Familiarity breeds versatility

If you find yourself purchasing the same chocolate or wine at the supermarket, then your habit may have a scientific explanation.

New research co-authored by Dr Sara Jaeger from Plant & Food Research’s Sensory and Consumer Science team suggests that familiarity with a particular food or drink increases the perceived suitability of that product for different situations.

Consumer trials were conducted using a range of names and images for four different types of food and drink, including wine and chocolate.

Participants were asked to rate their familiarity with each name or image and assess its suitability for use in categories such as ‘To indulge myself’, ‘For energy’, ‘For women’, ‘For something a bit more sophisticated’, ‘When riding in a car’, ‘In a green salad’, ‘When feeling stressed’ and ‘With breakfast’.

The research found a relationship between the degree of familiarity of a product and its apparent versatility, revealing that past experiences with a particular product type or brand play a role when evaluating product suitability.

The results suggest that product familiarity may make consumers resistant to change, a finding that highlights the challenge faced by food manufacturers when introducing new food and beverage products to the market.

“External factors such as product appearance and packaging can influence a consumer’s buying behaviour. However, the less familiar consumers are with a product, the more difficult it is for them to evaluate it as suitable for their needs,” says Dr Jaeger.

“It may also be that consumers worry that an unfamiliar food may not live up to expectations or even pose a risk, which reduces the incentive for trying new products.

“This highlights the importance of getting the external product cues right to create a sense of familiarity when developing and marketing new products.”

The research is published in the Journal of Economic Psychology and was co-authored by Dr Jaeger and Associate Professor Davide Giacalone from the University of Southern Denmark. The article can be found here.

Plant & Food Research has the largest sensory and consumer science research team in the Southern Hemisphere. From its laboratories in Mt Albert (Auckland) and Palmerston North, the team supports industry partners with developing and launching new food and beverage products.

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