1 Department of Marketing and Statistics, Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University2 MAPP - Centre for Research on Customer Relations in the Food Sector, Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
Previous research indicates that consumers expect substantially higher eating quality in pork that was produced in organic and free-range systems. Sensory studies and comparisons of objective quality suggest that these expectations are not completely realistic: in most cases, the performance of organic and free-range pork is equal to, and in some times even lower than that of conventional pork. However, consumers' expectations may be strong enough to override differences in experienced quality. In an experiment with 185 consumers, each participant tasted eight pork chop samples that varied on two factors: actual meat type, and label information. The factors were completely crossed in a factorial design. The actual meat types were (a) conventional and (b) organic pork. The four label information conditions were (a) organic pork, (b) free-range pork, (c) conventional pork, and (d) no information. Before tasting each sample, consumers rated expected quality. After tasting each sample, consumers rated experienced quality on four dimensions (including taste, tenderness, juiciness, and overall acceptability) as well as willingness to pay. Highly significant differences were found between label information conditions: samples labeled organic or free-range received consistently higher ratings (experienced as well as expected quality) than samples labeled conventional or unlabelled ones, irrespective of actual meat type. Significant but substantially smaller differences were found between actual meat types regarding perceived taste, perceived juiciness, overall acceptability, and willingness to pay, with organic pork receiving consistently lower ratings than conventional pork, irrespective of label information. The results suggest that the experienced quality of organic pork is a matter of expectations. Interpreted in terms of assimilation and contrast theory, consumers appear to be able to detect the somewhat lower eating quality of organic pork, but the distance to the higher quality they expect seems to fall into their latitudes of acceptance. Consequently, consumers assimilate their experiences upwards until they align with their expectations. How far does this result extend?