What started with high-quality cod in the research project Catch, turned into a doctorate on consumer perception of high-quality premium and luxury products.

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Anne-May Johansen  

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Sarah Joy Lyons from Stathelle in Telemark recently defended her doctorate “Indulging in Premium versus Luxury products: Seeking justification to avoid regrets” at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. She spent her three years as a research fellow at the food research institute Nofima and in the research project Catch.

Why do we pay more?

Catch is a visionary project where the end goal is for live storage to provide the maximum sustainable value of wild Atlantic cod. Keeping the fish alive after capture makes it possible to deal with the significant challenges associated with substantial fluctuations in quality and volume. In international markets, this means very high and very steady quality. Premium products. Some would call it luxury food.

As market researcher for the project, it was Sarah’s job to investigate what triggers the consumers’ willingness to pay a higher price for high-quality products.

“When I was sitting down to write my doctoral thesis, I found it relevant to investigate how consumers form their perceptions of high-quality products, look at the literature on premium and luxury and do further research in this area”, says the newly appointed Doctor Philosophiae.

Through three scientific papers she has accounted for how the consumers explain, give grounds for and justify their choice of high-quality products, how acquiring such products may generate guilt or regret and also how the manufacturers’ use of different colours triggers different perceptions among the consumers as to what constitutes premium and luxury products.

Expanding in saturated markets

After working on her thesis question for three years, she has determined that the demand for premium products is expanding in what is characterised as saturated markets – for example for food and beverages.

“By saturated markets we mean a situation in which a company is able to achieve further growth only through new product improvements, by taking existing market share from competitors or through increased overall demand. This does not mean that offering new products is impossible. On the contrary. But it becomes even more important to offer products that exceed the available alternatives or that increase demand for the relevant category”, the researcher form Telemark explains.

So where does the live storage cod from Norway come in?

“To be considered among the premium or luxury products on the world market, I believe the cod either has to increase overall demand or offer a value to consumers that competes with, and preferably surpasses, existing alternatives”, says Sarah Joy Lyons.

The latter is actually the plan for the project. The research in the Catch project is about both capturing and storing the fish in the right way to make it a high-quality product. The project also addresses the administrative aspects of this type of fishing.  And then there is the part upon which Sarah Joy Lyons has based her doctoral thesis: Marketing and sales.

The big picture is key

Considering the entirety of the value chain, product care in all links from life in the sea to the consumer’s plate, is a great advantage in terms of applied research and development.

“After all, the big picture is everything when developing new products. An interdisciplinary approach and the ability to see the entire value chain is necessary in order to develop new products tailored to the market’s needs and willingness to pay”, Dr. Lyons notes.

Justifiable pricing

Sarah Joy Lyons believes the Norwegian fishing industry, and those intending to operate in live storage, can use her thesis in their continued development work.

“I believe it is important that the fishing industry continues to use experimental research in its venture to develop innovative products, instead of merely using surveys and interview data to understand how the products will be received in the market. That way, variables such as assumed regret and guilt can be counted among the many relevant factors that should be included in the experiments.”

“Is the notion of guilt and regret directly relevant to the Norwegian cod?”

“After all, the purchase or consumption of cod as a product should hopefully not lead to any feelings of guilt or regret. In this case, it is interesting to look at the connection between price perception and quality and what is considered a justifiable price for live storage cod from a consumer perspective, compared to other products and types of cod competing for a spot in the shopping trolley”, says Sarah Joy Lyons.

Teaching plans

At Nofima, development in the field must continue without the newly appointed doctoral researcher. After finishing her research fellow period and thesis presentation in Tromsø and Nofima, Sarah is heading back down south.

“I will be teaching innovation management, entrepreneurship and marketing at Kristiania University College, Westerdals department, and will continue my research in the field of marketing and innovation. I am looking forward to teaching full-time in the autumn”, says Sarah Joy Lyons.


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