Learning to Become a Taste Expert

by Kathryn A. Latour and John A. Deighton

Overview — How should we learn to discriminate a fine wine or chocolate? Tradition says use a flavor wheel and map the taste into vocabulary. We find that works for novices, but, beyond a point, it is counterproductive. Enthusiasts perform more like experts when they abandon language and just “draw the shape” of the taste.

Author Abstract

Evidence suggests that consumers seek to become more expert about hedonic products to enhance their enjoyment of future consumption occasions. Current approaches to becoming an expert center on cultivating an analytic mindset. In the present research the authors explore the benefit to enthusiasts of moving beyond analytics to cultivate a holistic style of processing. In the taste context the authors define holistic processing as non-verbal, imagery based, and involving narrative processing. The authors conduct qualitative interviews with taste experts (Master Sommeliers) to operationalize the holistic approach to hedonic learning, and then test it against traditional analytic methods in a series of experiments across a range of hedonic products. The results suggest that hedonic learning follows a sequence of stages whose order matters and that the holistic stage is facilitated by attending to experience as a narrative event and by employing visual imagery. The results of this multi-method investigation have implications for both managers and academics interested in how consumers learn to become expert in hedonic product categories.

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