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Regional difference in quality - real or imagined?

Windjammer

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Here's an odd phenomenon I started to observe when I began traveling for business and relocating from one country to another: the same brand and same product will differ quality-wise depending on where you bought it.

My favorite examples are coffee and beer. I lived and worked in the Netherlands for five years and would never touch a Heineken. Few of my Dutch colleagues would buy or order it either. There's solid cheap alternatives (Amstel etc) and you can easily upscale. Yet if you buy Heineken in Germany or Austria, that's a solid choice. And I'm not talking about different product, or luxury export versions - no, the same old Heineken. Coffee-wise it was fine to buy Douwe Egberts in the Netherlands, but nearly puke-inducing if bought in the UK. Lavazza in Italy is a solid choice, but I steer clear of it in Germany or Austria. And so on and on. In each case, we're talking about the same packaging on the same product. It just doesn't taste the same. (Don't get me started on Bavarian or Belgium beer they sell in Texan super markets.)

On to fashion. I'm a European expat who's relocated to the US. One thing I found incredibly funny on arrival is to find brands like Levi's and Hilfiger (shirts, jeans) at Costco's. (For you non-Americans: that's like finding a Cucinelli at Aldi's or Sainsbury's.) I grew up in Austria and Germany where these brands were incredibly desirable - esp. jeans. Reversely, I find Eton shirts at premium prizes in high end stores in the US, retailing for ridiculous sums as if they were Canali shirts, when back in Vienna I can get them for 50 Euros by the dozen (which strikes me as about the right price point). And so on.

And as with beer and coffee, pricing is not the only difference. The Hilfiger shirts at Costco's are things you wouldn't find in a European Hilfiger store. The Eton shirts I get at P&C in Vienna won't show up in US boutiques. It's not simply a different pricing mechanism - it appears as if a different product is involved. Yet the label and product packaging are ostensibly the same.

Perhaps the most egregious recent example of this is Hilfiger. In the US, a Hilfiger suit is a fashion crime. It's an ugly fabric, badly cut, sits ill, and looks like the mass-produced third world crap that it plainly is. These things litter Nordstrom Rack & co. like abandoned Christmas trees in the week after New Year's Eve. And yet if you go into a middling fashion retail store here in Europe, they sell a different kind of Hilfiger suit. Made in Europe (e.g. Portugal), fabric feels great, fit not too bad, and pricing is higher too. What's up with that?

I could multiply examples but you get the point. I'm genuinely wondering if these isolated incidents go beyond the realm of the anecdotal or imaginary. Did you ever come across similar things while traveling or relocating, and if so, which ones? What's your own take on this phenomenon? Do brands actually produce and/or distribute differently across the globe?
 
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Bromley

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Different products for different markets (and perceptions). Hilfiger clothes sold at Costco are just for Costco (and the Costco Shopper). If you buy a Sapporo beer in the US, it was brewed in Canada. I don't know if it's made in a different way for the US market, but even Coca-Cola has different recipes for different countries and regions.
 

Rumpelstiltskin

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Different products for different markets (and perceptions). Hilfiger clothes sold at Costco are just for Costco (and the Costco Shopper). If you buy a Sapporo beer in the US, it was brewed in Canada. I don't know if it's made in a different way for the US market, but even Coca-Cola has different recipes for different countries and regions.
Beer for the US market tastes different and may even contain a different percentage (usually less) than the same brand made for other markets
 

Bromley

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And even within the States-- in Utah, beer sold in grocery stores has an ABV limit of 3.2%, so Utahans get a regionally distinct Budweiser. I got to experience the crushing disappointment of Utah Budweiser on a Moab camping trip years ago, and it is not a regional specialty worth celebrating.
 

dieworkwear

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I recently interviewed an exec at Uniqlo. She said that, while they try to keep the store experience the same across regions, certain markets will have certain products tailored for that community. A predominantly Muslim market, for example, may have more conservative clothes. A very hot and humid region may have clothes made with lighter and more breathable fabrics.

In order to meet the necessary price points in certain emerging markets, they will also adjust the production so that the products are more affordable (and made with more basic materials).

Consumers, however, are famously bad at judging quality and will often prejudge something based on the country of origin. In 1965, Robert Schooler wrote a study on this, which spawned a whole area of academic literature.

He took a sample of 200 students and had them evaluate several products, all of which were identical except in one way: they had (fictitious) country-of-origin labels. So, for example, some of the things he had students evaluate were swatches of the same beige fabric – plain weave, 80% cotton and 20% linen. Again, all identical, except one was labeled “made in Guatemala,” one “made in Mexico,” one “made in Costa Rica,” and one “made in El Salvador.” As you can probably guess, the students were biased by their own prejudices and saw differences in the fabrics that weren’t actually there. In this case, fabrics believed to be from Guatemala and Mexico were evaluated as being higher-quality than those from Costa Rica and El Salvador.

I imagine the same phenomenon happens when judging products abroad. Often, our judgments about quality are colored by our prejudices of the country.
 

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