Background: Despite the rigorous control of tap water quality, substantial price differences, and environmental concerns, bottled water consumption has increased in recent decades. To facilitate healthy and sustainable consumer choices, a deeper understanding of this "water consumption paradox" is needed. Therefore, the aim of the two present studies was to examine health-related beliefs and risk perceptions and their accuracy by implementing a combined product- and consumer-oriented approach.
Methods: An online survey (N = 578) and a blind taste test (N = 99) assessed perceptions and behaviors for tap and bottled water within primarily tap and bottled water consumers in a fully crossed design. The combined product- and consumer-oriented approach yielded significant consumer × product interaction effects.
Results: The two consumer groups showed "polarized" ratings regarding perceived quality/hygiene, health risks and taste for bottled and tap water, indicating that the two consumer groups substantially diverged in their beliefs. However, in the blind taste test, neither consumer group was able to distinguish tap from bottled water samples (consumer perspective). Moreover, tap or bottled water samples did not systemically vary in their ascribed health-risk or taste characteristics (product perspective).
Conclusions: Although the two consumer groups differ greatly in their beliefs, the perceived health risk and taste differences seem to reflect illusionary beliefs rather than actual experiences or product characteristics. Public health campaigns should address these illusions to promote healthy and sustainable consumer choices.
Keywords: Beliefs; Environmental concerns; Health; Risk perception; Water consumption.
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