NEW YORK: Marketers in categories like soft drinks, coffee and wine may be able to enhance their marketing and innovation strategies by thinking about “supertasters”, according to a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Kathryn A. LaTour (Cornell University), Michael S. LaTour (Ithaca College), Brian Wansink (Cornell University), the authors of the research, aimed to tackle a key marketing question: “To what extent are our preferences and behaviors learned, and to what extent are they innate?”

The answer to this conundrum, they suggested, can inform both “segmentation and marketing strategies” through helping brands develop products that match individual taste preferences and focusing on those subjects in communications.

In exploring this topic, their paper – entitled The impact of supertasters on taste test and marketing outcomes: How an innate characteristic shapes taste, preference, experience, and behavior – drew on several studies.

These included a blind taste test featuring Coke, Pepsi and Mexican Coke – the results of which found there was “no clear winner” as each beverage claimed around a third of the vote, despite their different taste profiles.

But 50% of “supertasters” – making up 25% of the population, and who are “more sensitive to bitterness, seek sweeter foods, and exhibit more behavioral loyalty than other consumers” – preferred the Pepsi sample, versus 18% for Coke.

A study involving white wine found that supertasters “experienced more pleasure” and “more activation” than the norm, but “less feeling of control”.

The third example featured two glasses of the same wine being poured, only one was light red in colour, and compared experts in wine tasting with students who were aspiring to increase their knowledge in this area.

“Supertasters were more able to notice the similarities in the wines and less likely would experience a perceptual bias on flavor ratings, which shows that sensation can drive choice decisions even in the presence of extreme learning and experience,” the authors reported.

Considering the managerial implications of their research, the academics cited the launch of Starbucks’ “blonde” lighter-roast coffee, the popularity of sweeter Mexican Coke in the US and Gallo unveiling wines for different palates.

“One potential reason for the effectiveness of these new products is that companies are recognizing that consumers have different taste sensitivities,” they argued.

“For companies such as Starbucks to get these sensitive palates to try new products, a different type of promotion campaign is warranted, one that both plays up the product features that are appealing to the supertaster … and makes the product available in a risk-averse manner, such as sampling, similar to the wine-by-the-glass concept.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff