Why do I like some flavours and not others?


Why do we like some foods and dislike others? Why are my preferences different from yours? How is this information useful for Brand owners, product developers and communicators?

We are born with – arguably – four innate likes and dislikes. We like sweet things and fatty things – evolutionarily a good thing as we crave the calories that are essential for survival but were hard to find – and we hate bitter and sour flavours – again a good thing as we spat out those bright berries that looked so attractive but were probably poisonous.

Everything else we learn as we go along…

Tastes and textures, even different ways of delivering a taste or a texture, we learn to associate with positive and negative feelings. Psychologists call it Paired Associative Learning.  Some foods are associated with fun and parties and will always represent carefree, exciting, fun times. Some we will associate with mother’s love and home, they will always be comforting, safe, reassuring foods. Some will have less pleasant associations – such as the first time we got ill through alcohol – and these flavours may be challenging to us for the rest of our lives.

As we grow up, we even learn to reject sweet and fatty things as we learn that in modern society these are not so good for us, and we learn to like bitter as we associate things like coffee and alcohol with more aspirational grown-up feelings – we pair these positive associations with the flavours and soon find that we like the flavours.

So, our likes and dislikes are an amalgamation of our experiences – much like our individual personalities – and thus unique. Yes, this is true, but our experiences are a function of the culture and time that we grew up in and so we share more commonalities with our compatriots than is perhaps initially apparent.

Whenever we eat or drink we experience a series of tastes and textures. These tastes and textures, the way that we experience them and the order in which they come, take us on an emotional journey. We may not consciously recall the experience, but our unconscious recalls the emotions that these flavours and textures prompt within us.

If you really want to understand how your brand works, the best ways to talk about it and how you can develop and improve it, you need to understand your consumers’ emotional journeys.

Not just the final destination – how they feel after consuming your product – but the whole journey and how and why the sensorial journey of your product prompts this emotional journey.

Once you understand this you will see your brand differently. You will understand that this journey is the true essence of your brand. It is this journey that differentiates your brand from your competitors. It is this emotional journey that brings consumers back to your brand again and again.

You will start to see the taste and texture, the positioning and communication of your brand as the tools that you can use to deliver the best emotional journeys for your consumers, and – best of all – you will understand how you can use these tools.

Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands