In recent years, consumers have been increasing demand for the application of more environmentally friendly practices in many different industries, including wine [1
]. Viticulture has been criticized for environmental costs related to soil erosion, pollution of water and air, pesticide drift and chemical residues, and negative impacts on biodiversity [3
]. The various steps of wine production all contribute to resource depletion and environmental emission, as the cultivation of grapes, the winemaking process, the fabrication of bottles, the bottling of wine, the transportation for sales, refrigeration, and disposal of bottles all require various materials and energy [5
]. Thus far, improvements in wine production’s environmental aspects have been centred around energy and water efficiency, pesticide reduction, soil conservation, and solid waste management [4
A review of consumers’ willingness-to-pay for wine with sustainability characteristics found that sustainability cues were often perceived as quality indicators, with organic and environmental sustainability being the leading indicators [7
]. According to a study, more than 80% of consumers are willing to pay extra to support the use of these practices [2
]. Those who are willing to pay more and purchase organic wine are more concerned about the health benefits of a product, are more environmentally conscious, and desire more information about the products they are purchasing [10
]. Not only do the consumers advocate for these changes through purchasing actions, but these values are often reflected in the perceived quality of the wine in a way that is in line with their expectations and beliefs [12
]. Furthermore, a study analyzing ten case studies in Italy found that a reduced carbon footprint and subsequent claims about the wine and vineyard can lead to competitive advantages including customers’ loyalty and entrance into foreign markets [14
]. Additionally, adoption of environmental practices and sustainable social practices had added value to sparkling wines [15
]. On the other hand, a study completed on the attitudes of consumers on organic wines found they expected organic wines to be more expensive, trendy, have a distinctive taste, and not be ideal for dinner with family and friends [16
]. Only half of the consumers express belief that sustainable techniques will change the quality of wine or their perceptions of it [9
]. However, not many studies have investigated if these sustainable production claims affect consumers’ sensory perceptions of the wine.
Firstly, projective mapping (PM) and ultra-flash profiling (UFP) will determine the attributes consumers used to describe Nova Scotia (NS) sparkling wines. Nova Scotia, Canada, is a relatively new wine-producing region, and to benefit the industry, this research will identify the attributes consumers use to classify the province’s sparkling wine varieties and consumers’ perceived attributes. PM is a cost and time-efficient method, where participants are instructed to position varying samples on a two-dimensional plane, distancing samples in a way that reflects their similarities or differences [17
]. Thus, if the participant perceived two samples as being similar, they would be positioned closer together on the two-dimensional plane. Ultra-flash profiling is commonly used alongside projective mapping. This method can provide participants with a list of characteristics. For each of the samples evaluated, participants are asked to supply descriptors that they perceive to be related to the given sample. This information provides further explanation as to why a participant finds samples similar or dissimilar [18
]. The most frequently used attributes in the PM and UFP trial will then be included in a check-all-that-apply (CATA) questionnaire.
Nine-point hedonic scales and a CATA question will be used to determine if consumers’ sensory evaluations of sparkling wine change when they are labelled as produced following different production methods (organic, carbon-neutral, traditional). CATA is a method that has been used successfully to evaluate the impact of information disclosure on sensory perceptions of foods [19
]. It has been effectively used in characterizing a wide variety of foods, including alcoholic beverages and wine, despite their complexity [20
]. CATA is a method that provides a list of terms to participants, who are then instructed to select the descriptors that they perceive are associated with the given sample [23
In this context, this study’s first objective is to use projective mapping and ultra-flash profiling to describe NS sparkling wines. The second objective is to investigate the influence production methods have on consumer sensory perception and liking of NS sparkling wines. Participants will be asked to evaluate sparkling wines blinded and then accompanied by sustainability claims using an acceptance test and a CATA questionnaire.
The purpose of the PM and UFP was to identify the descriptors consumers use to describe NS sparkling wines, which could then be included in the CATA questionnaire. Nevertheless, some conclusions can be made based on the PM and UFP task. The wines were separated into wines that contained fruity attributes (peach, pear, sweet, berry, citrus) or earthy attributes (earthy, floral, bitter, strong, burnt, oak, wood). Previous studies on the sensory aspects of sparkling wines have found that fruit-related attributes are often perceived [32
]. Although earthy attributes are not as commonly used as descriptors, mushroom/earthy characterization has been used before as reference for some sparkling wines [33
]. Another similar categorization previously used would be vegetative–herbaceous [34
The study’s primary objective was to identify how the disclosure of production methods, including sustainable practices, would impact consumers’ sensory perceptions, using 9-point hedonic scales and a CATA questionnaire. The disclosure of the production methods did not lead to a change in the participants’ liking of appearance, flavour, or mouthfeel, and no significant differences were found in the overall liking of wine (α = 0.05). Although the disclosure of production methods may not impact participants’ overall liking of wine, there may still be a link between these practices and consumers’ choice of wines. Olsen et al. [35
] found a correlation between environmental values and the purchasing action of organic wines. However, the participants in the study by Olsen et al. [35
] did not associate organic wine with enjoyment, but they did hypothesize that consumers are willing to make self-sacrifices and pay a premium price to support more sustainable practices. Although the demand for sustainability has increased, more recent studies show that the growing societal demand for ethical consumption has not yet become essential for wine consumers [13
]. These studies support that as of right now, the sustainability of wines is currently not an area where wine marketing researchers should focus. Currently, only a small segment of the population is willing to sacrifice quality for a wine produced using sustainable practices, and those consumers show a preference for purchasing organic wine [36
Building on the PM and UFP task results, the penalty analysis of the overall liking scores and CATA attributes determined that fruit-related attributes (crisp, sweet, apples, and citrus) drove consumers’ liking of sparkling wine regardless of the production methods. Attributes that were contrary to fruit flavours significantly drove participants’ disliking of sparkling wine. McMahon et al. [37
] found that consumers prefer fruity, floral, and sweet taste in sparkling wines. However, McMahon et al. [37
] also identified that some consumers prefer sparkling wines lacking in green flavours, yeasty flavours, sourness, and bitterness. It would seem that the majority of participants in the present study prefer sweet and fruity sparkling wines. Past studies on white wines [38
] have indicated that consumers can be segmented based on sweetness, which could be applied to sparkling wines.
Looking further into the results of the CATA task (Table 5
), changes in the frequency of the chosen attributes by the participants can be seen. For W2, when the carbon-neutral label was presented, the participants more frequently chose the citrus and smooth attributes, whereas the bitter attribute was chosen less frequently. The participants demonstrated an increase in the use of more appealing attributes, based on the penalty analysis (citrus and smooth), and a decrease in the unappealing attribute, bitterness, used to describe wines labelled as carbon neutral. This result agrees with past findings where consumers’ perceived quality attributes align with their expectations and beliefs [12
]. Thus, if someone holds a strong belief in reducing carbon footprints, they may perceive the wine as having more pleasurable attributes; however, the overall liking scores were not significantly different.
The wine labelled as certified organic, the attributes crisp, carbonated, and pungent were used more frequently by the participants than when the wine was evaluated blinded. In previous studies, when a product is organic, the consumer often views it as higher quality [7
]. This rationale would explain the increased use of crisp and carbonated words, which are associated with an increased liking of wine. Organic wine has also previously been classified by consumers as having a distinctive taste [14
], which may explain the more frequent use of the pungent attribute (Table 5
). When W5 was paired with the traditional methods claim, it was described as earthy and oaky. The earthy and oaky characteristics can be understood from consumers’ association of traditional methods and wine’s ageing in oak barrels. Although sparkling wines are usually fermented in glass bottles or stainless-steel tanks [40
], the participants may associate traditional methods with oak barrels. In past studies, consumers did associate the traditional methods with wines aged in barrels; however, these studies investigated still wines (red and white wines) [41
]. The majority of participants (73%) self-identified as having limited or no knowledge about wine (Table 2
), and although sparkling wines are not usually produced using barrels, they may have still associated traditional methods with barrels. As such, this association may create an expectancy of more wood and earth-related flavours in the wine [43
Participants’ responses to the shopping and sustainability habits questionnaire demonstrated that the presence of organic and sustainability logos was the lowest priority of the provided statements ranking only 4.3 and 4.4 on the 7-point Likert scale, as seen in Table 3
. It was recycling of packaging and bottles that came as their priority, ranking 6.8 and 6.7. Therefore, the participants may prefer products to be sustainable but may not value it enough to impact their sensory perceptions or wine choices. Over half of the participants expressed that they do not usually spend more than CAD 20.99 on a bottle of wine (Table 2
). The unwillingness to pay more than CAD 20.99 on a bottle of wine may be a limitation to the study; as both the sparkling varieties and sustainable production methods of wine increase the cost of a bottle, the participants in this study may not go through with the purchasing of such wine. Additionally, 80% of participants identified themselves as either interested or highly interested in wine (Table 2
). However, about 70% consider themselves to have either none or limited knowledge of wine. The lack of knowledge surrounding wine, and thus production, may mean that the participants may not fully understand the benefits that come with each of the methods and impact their perception of the wine. In a study by Ginon et al. [44
], it was found that a lack of education surrounding sustainability resulted in substantial differences in how consumers perceived labels.
It has been consistently shown that millennials, Gen Y (aged 25–39), are more educated on and concerned with environmental influences. The demand for sustainable practices and products is coming primarily from this demographic [45
]. Studies have found that the average young consumers and their environmentally friendly attitude increase their willingness to pay higher prices for wines produced using sustainable methods [46
]. The majority of participants, over 60%, were older than Gen Y in the consumer acceptability trial. If Gen Y was focused on, with a reasonably sized sample, a more accurate representation of potential changes in wines’ sensory perceptions could have been revealed. The greater value that they hold for sustainability may be more likely to influence one’s liking of wine significantly.