Taste Preference for Brand Name versus Store Brand Sodas

Article excerpt

How similar in taste preference are store brand products compared to the major national brands? Various stores such as Wal-Mart have their own private label versions of major products. The typical advantage to these products is the reduced price, relative to national brand names. However, brand equity may also play a role in perceptions and preferences for specific products (e.g., LeClerc, Schmitt, & Dube, 1994, see also brand differentiation, Chakravarti & Janiszewski, 2004). Brand equity can be described as added knowledge or "added value" that impacts a consumer's response to a product, given the brand name of the product (Keller, 1993; LeClerc et al., 1994). A brand name, in and of itself, can have an impact on consumer perceptions and responses to products. The present study focuses specifically on cola-flavored soft drinks.

A significant amount of research has focused on participants' ability to correctly identify cola beverages from blind samples. For example, Pronko and Bowles (1948) instructed participants to taste and identify four samples of soda. The researchers found that participants tended to identify sodas in terms of better-known brands rather than the actual brands used. Even more powerfully, when participants received 4 samples of the same cola drink, the results of participants' responses were comparable to those of participants who received samples of 4

different cola drinks. Pronko and Bowles (1948) suggested that, based on these results, participants could not detect taste (gustatory) differences between the different soda brands. Bowles and Pronko followed up with further studies that continued to examine participants' identification of cola beverages (Bowles & Pronko 1948; Pronko & Bowles, 1949). Bowles and Pronko (1948) examined the distribution of participant identifications with only 3 soda samples (rather than 4, as in Pronko & Bowles, 1948), as well as examining the pattern of participant responses when participants were given 3 samples of the same soda (rather than 3 different soda samples). Correct identification of soda samples did not differ significantly from chance, regardless of whether participants were given 3 different sodas to sample or 3 samples of the same soda. Bowles and Pronko (1948) again provided evidence indicating that participants could not correctly identify different cola-flavored sodas by taste. Of note, these earlier studies used relatively well-known soda brands: Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, RC (Royal Crown) Cola, and (only in Pronko & Bowles, 1948) Vess Cola.

Pronko and Bowles (1949) later indirectly addressed issues relating to name-brands and less popular brands in correct identification of cola beverages by examining participants' ability to identify lesser-known brands of cola beverages (Hyde Park Cola, Kroger Cola, and Spur Cola). The procedure was essentially the same as with the previous studies, where some participants sampled 3 different sodas, and others sampled the same soda 3 times, in a paradigm where participants were not notified of the soda brand (or brands) presented. Interestingly, there were no correct identifications in the study. Participants indicated that their samples were Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or RC Cola especially often, but occasionally also identified the Hyde Park, Kroger, and Spur cola-flavored beverages as 7 Up, Dr. Pepper, or Cleo Cola. These results again suggest that participants are not able to correctly identify soda samples (the authors concluded that all of these sodas may thus be considered "equivalent stimuli," p. 608). Further, the results suggest that participants have, at the very least, a response bias wherein they identify unmarked soda stimuli as the popular brands, regardless of the actual brands presented.

However, when Thumin (1962) examined correct soda identification via a different procedure, his results differed from previously observed results. Unlike previous research (e. …