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Abstract

Although ready meals have recently increased their market share in the Korean food industry, a literature review found that the use of ready meals triggers feelings of guilt in homemakers. Such guilt arises as a result of several factors apparently related to consumers’ health. Consequently, levels of guilt might be expected to vary depending on consumers’ perceived health locus. The present study aims to examine (a) how health locus affects guilty feelings about ready-meal consumption, (b) how the effect varies in relation to the consumption of different types of ready meal, and (c) the relationship between consumers’ guilty feelings and willingness to buy ready meals. Three dimensions of health locus of control (HLC) -internal HLC (IHLC), powerful-others HLC (PHLC), and chance HLC (CHLC)- were presumed to influence consumers’ feelings of guilt in association with ready meals. Data were collected via an online survey, and participants were randomly assigned to either of two groups: one group was instructed to heat meals in a microwave (ready-to-heat [RTH] group, n=104) and the other cooked using a pan with additional ingredients (ready-to-cook [RTC] group, n=101). The study found that guilty feelings about consuming RTH meals increased in line with increased external HLCs, namely, PHLC and CHLC. For the RTC group, guilt increased in line with increased PHLC. IHLC had no significant effect on guilty feelings in either group. Willingness to buy ready meals decreased for both groups as consumers’ feelings of guilt increased. Even RTC meals, which require more time and energy in food preparation, did not reduce guilty feelings among consumers with higher PHLC. RTC meals are preferable for consumers with higher CHLC, since their sense of greater involvement in the cooking process alleviates their feelings of guilt. Cooking with already prepared and uncooked ingredients brought fun and joy, both for the participants and their significant others. This interpretation may be developed into a strategic plan by ready-meal producers to strengthen their marketing strategy.

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