How labeling changes consumers' taste perceptions: a field experiment on organic and local apples

Liu, Yinan
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University of Delaware
The markets for organic and local foods have grown rapidly over the past decade. Among the reasons for this impressive growth, taste has been considered one of the more important. Learning how taste and labeling may interact and alter consumer perceptions would also be of benefit to many in the food marketing system. The goals of this study were thus twofold. The first was to determine if labels play a role in consumers' perception of taste of organic and local apples. The second was to examine what contributes to the changes. To accomplish these goals, three sessions of field experiments were conducted in Delaware in late October and early November 2012 with a total of 106 participants. These sessions represented the student sample, the general public and consumers who likely purchased organic and local foods more, respectively. In an experiment, each person was first served five freshly cut slices of Gala apples labeled A, B, C, organic, and local, presented together on one plate. Unknown to them, the slices labeled A and organic came from the same apple, as did those slices labeled B and local. The apple labeled C was a conventional version. While tasting, each person was asked on a survey to rate and rank the taste of apple slices. Demographic information and opinion questions regarding local and organic foods were also asked for modeling purposes. The one-tail Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test was performed to test the mean of the ratings and rankings. Results from pooled data indicated that subjects' taste perception of organic and local apples changed significantly by the labeling information: the mean rating and ranking of labeled organic apples and labeled local apples were significantly higher than the corresponding unlabeled ones. However, these three sessions did not act in agreement. Next, a two-limit Tobit model regression was performed to further investigate the differences in taste ratings from the unlabeled organic/local apples to the labeled apples. The biggest factor was found to be the session difference.