The role of taste perception for the success of country of origin labeling in the case of organic pepper

Consumers associate with the quality of food its freshness (97%) and taste (93%) (e.g. GFK 2000). As the extrinsic cue country of origin serves as an indicator for the intrinsic cue taste it works as quality indicator (PETZOLDT ET AL. 2007; KROEBER-RIEL 2003). Indeed several studies reveal that country of origin labeling (COOL) plays an important role in consumers’ quality evaluation of food products (e.g. VAN ITTERSUM ET AL. 2001; HONG AND WYER 1989; ELLIOTT AND CAMERON 1994). Most studies investigating consumers’ preferences and willingness to pay for COOL focus on meat (e.g. VERBEKE AND WARD 2006; LOUREIRO AND MCCLUSKY 2000), olive oil (e.g. SANDALIDOU ET AL. 2002) or wine (e.g. SKURAS AND VAKROU 2002). Spices such as pepper have not been researched yet. Nevertheless, pepper for instance seems very interesting to analyze as we can note a shift from pepper being a low-involvement commodity to becoming a lifestyle product. This holds especially for consumers of organic products and for gourmets (KAUSCH 2008; NATUR AND KOSMOS 2007). For example freshly grounded pepper experiences an increasing culinary demand (DEAK 2004). Pepper experts state that pepper should be differentiated with respect to country and region of origin, as it is already common for wine, tea and coffee, because origin has a strong effect on peppers aroma (NATUR AND KOSMOS 2007; MCFADDEN 2008). Research reveals knowledge is a crucial factor for the use of country of origin labels as purchase criterion (e.g. SCHÄFER 1997; VAN ITTERSUM ET AL. 2001). We can suspect that conscious consumers know about a products’ diversity, e.g. taste variety as a result of its country of origin. Therefore it can be assumed that consumers’ knowledge and taste perception is of relevance for the success of country of origin labeling. Against this background, we carried out a standardized survey (n=100) in a organic grocery store in Bonn, Germany in August 2009 to investigate whether consumers expect taste differences with respect to pepper, olive oil, wine, rice and tea and if so, whether they assume these differences to be a result of country of origin. The word association test is used to gain insights into what comes to consumers mind when being asked about pepper. Based on these results we assess the relevance of country of origin (COO) in the case of pepper. In addition, we analyze consumers’ awareness and expertise with respect to the diversity of pepper as a result of country of origin and region. Finally, a blind tasting of black pepper of different origins and production methods (organic versus conventional) is conducted to assess whether consumers are able to identify aroma differences between the different varieties. The results show that consumers’ awareness of taste differences regarding product varieties differentiated by countries/locations depends on the familiarity with the considered product. For all products analysed, the correlation between COO and taste is positive (above 0.5) and highly significant at the 0.01 level. In the case of wine 82 % of the respondents expect taste differences due to the COO with 61 % indicating a preference for a specific country in their purchase decision. The preferred wine countries are Germany (34 %) and France (18 %). Also with respect to olive oil the majority of respondents (79 %) assume taste differences due to the COO and 66 % reveal a preference for a specific country (e.g. 52 % for Italy; 33 % for Greek). In the case of pepper only 44 % of the survey participants expect taste differences in view of country of origin. 16 % indicate a preference for a specific origin of which India is most often mentioned (56 %), followed by China, however with a considerable smaller relevance (13 %). The low relevance of the COO in the case of pepper might be a result of the fact that only organic brands label the producing country. Additionally advertisement for spices focusing on country of origin is in general rare. Therefore it is not surprising that the connection between COO and taste is less made for pepper compared to wine and olive oil which are, in contrast to pepper, considered as high involvement products and are often discussed in the context of country of origin. For these products advertisement focuses on and highlights this attribute (Becker 2000). Therefore we can assume that consumers’ knowledge and awareness of the producing country is more skilled and present for wine and olive oil. Based on these results, we conclude that COO serves as an indicator for taste for the products under investigation. On the basis of a word association test, the relevance of the attribute ‘country of origin’ is analysed in comparison to other product characteristics for pepper. The test reveals that country of origin (17 times mentioned) is only one of many relevant product attributes consumers associate with pepper. Most frequently mentioned are varietal diversity (64 times) and spiciness (54 times). Thus, the results of the word association test indicate that differences the majority of the respondents make between pepper varieties are rather based on the degree of maturity (e.g. black pepper versus green pepper) than on country of origin. The blind tasting test aims to analyse whether consumers are indeed able to perceive taste differences between pepper of different origins and production methods. Therefore in the blind testing pepper of two different regions (India versus Sri Lanka) and two different production methods (organically versus conventionally produced) was considered. Three of the four organic peppers were exclusively distributed in organic stores. One organic and one conventional pepper are distributed in the conventional retail sector. All peppers distributed in the organic stores are COO labelled, the ones in the conventional retail stores are not. The results reveal that consumers are able to identify taste differences - pungency, finish and aroma are the aspect respondents were asked to evaluate - between peppers of different countries of origin and production methods. We found out that aroma was the most important attribute for the appraisal of a pepper and consumers’ willingness to buy one. On a scale from 1(hardly any aroma) to 4 (very aromatic) the two organic peppers exclusively listed in organic stores were from India and were ranked first and third by consumers. The organic pepper without COOL distributed in the conventional retail sector was placed second with regard to aroma. The organic pepper brand from Sri Lanka (also exclusively listed in organic stores) ranked fourth and the conventional one last. Overall our results indicate that German consumers prefer a specific country of origin only if they assume that this is linked to differences in taste. Lacking awareness and knowledge hinders most of the participants of our survey to combine taste and country of origin in the case of pepper. This holds despite the fact that the survey was conducted in an organic grocery store and thus was directed at consumers of organic food who are in general considered to be more involved in purchase decision and are more knowledgeable with respect to production issues (see e.g. OLTERSDORF 1996; SENAUER 2001). In times of increasingly importance and renaissance of food culture, product differentiation by means of COOL can be appropriate to meet consumers’ preferences for geographical indication. With respect to pepper our study indicates that this is still a low involvement product even for consumers in organic grocery stores. A precondition for the success of COOL in the case of pepper would be to increase consumers’ knowledge of the relevance of country of origin for peppers taste.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

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