If someone came into your shop and asked for a Gypsy Tart would you know what they wanted? If you were trading in Kent then hopefully you would, but if you were elsewhere in the country you might be left scratching your head, or possibly calling the police. For those who don't know, Gypsy Tart is a deliciously sickly concoction of brown sugar and evaporated milk whisked together and put in a pastry case. Many people who grew up in Kent love it, but it's definitely not to everyone's taste.

Taste is obviously personal, but according to recent research conducted by Costa Coffee, there's more to it than that. Its survey of 13,000 people found that taste is determined by our genetic make-up and influenced by our upbringing and experience with flavours. The taste preferences of the UK's major regions were analysed by food psychologist Greg Tucker with help from Andy Taylor, professor of flavour technology at the University of Nottingham, who is also an advisor to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

The research breaks the UK down into nine regions and identifies regional preferences and favourites. People from the Midlands, for example, like soft, suckable foods with a particular fondness for chocolate, spicy foods and creamy desserts.

It might all sound a bit weird, but Simon Biddle from Biddles Convenience Store in Webheath, Redditch, reckons the researchers have got it spot on. "We're surrounded by curry houses round here lots of people are really into their spicy food," he says. "Years ago we all thought spaghetti Bolognese was really spicy and now we all eat curry. We make and sell a huge range of ready meals in the shop. Our best-sellers are traditional British food shepherd's pie, steak & ale pie and Lancashire hot pot. But also popular are Caribbean chicken and chicken rogan josh both have a bit of bite but are not too hot. We cater for a medium palate."

But Geoff Garrad who has a Spar store in Aberystwyth isn't convinced by the findings. According to the Costa research, the Welsh are meant to like Cheddar cheese and garlic. Geoff is not from Wales originally, he doesn't sell garlic and says mature cheese is more popular in his shop than mild.

"To be honest, during term time our customers are mainly students and anything seems to go with them. They do like a bit of bite and go for spicy foods. They also like all the sour sweets. But I think that's a trend among younger people rather than anything to do with where they live."

Chocs for Scots

Whether you agree with the Costa research results or not, regional preferences are definitely at play in the UK. Mark Bottomley, retail club manager for Bestway Cash and Carry Group (Xtra Local and Best-in), says: "Regionality definitely has a part to play when it comes to chocolate. For example, we sell significantly more Galaxy Caramel in our two Scottish depots than we do in any other depot. According to the Taste Dialects survey the Scottish taste profile includes rich, melting tastes which would, of course, include caramel."

However, Bottomley reckons that when it comes to regional brand preferences, a lot of it has got to do with a bias towards brands which have been produced locally more than just the taste profile of the consumer.

"Irn-Bru, for example, has been manufactured in Scotland for more than 100 years and over 60% of our total cash & carry volume in Irn-Bru is traded out of our two Scottish depots. But the success here is probably more to do with provenance than taste profile.

"Then there's bread, and Mother's Pride is popular in Scotland and not so much anywhere else. Even in Scotland it is only popular in Glasgow and not Edinburgh. Sunblest is key everywhere else."

Bottomley says tobacco is a category with huge regional variances. "A Batleys cash and carry in the South East such as Gillingham, would have Marlboro Gold as one of its top-selling brands with more than 8% market share. However, this brand has only a 3% share of sales in the North/North East such as Batleys, Stockton-on-Tees. The top-selling brand in the North/North East is Lambert & Butler with more than 30% share of sales."

And Scottish Spar wholesaler CJ Lang reports regional differences between different parts of Scotland. "In the East of Scotland we eat coloured Cheddar, but in the West they prefer white. And White Pudding is a favourite in the East, while red and black is preferred in the West," explains Gordon Airth, temperature controlled trading controller at CJ Lang.

He continues his comparisons with Scotland versus England saying the Scots prefer haddock with the skin off, while the English go for cod with the skin on; the Scots prefer Lurpak while the English prefer Anchor.

Specialist confectionery cash and carry Hancocks has also noticed regional differences.

"Grays Herbals are definitely a sweet that sells better around Birmingham, while liquorice products such as Pontefract Cakes, Torpedoes and Black and White Mints perform much better in our northern cash and carries such as Bradford, Manchester and Preston," explains Hancocks senior buyer Jonathan Summerley.

Like Bottomley, Summerley believes some of these preferences are more down to where certain sweets were originally made, rather than regional taste. But whatever the case, it's fair to say that regional taste preferences are evident in many areas and it is worth your while to take them seriously.