Information Matters When it Comes to Cheese Consumers

Consumers are willing to pay more for familiar, versus unfamiliar, varieties of cheese if there is a sticker on the cheese indicating it won an award or if sensory information about the cheese – such as a description of its taste or pairing suggestions – is included, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

The study also identified two broad groups of consumers whose cheese buying preferences differ. A group that prefers unfamiliar foods is willing to pay a premium for unfamiliar cheeses and an award sticker plays a much more important role than sensory information. The opposite is true for consumers who prefer familiar cheese varieties: sensory information play a much stronger role in willingness to pay more.

The study was in part motivated by the shift to online grocery shopping, which accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While online grocery shopping has its notable advantages, the researchers note, the impacts can vary greatly for different categories.

For example, specialty products such as wine or cheese that are made on a small scale and have traditionally relied on in-person recommendations or product sampling might be more in need of new marketing strategies because online shopping can’t provide a real-time, in-person tasting experience.

“This is an under-studied area that is growing in importance, especially as people shift to buying groceries online and as subscription food boxes grow in popularity,” said Nadia Streletskaya, an assistant professor of applied economics at Oregon State. “Our study can help specialty food producers, many of whom operate on a small scale with limited budgets, determine best ways to promote their products.”

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