Researchers from the University of Gävle in Sweden gave 44 participants two cups of identical coffee to taste, the only difference being that they were told that one cup contained ‘eco-friendly’ coffee and the other did not.
Those who signalled a high level of concern about environmental issues were much more likely to prefer the taste of the eco-friendly coffee, with 74% saying they preferred it to the non-eco-friendly version, while for those who were less concerned about sustainability there was no preference for either coffee.
The ‘high sustainability’ consumers also said they would be willing to pay more for the eco-friendly coffee.
“An increasingly large number of products are marked with morally loaded labels such as ‘fair-trade’ and ‘organically produced’ – labels associated with social or environmental responsibility that speak to our conscience,” the study’s authors wrote.
“…Eco labels not only promote a willingness to pay more for the product but they also lead to a more favourable perceptual experience of it. Understanding the psychological mechanisms that underpin the eco-label effect and how to modulate its magnitude could potentially be a key to promote sustainable consumer behaviour.”
The researchers suggested that consumers’ taste perception may be influenced by how easily they can imagine crop production methods. With coffee, for example, they might think that crop spraying could influence taste.
They suggested that future research could focus on products like soft drinks, for which consumers might find it more difficult to imagine the production process. Another area for potential future research might investigate whether ‘fair trade’ labels influence taste in a similar way.
“One possibility is that morally loaded labels – like ‘fair trade’, ‘organic’ and ‘eco-friendly’ – have general halo effects favourably influencing subjective product characteristics across a range of judgmental dimensions,” the researchers wrote.
Source: PLoS ONE
8(12): e80719. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080719
Authors: Sörqvist P, Hedblom D, Holmgren M, Haga A, Langeborg L, et al. (2013)