april 2024 article abstract

April 2024
Article submitted for publication in Appetite

Don’t (just) show it, say it: An exploratory study of the effect of front-of-pack sensory descriptions on consumers’ choices of wine, cheese, and olives

The study provides a novel type of evidence on the potential impact of foregrounding non-trivial sensory descriptions in the labelling of mainstream food and drink products on consumers’ sensory expectations and choices. Earlier research on this subject generally prioritizes a high degree of control for extraneous variables. This contributes to the internal validity of the results, but makes them harder to transpose to real-life shopping scenarios where many other labelling elements are competing for attention. This study was designed to explore if an effect of the sensory description could be isolated even in such “noisy” conditions. Participants were offered a binary choices between two substitutable real-market products
selected from the three mainstream product categories bag-in-box Chardonnay wine, Manchego cheese, and stuffed green olives. One product in each category was carrying a non-trivial sensory description while the other was not. Apart from this, the products also differed in a number of other respects as to verbal and visual design features, brands, and the wording, size, and placement of the sensory description itself. The products were presented to the participants in a simulated e-shopping environment monitored by eye tracking under the instruction to opt for the tastiest alternatives. The results show that if a consumer attends visually to the sensory description on the product carrying it, there is a greater probability that the
consumer will choose that product over a substitutable one lacking an SD regardless of all other similarities and differences between the products. The findings contribute new evidence to current efforts to strengthening the role of taste as a competitive parameter in the mainstream food market, with possible benefits also to society at large.