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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 108-117

A Hidden Gem in the World of Natural Syrup Market: Consumer’s Preferences of Date Syrup in an Emerging Market


1 Marketing Department, College of Economics and Political Science, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
2 Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
4 Aborton Limited, Dental and Medical Instruments Trading, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Date of Submission05-Nov-2020
Date of Decision23-Jan-2021
Date of Acceptance16-Feb-2021
Date of Web Publication22-Apr-2021

Correspondence Address:
Amanat Ali
Visiting Research Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Guelph, Albert A. Thornbrough Building, 50 Stone Road East, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1.
Canada
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijnpnd.ijnpnd_111_20

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   Abstract 


Background: Understanding consumer’s preferences in the development and marketing of date syrup is crucial for developing its global market. Limited studies have attempted to understand the issues related to consumer’s preferences for date syrup, even though such understandings are essentials for its effective marketing as a promising alternative natural syrup. The present study was therefore conducted to investigate the sensory properties, purchase attributes, and usages of date-syrup among the consumers in Pakistan. Design, Methodology, and Approach: A total of 135 consumers, comprising students, faculty, and staff from three different universities in Pakistan, participated in this study. The study questionnaire included sensory tests, rank order of brands tests, and rating of purchase-related attribute tests to evaluate the consumer preferences for date-syrup. Findings and Implications: The results showed that consumers prefer a great taste, least sweet, least thick, smoothest, most soluble, medium dark in color, and mouthfeel date syrup. Additionally, a reasonable price, good packaging, and no added sugar were the purchase-important attributes of date syrup. The purchase attributes did not differ across varying demographics. These findings indicate that the enterprises striving to promote date syrup as an alternative sweetener should pay greater attention to customer-preferred sensory properties, usages, and purchase-related attributes. Conclusion: This is the first study that evaluated the consumer’s preferences for date syrup in Pakistan. The results suggest that consumers prefer the great taste, smoothness, reasonable price, good packaging, and no added sugar as purchase-important attributes for date syrup. Therefore, enterprises promoting the use of date syrup as an alternate sweetener must concentrate on these aspects for its effective marketing.

Keywords: Date palm, date syrup, sensory attributes, consumer’s preferences


How to cite this article:
Al-Belushi MK, Butt I, Ali A, Bhuian S. A Hidden Gem in the World of Natural Syrup Market: Consumer’s Preferences of Date Syrup in an Emerging Market. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis 2021;11:108-17

How to cite this URL:
Al-Belushi MK, Butt I, Ali A, Bhuian S. A Hidden Gem in the World of Natural Syrup Market: Consumer’s Preferences of Date Syrup in an Emerging Market. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jul 31];11:108-17. Available from: https://www.ijnpnd.com/text.asp?2021/11/2/108/314381




   Introduction Top


Loaded with nutritional, health, and medicinal benefits, date syrup is one of the promising natural syrups in the global syrup market, even though currently it is virtually unknown to international markets outside the Arab world.[1],[2],[3] Arabs have been extracting date syrup from date fruits, commonly known as dates, grown in date palm trees since antiquity.[4] Date palm is believed to be the most ancient, cultivated tree in the world dating back to 4000 B.C. in the ancient city of Mesopotamia (currently Iraq) and Nile valley (presently Egypt). Subsequently, the date palm cultivations spread from the Arab world to some parts of Near-East and South-Asia, Africa, Europe, America, and Australia. Currently, almost 90% of its production and consumption is occurring in the Arab world and is also picking up globally.[2],[5],[6] As the most common by-product of dates is date syrup that remains by and large an Arab phenomenon and is only sporadically available in international markets outside Arab countries.[4],[7]

Compared to other natural syrups (such as maple, blackstrap molasses, agave, honey, coconut palm sugar, cane juice, brown rice, barley malt, and sorghum), date syrup has a number of advantages from a public health point of view. For instance, date syrup is loaded with many valuable essential minerals (e.g., calcium, iron, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc), important vitamins (e.g., thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K), antibacterial compounds, and has laxative properties.[5],[8] Date syrup is believed to be helpful in cancer, intestinal disorders, bone health, anemia, constipation, allergies, bacterial infections, heart health, night blindness, sexual disorders, intoxication, and many more ailments.[5],[8],[9],[10] As a sweetener, the date syrup’s calorie count (3000/kg) is lower than most other natural syrups such as honey (3300/kg), maple syrup (3,500/kg), sorghum syrup (>4000/kg), agave syrup (>3000/kg), barley malt syrup (>3000/kg), brown rice syrup (>4000/kg), and coconut palm sugar (3750/kg). Therefore, date syrup is not only helpful for combating anemia and other nutritional deficiencies but is also good for calorie-conscious consumers as it is relatively milder compared to other natural syrups.[6],[11],[12]

The production potential of date syrup is very high because the per hectare production of dates (11–17 tons per hectare) is higher than most other fruits and foods including the ones from which the natural syrups are extracted.[13] It is estimated that about 25% to 65% of date fruits are currently used for producing different by-products such as date paste and date syrup, animal feed, and other industrial usages.[12],[14] Date syrup is a relatively higher value-added by-product of dates. Realizing the production potential and economic benefits of dates, the governments in date producing countries and several international organizations including Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, the United Nations Development Program, and the United States Agency for International Development have taken initiatives to increase the production, supply, and marketing of dates and dates by-products in global markets.[2],[6],[15]

Unfortunately, the current research on date syrup is extremely limited. Only a few studies have addressed the issues related to production, processing, and extraction of date syrup from date fruits, its chemical composition, rheological, physical, and sensory properties as well as the industrial usages.[7],[16],[17],[18],[19] Although consumers are the ultimate judges to determine the success of date syrup in world markets, as per this current study’s literature search no direct study has yet attempted to understand the issues related to consumers’ preferences of date syrup. This lack of deep understanding of consumer’s voices is posing a major challenge for the date industry to successfully market date syrup around the world. In the absence of any existing study, the present study attempts to address some basic issues related to consumer’s preferences about date syrup. Because sensory properties are the initial-influencers of consumer’s food-choices, sensory evaluation tests were conducted to determine the sensory properties (taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel), which consumers prefer to see in date syrup. Although date syrup is a common cooking ingredient in various meat, poultry, fish, vegetable, and dessert dishes in the Arab world, many other natural syrups are used as toppings or mixers by consumers in the non-Arab world markets. As such, other consumer’s preferred usages of date syrup (ice cream topping, as a spread for smearing on toast, mix in milk and yogurt) were examined. Finally, there are purchase-important attributes of products that influence consumer’s purchase decisions. Consequently, consumer’s purchase-important attributes (great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, no-added sugar, brand name, good packaging, and reasonable price) of date syrup were examined.

The literature search indicated that consumers’ preferences about date syrup have not been adequately studied.[9],[14],[20] This present study, therefore, looked into three areas of consumer’s preferences about date syrup such as the sensory properties, the usages, and the purchase-important attributes of date syrup. While choosing a food-product, particularly a new food-product, sensory properties are important for consumers.[21] Usage of a food product is an important consideration for adopting a new food product. In addition to this, while making purchase decisions, the consumers consider different purchase-important attributes.[22],[23] Seven sensory properties were included in this study namely taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel. “Taste” refers to the pleasure sensation in the taste bud, “sweetness” is the taste of sugar, “thickness” refers to the consistency of the date syrup, “smoothness” is the degree to which date syrup feels smooth in the mouth, “solubility” is the extent to which date syrup dissolve in the mouth, “color” is used as the extent to which the color is dark, and “mouthfeel” is considered as the physical sensations in the mouth caused by date syrup. These sensory properties of date syrup may vary across different brands because of variations in raw materials used in processing and production, that is, the type of dates and the differences involved in the production processes.[9],[24] Further, the sensory properties are even more important for indulgent food items such as date syrup, which is used as a sweetener and a flavoring agent.[9],[25] Nonetheless, only very few studies have yet attempted to assess the consumer’s preferences of sensory properties of date syrup.[9],[14],[20] To gain market acceptance, the date syrup marketers should therefore have a clear understanding of the sensory properties of date syrup preferred by consumers. The current study was therefore conducted to clarify the following research questions:

Research question 1

What are the preferred levels of taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel in date syrups for the consumers?

Research question 2

What are the levels of taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel of a specific brand of date syrup that is most preferred by consumers?

Date syrup has many industrial and consumer usages.[9] For industrial purposes, date syrup is used to produce citric acid, ethanol, tablet binder, leather-polish, high fructose date syrup, and others.[26],[27] Consumers use date syrup in different ways. In Arab countries, date syrup is a popular cooking ingredient for different traditional dishes. The Arabs use date syrup to add sweetness and to enhance flavor in cooking meat, poultry, fish, rice, vegetables, pasta, and a variety of sweet dishes.[28] They also mix date syrup with a variety of beverages and drinks. Date syrup is used as a topping on different semi-fluid snack items such as yogurt and ice cream.[20],[29] Outside the Arab world, consumers usually use the syrup as a topping on different dairy confections such as ice cream, cheesecake, yogurt, and cream cake. The researchers have tested the use of date syrup as an alternative for sugar for various products.[30],[31] As a relatively thick syrup, it can also be used as a spread over baked items such as toast, bagel, croissants, and as a topping on griddled/batter-based confections like pancake, crepe, and waffle.[32] Date syrup is used as a flavoring sweetener in different drinks/beverages such as milk, tea, coffee, shakes, and sorbets.[33],[34],[35] In the non-Arab and developing South-Asian countries (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) having about 24% of world population (>1.7 billion people), the most popular syrups are honey and blackstrap molasses. The most popular usages of these syrups are as toppings on ice-creams, spreads on toast/bread, and sweeteners in milk and yogurt. Considering the study-context, the chosen usages of date syrup in this current study are mix in milk, mix in yoghurt, put on toast, ice-cream topping, and others. To achieve consumer acceptances, marketers need to know about consumer’s preferred usages of date syrup based on which suitable marketing strategies can be developed and implemented. Unfortunately, there is no existing study on consumer’s preferred usages of date syrup in these countries. Thus, the following research questions were offered.

Research question 3

To what extent consumers prefer to mix date syrup with milk and yogurt, and use date syrup as a topping on ice cream, and put on toast?

Research question 4

Do consumers differ with respect to their desired usages of date syrup (mix in milk, mix in yogurt, put on toast, and topping on ice cream) across different demographic characteristics (gender, education, marital status, age, and income)?

While purchasing natural sweeteners (used as condiments), consumers are influenced by different sensory attributes, product attributes, and prices.[22],[23],[36],[37] In this current study, five sensory attributes (great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, and solubility), three product attributes (no added sugar, brand name, and good packaging), and price trait (reasonable price) were included as purchase-important attributes of date syrups. The five sensory properties have already been defined in the earlier section. No added sugar means the syrup is not sweetened with adding sugar, a brand name is brand awareness/recognition, and good packaging is the extent to which the package of the date syrup is functionally useful and aesthetically appealing. Reasonable price is that the prices of the date syrups are affordable and comparable with the prices of other syrups.[38] As a semi-liquid condiment used to enhance the sweetness and flavor of other foods, consumers are likely to emphasize sensory properties of date syrup such as taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, and solubility.[3] Like most other countries, Pakistan is also facing a serious problem of obesity as the number of overweight and obese people is continuously on the increase.[39],[40],[41] Thus, no added sugar is likely to be a factor that consumers will consider while choosing a food item to lower their risk of obesity [42]. The brand name signals quality and safety that are important for making food choices particularly in contexts where food quality standards are not strictly enforced.[43] Further, good packaging is likely to be an important attribute in Pakistan particularly for food items because of the hot-humid climate, poor marketing infrastructure, and storing limitations in living spaces, which can not only spoil food but also can make the usage inconvenient.[44] In addition, with a per capita GDP of $1316, Pakistan’s consumers are likely to be more price-conscious, and hence reasonable price should be a consideration while purchasing date syrup.[45] It is also possible that consumers may differ with respect to their preferred purchase-important attributes of date syrups. That is, different demographics may prefer different levels of purchase-important attributes of date syrups. A clear knowledge of purchase-important attributes of date syrups from consumer’s perspectives is essential for marketers to effectively market date syrups to consumers. Based on the preceding discussion, the following research questions were sought:

Research question 5

To what extent great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, no added sugar, brand name, good packaging, and reasonable price are important to consumers, while they purchase date syrups?

Research question 6

Do consumers of different demographics (gender, marital status, education, age, and income) differ in terms of the extent to which good taste, more thickness, more sweetness, very soluble, very smooth, well-known brand, no added sugar, good packaging, and reasonable price are important to them while purchasing date syrups?

The objective of this study was to determine the consumer preferences for date syrup in terms of its sensory properties (taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel), to understand preferred usage of date syrup (ice cream topping, putting on toast, mix in milk and yogurt) and to identify consumer’s purchase-important attributes (great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, no added sugar, brand name, good packaging, and reasonable price).


   Methodology Top


Measurement

The issues in the current study were measured by scales taken from existing studies. Each of the seven sensory properties (taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel) was measured by a bipolar semantic differential scale on a 7-point format. The anchors were tastes terrible and tastes great, least sweet and extremely sweet, least thick and extremely thick, least smooth and extremely smooth, least soluble and extremely soluble, least dark and extremely dark, and least pleasant and extremely pleasant.[46] Three existing brands of date syrup were used by concealing their true brand names and brands were labelled as A, B, and C. Also, a one-item scale was used in which respondents were asked to rank the 3 brands from first to third. Further, to measure the usages of date syrup, a one-question scale was used for each of the four usages (mix with milk, mix with yogurt, on toast, and on ice-cream). Respondents rated the usages on a 7-point scale ranging from “least desirable (1)” to “highly desirable (7).”[32] In addition, each of the nine purchase-important attributes (great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, no added sugar, brand name, and good packaging) was measured by a one-item scale.[47],[48],[49] Respondents rated each of the 9 purchase-important attributes on a 7-point scale ranging from “least important (1)” to “most important (7)”. Finally, there were five demographic questions as follows: gender, education, marital status, age, and monthly household income.

Data collection

The data for the present study were collected from three different universities in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. With respect to dates and date syrups, Pakistan rose to prominence in the recent past by becoming the fifth-largest producer of dates and the third-largest exporter.[50] Lahore is the second-largest city with a population of over 10 million people.[51] There are over 30 public and private 4-year colleges and universities in the city with a student population of over 600,000. Three universities were randomly selected for the current study where three make-shifts laboratories were setup for conducting the quasi-experiments. Using judgments, 135 subjects representing faculty members, students, and staff were invited to participate in the study. The profiles of the respondents showed that 65% were male and 35% female. In terms of education, 46% had postgraduate degrees, 40% had graduate degrees, and 10% were in the “other” category. With respect to marital status, 54% were single, whereas the rest 46% were married. Regarding the age group, 14% were 18 to 24 years old, 47% 25 to 34 years old, 24% were 35 to 44 years old, 10% were 45 to 54 years old, and 5% were 55 or more years old. Concerning the monthly income, 40% earned less than PKR (Pakistani Rupee) 50,000 ($360), 26% earned in-between PKR50,000 ($360) and PKR99,999 ($720), 20% earned in-between PKR100,000 ($720) and PKR149,999 ($1077), 8% earned in-between PKR150,000 ($1077) and PKR199,999 ($1436), and 6% earned higher than PKR200,000 ($1436). In general, the profiles indicated that the majority of the respondents were male, highly educated, single, young (within the age group of 25–44 years), and were below the per capita GDP income level of Pakistan ($1275).

Method of analysis

In order to answer the research question 1 (What are the preferred levels of taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel in date syrup to consumers?), sensory tests were carried out with three brands of date syrups labeled as A, B, and C. Each respondent tasted each of the three date syrups separately and rated for each of the seven sensory properties on a bi-polar semantic differential scale on a 7-point format. Respondents drank water to wash mouths in-between tasting different brands of date syrups. Mean scores were calculated for each of the seven properties pertaining to each of the three brands (x̅tasteA, x̅tasteB, and x̅tasteC; x̅sweetnessA, x̅sweetnessB, and x̅sweetnessC; x̅thicknessA, x̅thicknessB, and x̅thicknessC; x̅smoothnessA, x̅smoothnessB, and x̅smoothnessC; x̅solubilityA, x̅solubilityB, and x̅solubilityC; x̅colorA, x̅colorB, and x̅colorC; and x̅mouth feelA, x̅mouth feelB, and x̅mouth feelC). Subjects were then asked to rank each of the three brands (A, B, and C) on a scale: first, second, and third in order to answer research question 2 (What are the levels of taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel of the brand most preferred by consumers?). The first rank was assigned a weight of 3, the second rank was assigned a weight of 2, and the third rank was assigned a weight of 1. The weighted average was estimated for each brand and the ranking of the brands was based on the weighted mean score. [Table 1] shows the estimates.
Table 1 Sensory properties and ranking of date syrup brands

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Further, to address the research question 3 (to what extent Pakistani consumers prefer to mix date syrup with milk and yogurt, use date syrup as a topping on ice cream, and put on toast?) respondents were asked to rate each of the four usages on a 7-point scale (least desirable to highly desirable) after they had tasted them with the top-ranked brand from the first question. Then the mean scores were calculated (x̅mixinmilk, x̅mixinyogurt, x̅putontoast , and x̅toopingonicecream). The ranking was determined based on the mean scores [Table 2]. With respect to the research question 4 [do consumers differ with respect to their desired usages of date syrup (mix in milk, mix in yogurt, put on toast, and topping on ice cream) across different demographic characteristics (gender, education, marital status, age, and income)?], a cross-tabulation (between usages and demographics) and the χ2 statistics were estimated. The cells in the cross-tabulation represent the mean scores of usages corresponding to demographics [Table 3].
Table 2 Consumers’ preferred usage of top ranked date syrup

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Table 3 Consumer demographics and preferred usage of date syrup

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For answering the research question 5 (to what extent great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, no added sugar, brand name, good packaging, and reasonable price are important to consumers while they purchase date syrup?), subjects rated each of the nine purchase-important attributes of date syrup on a 7-point scale (least important to most important). Then the mean scores were calculated for each purchase-important attribute (x̅great taste, x̅sweetness, x̅thickness, x̅smoothness, x̅solubility, x̅noaddedsugar, x̅brandname, x̅goodpackaging, and x̅reasonableprice). The ranking was done based on the mean scores [Table 4]. Finally, to answer the research question 5 (do consumers of different demographics (gender, marital status, education, age, and income) differ in terms of the extent to which great taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, no added sugar, brand name, good packaging, and reasonable price are important to them while they purchase date syrups?), a cross-tabulation (between purchase-important attributes and demographics) and the χ2 statistics were estimated [Table 5]. The cells in the cross-tabulation represent the mean scores of purchase-important attributes of date syrup corresponding to demographics.
Table 4 Purchase-important attributes

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Table 5 Consumer demographics and purchase-important attributes

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   Results Top


Results pertaining to research questions 1 and 2

The results pertaining to research questions 1 and 2 are given in [Table 1]. The results indicated that the mean ratings of the sensory property of taste were: x̅tasteA = 4.29, x̅tasteB = 5.24, and x̅tasteC = 5.93. That is, the tastiest brand was brand C followed by brand B and brand A respectively. Regarding sweetness, the mean ratings were: x̅sweetnessA = 5.66, x̅sweetnessB = 5.04, and x̅sweetnessC = 4.62 indicating that brand C was the least sweet brand and brand A was the sweetest, while brand B was in the middle. The mean ratings concerning thickness were: x̅thicknessA= 5.69, x̅thicknessB = 5.66, and x̅thicknessC = 5.63, that is brand C was the least thick followed by brands B and A. With respect to smoothness, the mean rating scores were: x̅smoothnessA= 3.94, x̅smoothnessB = 5.21, and x̅smoothnessC = 6.19 suggesting that the smoothest brand was brand C followed by brands B and A. In terms of solubility, the mean rating scores were: x̅solubilityA = 4.35, x̅solubilityB = 4.99, and x̅solubilityC = 5.75 indicating that brand C was most soluble followed by brand B and A. Regarding color, the mean rating scores were as follows: x̅colorA = 5.79, x̅colorB = 5.41, and x̅colorC = 5.43 suggesting that the moderate dark brand was brand C, whereas brand C was the lightest and brand A was the darkest. Concerning mouthfeel, the mean ratings were: x̅mouthfeelA = 4.10, x̅mouthfeelB = 5.50, and x̅mouthfeelC = 5.94, that is, the most pleasant mouthfeel was in brand C followed by brands B and A. Further, the weighted ranking scores were 1.58 (brand A), 1.88 (brand B), and 2.54 (brand C). Thus, the ranking of the brands was: first (brand C), second (brand B), and third (brand A). The sensory properties of the first-ranked brand were great taste, least sweet, least thick, smoothest, most soluble, medium-dark in color, and most pleasant in the mouth.

Results pertaining to research questions 3 and 4

Regarding the usages of the top-ranked syrup (brand C), the mean scores were: x̅mixinmilk = 5.05, x̅mixinyogurt = 4.37, x̅putontoast = 5.08, and x̅toopingonicecream = 5.88. That is, the most desirable usage was “topping on ice cream,” followed by “put on toast,” “mix with milk,” and “mix with yogurt,” respectively [Table 2]. The cross-tabulation between four usages and 17 different demographics resulted in 68 mean scores [Table 3]. Consistently, all categories of gender, education, marital status, age, and income chose “topping on ice cream” as the most desirable usage of the top-ranked brand of date syrup except for the income category of PKR200,000 ($1905) and above and 55 or more years of age. The mean scores across demographic categories for “topping on ice cream” ranged from 5.08 to 6.60. Eight categories of demographics [graduate degrees, others of education, 18–24 years old, 35–44 years old, 45–54 years old, less than PKR50,000 ($476), PKR50,000–99,999 ($476–$952), and PKR150,000–199,999 ($952–$1429)] chose “mix with milk” as the second most preferred usage for the top brand of date syrup. The scores ranged from 4.75 to 6.40. Further, seven demographic categories [male, female, postgraduate, married, single, 25–34 years old, and PKR100,000–149,999 ($1429-$1905)] chose the usage of “put on toast” as the second most desired usage for the top brand of date syrup with mean scores ranged from 4.69 to 5.39. The usage of “mix with yogurt” was least desired by 15 of 17 demographic categories. Only two demographic categories preferred “mix with yogurt” as the most desired usages and they are 55 or more years of age and income at or above PKR200,000 ($1905). Overall, the χ2 statistics were insignificant (Gender × Usages: χ2 = 0.107, df = 3, sig. = 0.99; EducationXUsages: χ2 = 0.276, df = 6, sig. = 0.99; Marital Status × Usages: χ2 = 0.30, df = 3, sig. = 0.99; Age × Usages: χ2 = 2.129, df = 12, sig. = 0.99; Income × Usages: χ2 = 1.411, df = 12, sig. = 0.99). This showed that the consumers did not differ in terms of their desired usages of the top brand of date syrup across different demographic characteristics.

Results pertaining to research questions 5 and 6

The mean scores related to purchase-important attributes of date syrup were as follows: x̅greattaste = 6.59, x̅sweetness = 4.90, x̅thickness = 5.24, x̅smoothness = 4.90, x̅solubility = 5.35, x̅noaddedsugar = 5.54,brandname = 5.52, x̅goodpackaging = 5.94, and x̅reasonableprice = 6.10. The rankings of the purchase-important attributes of date syrup based on the mean scores from first to ninth were respectively great taste (first), reasonable price (second), good packaging (third), smoothness (fourth), no added sugar (fifth), brand name (sixth), solubility (seventh), thickness (eighth), and sweetness (ninth) [Table 4]. The mean scores for great taste across 16 of 17 demographic categories were the highest (ranged from 6.38 to 6.80). Twelve of 17 demographic categories produced second or higher magnitudes of mean scores (from 5.77 to 6.71) for a reasonable price. Also, the mean scores of 14 of 17 categories of demographics were the third highest or higher (ranging from 5.46 to 6.50) related to good packaging. Thirteen mean scores (out of 17) were the fourth highest or higher related to smoothness (from 5.33 to 6.29). Ten of the mean scores of no added sugar were the fifth highest or higher (from 5.20 to 6.67). Regarding the brand name, 13 mean scores (out of 17) were the sixth highest or higher (from 5.08 to 6.67). Twelve mean scores of 17 were the seventh highest or higher (from 4.67 to 5.76). Concerning thickness, 14 mean scores (out of 17) were the eighth highest or higher (from 4.00 to 5.80). Lastly, 13 of 17 mean scores of sweetness were the lowest (from 3.00 to 5.16). All the 68 mean scores (four usages times 17 demographics) are given in [Table 5]. The χ2 tests produced nonsignificant results (Gender × Purchase-Important Attributes: χ2 = 0.096, df = 8, and sig. = 0.99; Education × Purchase-Important Attributes: χ2 = 0.211, df = 16, and sig. = 0.55; Marital Status × Purchase-Important Attributes: χ2 = 0.125, df = 8, and sig. = 0.99; Age × Purchase-Important Attributes: χ2 = 2.167, df = 32, and sig. = 1.00; Income × Purchase-Important Attributes: χ2 = 1.178, df = 32, and sig. = 1.03), that is the purchase-important attributes of date syrup did not differ across different demographics of consumers.


   Discussion Top


This present study attempted to determine the extent to which the consumers prefer seven important sensory properties (taste, sweetness, thickness, smoothness, solubility, color, and mouthfeel) in date syrup utilizing sensory tests for three brands of date syrup with a sample of well-informed respondents from Pakistan, one of the leading producers and exporters of dates and date by-products in the world. The current study also ascertained the sensory properties of the most preferred brand of date syrup. The present study also determined the desired usages of date syrup by consumers. Further, the current study identified the purchase-important attributes of date syrup. The findings revealed that the most preferred date syrup brand is the one that is the best tasting, least sweet, least thick, smoothest, most soluble, medium darkest, and most pleasant in the mouth. The most desired usages, from the highest to the least, of date syrup were as topping on ice cream, spread on toast, mix in milk, and mix in yogurt. The usage patterns do not differ across gender, education levels, marital status, age groups, and income levels. Further, the purchase-important attributes, from most to least, are great taste, reasonable price, good packaging, smoothness, no added sugar, brand name, solubility, thickness, and sweetness. Regarding the purchase-important attributes, the consumers did not differ across varying demographics of gender, education levels, marital status, age groups, and income levels.

Theoretical implications

Relative to many other natural syrups, date syrup has higher nutritional values, health benefits and medicinal properties.[5],[9],[10] Unfortunately, date syrup is still, by and large, unknown to the world markets outside the Arab world. Arabs have been producing and consuming date syrup since antiquity.[4],[11],[52] Outside the Arab world, the availability is sparse and the awareness level is very low. Although Pakistan is the fifth largest producer of dates in the world, date syrup is only sporadically distributed and marketed.[53] In order to realize the potential of date syrup, it is essential to understand consumer’s preferences and behaviors related to date syrup. The current study is one of the pioneering studies that attempted to understand the nature and pattern of consumer’s preferences of date syrup. One of the theoretical contributions is that the present study set the base levels of sensory properties, usages, and purchase-important attributes of date syrup that are preferred by consumers, all of which can be used to formulate future research hypotheses. Also, this current study offers a methodology involving sensory tastes, ranking, rating of usages, and rating of purchase-important attributes, which should be helpful for future research endeavors. The scales of the present study can be used to conduct future research on consumer’s preferences of date syrup in global markets.

Managerial implications

Producers and marketers of date syrup have lessons to take from the findings of this study. For instance, the consumers prefer the best tasting, least sweet, least thick, smoothest, most soluble, medium-dark, and most pleasant in the mouth sensory properties in date syrup. These sensory properties primarily depend on the extraction and production processes of date syrup as smoothness, thickness, and color can be altered. Producers and marketers will be better off paying attention to the extraction and production processes in order to achieve the consumer-desired sensory properties of date syrup. As a condiment item (sweetening and flavor-adding agent), it is likely that consumers would prefer the best tasting date syrup. The rising health consciousness and antisugar attitude may have resulted in the choice of the least sweet. Less thick might be more convenient for consumers to use date syrup with ice-cream, toast, milk, and so on. The lighter color is associated with a lighter flavor, whereas the darker color is related to stronger flavor. Consumers seem to prefer less dark color because they prefer lighter flavor. As an indulgence condiment item used mostly for sweetening and flavoring, consumers prefer to indulge with a pleasant mouthfeel. The findings also indicated that consumers prefer to use date syrup as a topping on ice-cream, spread on toast, mix in milk, and mix in yogurt, in the order of most preferred to least preferred. These findings can be useful for effectively promoting and marketing date syrup to consumers. Because consumers do not differ in terms of their preferred usage patterns of date syrup across different demographics, marketing efforts can be standardized across different segments. In Pakistan and other South-Asian countries, the most popular syrup is honey and blackstrap molasses, which are mostly smooth and soluble. As the consumers prefer smoothness and solubility, these attributes must be developed in date syrup to use it with ice-cream, toast, milk, and yogurt. Further, the identification of the purchase-important attributes of date syrup should be helpful for influencing the consumer’s purchase decisions. As the consumers do not vary regarding their preferred purchase-important attributes for date syrup, there is a good scope to use the standard marketing programs for influencing consumer’s purchases of date syrup. Since syrup is used to sweeten and add flavor, consumers want great taste in date syrup. Pakistan and other South-Asian countries are developing countries with a low to moderate level of per capita income, the consumers prefer to have a reasonable price. Good packaging is an important attribute to avoid the spoilage of perishable goods in these countries where storage conditions are limiting. Smoothness is preferred perhaps because of their experience with other popular syrups such as honey and blackstrap molasses. Pakistani consumers seem to prefer the natural version that has no added sugar because of their health concerns. The sensory properties of great taste and smoothness can be addressed through the production processes. Achieving cost efficiencies in production and marketing will be helpful for setting reasonable prices. Packaging should be made suitable so that consumers can store and use date syrup conveniently.


   Conclusion Top


This is the first of its kind of study that evaluated the consumer’s preferences for date syrup in Pakistan. The results indicate that consumers prefer the great taste, smoothness, reasonable price, good packaging, and no added sugar as purchase-important attributes for date syrup. With all its values and benefits, date syrup seems to be a hidden gem in the world’s syrup market and its market potential can be further realized by gradually understanding the nature and patterns of consumer’s preferences. It is suggested that the businesses furthering the use of date syrup as an alternate sweetener must concentrate on these aspects for its effective promotion and marketing.

Limitations

The current study has some limitations. As there is no previous study about consumer’s preferences of date syrup in Pakistan, the results could not be compared with past studies. Although Pakistan is one of the largest producers and exporters of dates and date by-products and Pakistan’s consumer market is very similar to the consumer markets in other South-Asian countries, the findings may not be generalizable outside South-Asian markets. Future studies should therefore be undertaken in other global markets, particularly in Western markets, in order to effectively market date syrup in world markets. The sample size in the current study is small and the sampling technique is non-probabilistic, which may limit the generalizability of the findings. Future studies with a larger sample size and probabilistic sampling techniques should be done based on the findings of the present study, which may however be challenging. Other usages of date syrup such as in cooking, baking, beverages, and dairy confectionaries should be explored in future studies and compared with different other natural syrups.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]



 

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