We focused on determining key criteria for consumer acceptance of apple varieties so that new selections from the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA), and other apple breeding programs, can target those key criteria. Apple crispness and taste are most highly correlated with consumer preference. Apple appearance, price, growing area and sales place also are important but at lower levels. Younger consumers eat apples more often than older ones and health/diet is an important reason. Quality of a preferred variety, ‘Honeycrisp’, from grocery stores varied widely at a given time, and also over time within the same grocery, and does not always meet consumer expectations. High quality varieties in poor condition can dramatically decrease consumer preference and negatively impact demand. Distinctly flavored selections received bimodal ratings – liked or disliked, rarely neutral. During this 4 year project, close to 100 apple varieties and selections were evaluated by consumer taste panels at the Fabulous Food Show, Cleveland, OH, using a survey tool we developed and refined (3000 consumers surveyed). Varieties and selections were also evaluated by grower/marketer panels at fruit grower and extension meetings (600 growers/marketers surveyed). Quantitative data on apple parameters were correlated with consumer preference but the two most important parameters, crispness and taste, were difficult to capture with quantitative measurements. In-field evaluations of tree growth characteristics, fruit habits, precocity, disease-resistance and seasonality added to information available to growers to help them evolve a new seasonal menu of cultivars/selections that consumers demand. Results were presented at state fruit meetings in OH, IN, KY, MI and MO and at the MAIA annual meetings; and nationally (American Society for Horticultural Science meetings). The decision to release the first variety from the MAIA breeding project can partially be attributed to our consumer taste panel acceptance results. That variety has initial sales of 250,000 trees and membership in MAIA has increased by 85 new members (to 144). This SARE project has provided a tangible stimulus that has empowered apple growers to continue to pursue environmentally adapted, high quality varieties for whatever marketing scheme they prefer.
This project has focused on identifying new apple selections which exhibit great texture and flavor for the consumer along with environmental adaptability against spring frost and diseases for the Midwest U.S. grower. Growers, consumers and marketers have been active participants in evaluating potential varieties. The rationale for the project is that consumer demand must pull apples through the marketing streams based upon quality. This inverts the current system which attempts to push apples through the markets based upon the ability of growers to produce them. The project revolved around the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA) – a group of apple growers exhibiting “positive deviance” in taking charge of their needs for new varieties to sustain their livelihoods. This group is developing new varieties for the diverse marketing channels available in the Midwest.
- Determine factors influencing consumer behavior when purchasing apples
Evaluate apple selections using extensive consumer taste panels and intensive grower and marketer taste panels
Correlate measurable fruit quality attributes of texture, pressure, soluble solids, calcium content, fiber, scanning electron microscope imaging with consumer preference
Determine fruit and tree characteristics, potential marketing niches, and seasonality of new apple selections, and then educate growers and marketers
Most apples, including new selections and standard varieties, evaluated in this project were grown by Midwest Apple Improvement Association members. The main evaluation platform for consumer taste panels was the Fabulous Food Show, held annually over a three day period in early November in Cleveland, OH (http://www.fabulousfoodshow.com/). A survey instrument was developed and refined to capture consumer acceptance of apples being tested (survey instrument attached). Evaluations of early-season selections utilized consumer taste panels at on-farm markets (Lynd Fruit Farm, Pataskala, OH; Eckert Orchards, Belleville, IL). Grower and marketer taste panels and educational sessions were conducted at winter and summer meetings of fruit grower associations throughout the Midwest (OH, IN, MI, KY, MO), extension schools, and at the Midwest Apple Improvement Association meetings. Selections were evaluated for tree and fruit characteristics at grower orchards throughout the Midwest (OH, IN, IL), both as original seedlings and as grafted second test selections. National and international presentation of results occurred at American Society for Horticultural Science meetings and the International Society for Horticultural Science meeting.
- Consumer preference highly positively correlated with apple crispness. Taste also highly correlated with consumer preference. Apple appearance, price, growing area and sales place were also important but at lower levels. No close correlation was found between annual housefold income and the importance given to apple price.
Crispness is difficult to measure quantitatively as it does not correlate well with firmness, i.e. crispness does not equal firmness.
Young consumers eat apples more often than do older ones. Most common reason for purchasing/eating apples is health/diet, particularly for female consumers.
Even a high-quality, highly consumer preferred variety (‘Honeycrisp’) from grocery stores does not always meet consumer expectations. Fruit quality and consumer preference varied widely among grocery stores at a given purchasing occasion, and also over time within the same supermarket/grocery store.
Bimodal ratings for apples with distinct flavors – some people really like them and some people really dislike them.
More than 600 Midwest U.S. apple growers experienced disease-resistant varieties and MAIA selections.
More than 100 disease-resistant varieties and MAIA selections were evaluated.
Consumer taste panel survey instruments were developed and refined.
More than 3000 consumers participated in apple taste panels.
Information to growers presented in multiple modalities regarding apple growing, apple tasting, and new variety potential, including seasonality, quality traits, disease-resistance, tree growth habit, precocity, consumer acceptance, etc.
Professional taste panels described apple attributes using appropriate terminology.
A grower board provided continual guidance for the project.
- The needed leap of growers into exploring new apple varieties for mass and niche markets has occurred. Interest in new varieties for the Midwest is increasing.
A significant change in attitude among growers regarding creating their own future by working with other growers to develop and test new varieties for their particular marketing strategy has emerged. Growers exhibited increased willingness to test new MAIA selections in their orchards. Awareness of the potential of, and interest in, new varieties can partially be attributed to information gained as a result of this SARE project.
High quality varieties in poor condition can dramatically decrease consumer preference and negatively impact consumer demand for that variety. Growers and marketers must work together to maintain high quality through the production and marketing chain.
A continuing network is in place for future new apple variety development, evaluation and marketing.
- This SARE project is a part of bigger picture Midwest Apple Improvement Association project. This has ensured exceptional grower interest and participation in the project and also ensured continuation of project beyond SARE funding. This SARE project was a significant boost to the effort but not an isolated effort relying solely on SARE funding.
Sales of 250,000 trees of a new high quality variety to growers in the Midwest (and beyond) can partially be attributed to tastings and information presented as a result of this SARE project.
Membership in MAIA has increased by 85 new members (144 total) since the release of the new variety.
This SARE project provided a tangible stimulus that has empowered apple growers to determine their own future by developing environmentally adapted, high quality varieties for whatever marketing scheme they prefer.
- More than 600 Midwest U.S. apple growers participated in apple tastings and informational sessions related to this SARE project.
This project was part of the larger MAIA project which greatly increased grower involved and long-term impact.
Educational & Outreach Activities
- International Society for Horticultural Science, Lisbon, Portugal (2010); poster – Factors influencing consumer behavior when purchasing and buying apples.
American Society for Horticultural Science, Palm Desert, CA (2010); poster – Factors influencing consumer behavior when purchasing and buying apples.
American Society for Horticultural Science, Waikoloa, HI (2011); poster – Lack of correlation between instrumental firmness values and sensory perception of fruit texture in apples.
American Society for Horticultural Science, Miami, FL (2012); poster –Fruit quality preferences and availability of quality fruit: a case study with ‘Honeycrisp’ apple.
Areas needing additional study
- Technology to quantitatively determine apple “crispness” (as contrasted with firmness).
Molecular technology that will allow multi-gene screening for apple scab resistance.