Patriot Games:
Consumer Preferences for National Products

Latin America consists of many countries of different population sizes. The smaller countries are not self-sufficient in terms of many consumer product items. For example, it may not be economically viable to build an automobile manufacturing plant in Honduras for the sole purpose of meeting local demand. Therefore, many consumer items have to be imported. But a heavy reliance on importing may lead to a negative national balance of payment.

In the past, governments have discouraged imports through the erection of protectionist tariffs and quotas. Such actions incur retaliatory measures from other countries, so that the net result may be one of mutually assured economic stagnation. The contemporary theory of economic liberalization calls for the lowering of these trade barriers, so that all the countries can benefit from the growth of their export sectors everywhere.

In practice, one would not expect these economic developments to occur in an even and symmetrical manner across and within nations. That is to say, some countries and some sectors may perform better than others, for the moment at least. One of the consequences of the uneven development is that there is much anxiety about job losses in some countries and sectors due to the influx of cheap import goods. People in some countries have therefore called for its citizens to purchase products manufactured in their nations as a way to save local jobs.

In the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study, we asked the following question: "I prefer to buy products manufactured in my own country." We should make it clear that we did not ask for the reason for the preference, which means that we do nto know whether this was for reason(s) of price, quality and/or image. Across Latin America, 67% agreed with this statement. As shown in Table 1 below, there does not appear to be a large difference between the gender groups. Older people are slightly more likely to agree with the statement.

Table 1: % Agree by Age/Sex

Age/Sex Group

% Agree

Male 65%
Female 69%
Persons 12-17 64%
Persons 18-24 64%
Persons 25-34 68%
Persons 35-44 70%
Persons 45-54 69%
Persons 55-64 73%

According to Table 2 below, there are greater differences among the countries. There are really some very different situations here.

Table 2: % Agree by Geographical Region

Geographical Region


Argentina 45%
Brazil 78%
Chile 49%
Colombia 60%
Mexico 67%
Puerto Rico 55%
Venezuela 62%
Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama 50%
Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay 69%

We can also look in terms of our standard segmentation schemes. In Table 3 below, we see that the preference for national product decreases with increasing socio-economic level. The more affluent people are less price-sensitive as well as more brand-aware and image-conscious, and gravitate more towards the imports.

But the biggest gap in preferences are between the Global Professionals at 38% (affluent college-educated young professionals and managers with multiple interests and hobbies) and the Concerned Traditionalists at 94% (middle-aged housewives concerned about their families and values). In point of fact, the preference for national products is one of the defining factors of these groups.

Table 3: % Agree by Socioeconomic Level and Psychographic Segment

Socioeconomic/Psychographic Segments

% Agree

SES Level A 55%
SES Level B 61%
SES Level C 66%
SES Level D 75%
Global Professionals 38%
Image Seekers 62%
Curious Cosmopolitans 67%
Comfortable Conservatives 78%
Concerned Traditionalists 94%

The above discussion is premised upon the assumption that consumers have correct ideas as to which brands and products are domestically produced. In practice, this may not be so easy. Constance Classen cites an example of a woman from Northwestern Argentina, who grew up with Coca Cola all around her. When the subject of Coca Cola's status as an import was brought up, the woman asked: "But isn't Coca Cola Argentine?" Nevertheless, the above results still have significant relevance with respect to consumer perceptions.

(posted by Roland Soong, August 22nd, 1997)

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