digitize. 

Why is this happening now, and what drives these shifts in demand?

“It is consumers’ need to feel grounded — which we define as a feeling of emotional rootedness,” said Eichinger while explaining the demand shift.

“We argue that the dual forces of digitization and globalization have made social and work lives increasingly virtual, fast-paced, and mobile, leaving many consumers feeling like trees with weak roots at risk of being torn from the earth. Marketers can cater to the need to feel grounded by offering products that help consumers connect to place, people, and past.”

A series of studies involving thousands of participants across the United States and Europe showed that “groundedness” increases product attractiveness and consumers’ willingness to pay.

“Our research points out how marketers can strategically leverage groundedness for their products, for example, by emphasizing local origin or by choosing traditional product designs. Marketers can also improve their targeting by identifying consumers with a higher need for groundedness,” said Schreier.

The researchers surveyed a representative US consumer panel for the study. The idea was that consumers whose everyday work and lives are affected by digitization, urbanization, and global change would also experience a higher need to feel grounded.

They found higher levels of need for “groundedness” with consumers who perform a lot of desktop work at their computer, who have a higher socioeconomic status, who more strongly perceive Covid-19 to have put their lives in a state of flux, and who indicated living in a big city. These consumers were also more interested in purchasing products connected to their place, people, and past. 

Feelings of “groundedness” are not only relevant for business; they are also crucial for consumer welfare. In particular, the studies show positive psychological downstream effects of “groundedness” on consumers’ happiness and feelings of strength and stability.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil