A new study from the University of Bonn finds that consumers are willing to pay more for products with a Fair Trade logo, and they also perceive them to taste better. Published last week in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research identifies potential neural mechanisms that explain why Fair Trade products are evaluated more positively.
Test subjects in a brain scanner were presented with various products on which to bid. The results were clear: Scientists observed increased neural activity in regions associated with reward processing when observing the Fair Trade logo, and were willing to pay roughly 30 percent more for products produced according to Fair Trade Standards.
The brain’s frontal lobe was also observed to be more active in participants viewing Fair Trade products. Part of the frontal lobe calculates a person’s willingness to pay in an area known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), according to scientists.
"The higher the activity in the vmPFC, the more money subjects were willing to pay," explained professor Dr. Bernd Weber, neuroscientist at the University of Bonn.
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In a second experiment, participants sampled two pieces of chocolate and were told one of them was Fair Trade and the other was from conventional production. When rating the chocolate by taste, the piece with the Fair Trade emblem received far superior taste evaluations.
In actuality, there was no difference in the chocolates. "Pure imagination," said Laura Enax, the study's lead author. "Both pieces of chocolate are actually identical."
This study comes on the heels of recent survey findings that indicate consumers would purchase more sustainable packaging if provided with information on how it can mitigate climate change. It also comes as Fair Trade continues to expand its products and global reach − in February, Fairtrade Foundation and Mars Chocolate UK announced an extension of their partnership to source Fair Trade-certified cocoa by October 2015; and here in the States, Safeway and Fair Trade USA partnered to launch Fair Trade Certified™ seafood into the North American market.