Wine study highlights price's impact on product

Higher-priced wine does taste better, and your brain is to blame.

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Higher-priced wine does taste better, and your brain is to blame.

A recent study by researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology found that regardless of wine's physical properties or the palates of individual tasters, samples thought to be more expensive, registered greater activity in the brain's pleasure centers.

During the study, researchers evaluated the MRI results of 11 male Cal Tech graduate students as they swallowed samples of cabernet sauvignon through a pump. The test subjects' "experienced pleasantness" (EP) was determined by the amount of activity in their medial orbitofrontal cortex.

Three different wines were served to the test group, with two samples served again at different prices. Of the repeated samples, researchers found that the test subjects enjoyed $5 wine more when they believed it was $45, just as a $90 wine was perceived to taste inferior, when the reported cost was $10.

Why does it matter?
As the study shows, the placebo effect of price has a real influence over consumer expectations. Identical products, differentiated only by price, do emphasize the ability to increase brand desirability through higher prices and the power of suggestion.

However, it also seems to indicate consumers' desire to offset the high cost of occasional high-priced indulgences.

"If we all just picked premium price products [on this impulse],Wal-Mart would be out of business," notes Kelley Skoloda, partner and director of global brand marketing
at Ketchum.

Skoloda stressed, that in this economy, higher prices for everyday purchases, like consumer packaged goods, "might be [more of] a detracting factor, [when] consumers - typically women - do research before purchasing a product [such as consumer packaged goods, and] make informed purchase decisions."

Five facts:
1. Research at the University of Bordeaux showed when white wine was dyed with tasteless, red food coloring, expert wine tasters described a taste similar to red wines.

2. The 1787 Chateau Lafite is the most expensive wine ever sold. Auctioned for $160,000 at Christie's, it was believed to have been from Thomas Jefferson's cellar.

3. The US market for luxury goods is currently estimated at $400 billion. By 2010, the market is estimated to reach nearly $1 trillion.

4. A November 2007 Nielsen Company Survey of consumers in 48 countries found that Gucci was the most desired global luxury brand.

5. Another Stanford University study found that McDonald's packaging improved the taste of food for preschoolers - even carrots, milk, and apple juice.

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