Food manufacturers and retailers are increasingly offering free samples to consumers, especially now that research has shown that free samples can often be a more powerful and cheaper alternative to traditional forms of advertising.
In their paper published in the Journal of Marketing, researchers Dipayan Biswas, Lauren Labrecque, Donald Lehmann, and Ereni Markos examine whether the order in which food items are sampled and the degree of sensory similarity between these food items might influence choice.
The authors conducted a series of experimental studies, in both restaurants and in lab settings. The results of these studies show that when the food items have sensory similarity (that is, when they look, smell, and taste similar), participants prefer the item sampled first in a sequence. In contrast, when there is sensory dissimilarity (that is, when the food items have differences in either color and/or smell and/or taste), participants prefer the item sampled last in a sequence.
For school cafeterias, it might be important to note that there can be unintended consequences of the order in which students might be sampling food items. For instance, there is greater liking of the food sampled first (last) if the tastes of the sampled foods are similar (dissimilar). So keep that in mind when you are planning your next student cafeteria taste tests. It may help you to find out what foods they really like!
Biswas, Dipayan, Lauren Labrecque, Donald R. Lehmann, and Ereni Markos (2014), “Making Choices While Smelling, Tasting, and Listening: The Role of Sensory (Dis)similarity When Sequentially Sampling Products,” Journal of Marketing, 78 (1), 112-126.