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NEWARK, Del. - Consumers place high value on the taste of their produce, so much so that many are willing to pay more to get it -- but some feel the produce industry fails to deliver it, according to new research commissioned by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) here.
Taste is somewhat or extremely important to nearly 92 percent of the 1,000 primary shoppers surveyed by telephone in late April by Opinion Dynamics Corp. Produce flavor is an important factor driving store choice for more than three-quarters of surveyed shoppers.
Yet in stark contrast, 30 percent of those shoppers report only middle-of-the-road satisfaction with the taste of the produce they purchase, and only 25 percent report they are very satisfied.
"We are responsible for some of the only foods consumers are being encouraged to eat more of, not less. Fruits and vegetables promise great taste, too," said PMA president Bryan Silbermann, "yet our customers tell us we are failing to deliver on that promise."
Surveyed shoppers who reported they are not satisfied with their produce most often point to a lack of freshness.
"Educating consumers about produce availability, handling, and use is a tremendous opportunity to drive sales that is frequently under-utilized," said Dave Corsi, PMA board secretary-treasurer and v.p./produce and floral operations for Wegmans Food Markets. "It's really a win-win situation -- showcasing flavorful, ripe products at their peak satisfies consumers' taste buds and inevitably leads to increased sales."
When asked how important taste was compared to some other produce characteristics such as health, 38 percent reported making decisions to purchase produce for both taste and health reasons and not just one or the other. Taste was even more important to them than year-round availability.
Surveyed shoppers also reported that freshness and taste are key influencers in their decisions to purchase locally-grown produce.
This gap between consumers taste expectations and their prior experiences is felt at checkout, noted Silbermann. Consumers want good-tasting produce, and many of them are willing to pay more for it. Nearly 70 percent of shoppers surveyed for PMA reported that they would pay at least a little more for better-tasting produce, and 10 percent are willing to pay a lot more.
"Our industry appears to be missing out on a sales-growing opportunity to market and deliver better tasting produce," said Silbermann. "This research offers a vision for increasing sales and margins, by giving our customers what they want."