Should brands be marketing to ‘supertasters’?

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

When it comes to purchasing behavior, product knowledge is even more important than taste physiology. Pic: Getty/Rawpixel
When it comes to purchasing behavior, product knowledge is even more important than taste physiology. Pic: Getty/Rawpixel

Related tags: Wine, Coffee, soda, Taste, Research and development

Taste sensitivity could be an untapped sector for beverages like wine and coffee, according to new research from Cornell University. Supertasters and nontasters respond differently to sensory information, with potential for new marketing strategies.

Professors at Cornell conducted an interactive tasting presentation in February in conjunction with their taste physiology research. They wanted to “determine the role of a specific inheritable trait—sensitivity to bitterness—on shaping consumer preference, taste preference, and behavior.”

They believe this affects both segmentation and marketing strategies, and it’s important for beverage brands to learn more about it because the majority of advertising research is based on the ‘nurture’ view of the nature vs nurture debate.

Kathy LaTour, Miguel Gomez, Michael LaTour and Brian Wansink were all involved in the research that examined consumer taste preferences in coffee, soda and wine.

“Segmentation of consumers by taste sensitivity can explain differences in cola and wine taste tests that cannot be explained by training or cultural influence. Supertasters are more sensitive to bitterness, seek sweeter foods, and exhibit more behavioral loyalty than other consumers, which makes them an important segment for food marketers involved in testing and introducing new products,”​ they said.

According to the researchers, product sensory tasting information and printed tasting descriptions are the most common strategies used for promoting products. By better understanding their consumers, companies can capitalize on their preferences.

Is sweet considered bad?

In the interactive presentation, LaTour and Gomez had participants draw a strip of paper coated with tastant propylthiouracil (PROP) and taste them for 30 seconds. About one-quarter of the audience thought the taste was ‘terrible and bitter’ and are categorized as supertasters. Another quarter said they tasted nothing and are considered nontasters.

They found that the supertasters prefer sweet wine, but will end up buying tannic red wine because they believe it is a better product. The same was found true in coffee--supertasters don’t like the taste of bitter coffee, but they will buy darker brews because they are popular and trendy, and often regarded as higher quality.

“Your social aspirations have more weight than you realize,”​ Gomez said.

So while taste physiology matters for consumer drink preferences, LaTour and Gomez determined that product knowledge is even more important. Supertasters also tend to be negatively influenced by the word ‘sweet’ and positively influenced by the word ‘dry.’

The coffee results suggest that having sensory information listed on labels can positively influence supertasters’ purchase likelihood for black coffee, even though it’s a product that they tend not to enjoy and to consume less.

Because product loyalty is a strong trait among supertasters, the researchers think that advertisers can attract them by using language that emphasizes the ‘sweetness or mellowness’ of a product in a positive way.

LaTour and Gomez partnered with wineries in the Finger Lakes of New York to analyze consumer purchasing behavior and run simple experiments. They believe that wine tasting rooms would benefit from thinking about new marketing strategies using this information.

Asking visitors questions about their tastes outside of wine, like preferences for dark chocolate or dark coffee, could help them make better recommendations and plan future innovations.

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