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For many years Sulfur dioxide has been used as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent in wine. Interestingly enough there is only about 1% of the population that has a true allergy to sulfites despite the wide-spread perception that sulfites cause negative health effects in a large number of people. Science has yet to prove a connection between sulfites and headaches even though some consumers insist their headaches or migraines are a result of drinking red wine.

 This exaggerated misconception has led some wineries to produce and market “low-sulfite” wines, which are essentially wines with little to no extra sulfites added. Organic winemaking is known for producing these types of wine, as added sulfites is not allowed in the production of organic wine.

Recently published articles argue that if consumers are truly concerned over sulfites in wine, then how much would they value a low-sulfite wine, and how many of them would consider this quality important in their purchasing decision process? The researchers have consequently created surveys as well as performed “best-worst” experiments in order to determine consumer preferences and attitudes toward sulfites in wine; their willingness-to-pay for low or no-sulfite wines; and to identify a particular group of which low-sulfite wines could be successfully marketed.

METHODS

Participants were recruited via an email subscriber list at a wine and spirits retailer in northern Colorado. These surveys were completed over a couple of weeks in March 2012, with a total of 223 participants completing the surveys.

It was noted that the participants in this study do not represent the national average, as they tended to have higher incomes and higher education than the average American.

97% of the participants claimed to have purchased at least one bottle of wine during a typical month, while 32% of the participants claimed to have purchased between 4 and 6 bottles every month.

These surveys asked questions about demographics and alcohol purchasing habits. The participants were also asked if they have ever experienced a headache after drinking moderate amounts of certain types of wine. If participants answered yes to this question, they were then presented with further questions aimed at determining what they thought were the cause their headaches.

The participants were then given information with respect to the role of sulfites in wine, as well as the current state of knowledge on the role of sulfites in human health issues. The information stressed than only 1% of consumers actually have a true sulfite allergy, and that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that sulfites cause headaches in more individuals than that.

For the select experiments, the researchers looked at 4 different quality levels, a “no-sulfites” wine label versus an “organic” wine label, and 4 different price levels. Quality levels were determined by scores from the Wine Spectator. Prices of wine were listed anywhere within $1.50 of three different “base prices”; $10.49, $20.49, or $30.49. Each consumer was randomly assigned to either a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Basically each participant experienced different price levels, quality, and no-sulfite/organic labeling, while the price range and the type of wine varied across participants and not within a single participant.

Participants were given 12 choice tests with 3 wines each and were asked to select their “most preferred” and “least preferred” in each set. Participants were allowed to select “would not purchase” if none of the options presented appealed to them.

After the preference selection, participants were then asked if they would actually purchase the wine they chose as “most preferred” …

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This blog was published in The Academic Wino by Becca Yeamans on 9th September 2013