Coffee Beans: Sustainable or Non-Sustainable Taste Tests December 14 2013


Most of us have seen items in the grocery store labeled "organically produced" or "eco-friendly." From everything we have read in the media, these food items should be healthier for you than those drenched in food coloring or grown with toxic fertilizers. Folks often buy these items because they feel they are helping the environment, and they are even willing to pay more for these items. These socially conscious individuals claim that the environmentally friendly foods taste better than foods processed the old way. But do they really taste better? Researchers devised an experiment using arabica coffee beans to find out.

The scientists arranged for groups of volunteers to taste whole bean coffee brewed from arabica beans. Coffee from the arabica bean is known for being high quality, and it is the main ingredient in most gourmet coffees. The volunteers were to answer a questionnaire that helped determine how much value they placed on an environmentally friendly coffee as opposed to a coffee that did not make use of high sustainability practices or were not friendly to the environment. The answers to the questions helped divide the group into two sub-groups: a high sustainability group and a low sustainability group. Even though the two cups of coffee served to the participants were identical, the information given before tasting was not. One coffee was described as being ecologically friendly while the other was not. Interestingly the responses of the group reflected this information.

Seventy-four percent of the high sustainability volunteers preferred the eco-labeled coffee while twenty-six percent choose the non sustainable coffee. They were also willing to pay more for the coffee. With regards to the low sustainability group, forty-eight percent choose the eco-coffee while twenty-six preferred the not ecologically friendly coffee. They were not willing to pay more for the coffee. The ecologically-friendly volunteers showed a definite preference for the coffee labeled ecologically friendly even though there was no difference between the two cups. The low sustainability volunteers were almost tied with the cup they chose. The information of the label definitely had an effect on the high sustainability group.

The results of this series of experiments show that eco-conscious individuals were willing to pay a premium for the eco-coffee. These findings were partly based on desire to do what is right for the environment rather than which coffee tasted the best. Basically the volunteers were influenced by lying about the coffee's characteristics. Similar results have been achieved using products such as nutrition bars and wine. The volunteers would pay more for the coffee they were told was ecologically-friendly whether it really was or not. These results should prove very interesting to the advertising industry!