Extending the Season: New Frozen Products for a New Market

Final report for LNE18-370R

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2018: $199,524.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Massachusetts
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Amanda Kinchla
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

This project aimed to investigate the profitability of frozen local produce in retail markets to help identify new markets. The aim of this work was to fill the knowledge gap that hinders the adoptability of retail frozen local sales in the Northeast. The project objectives included:

  1. estimating consumer demand for locally processed products;
  2. developing non-proprietary standard operating procedures for two safe, high-quality, popular retail frozen fruit and vegetable products
  3. estimating processing/production costs using scale processing pilots and costs data from community partners. 

The project included investigating two produce examples: blueberries and spinach. A market research study identified whether consumers would want to buy retail frozen blueberries. The project also ran production trials using blueberries and spinach as products to identify the best way to process a safe, high-quality product and conducted a cost/return analysis at the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center (WMFPC), which is a shared-use processing facility in Greenfield, MA. Using these results, the team developed a food safety plan and other tools to help farmers determine if frozen local produce is appropriate for their business.

The market research tested two populations of consumers – a representative sample of consumers in the Northeast region, and a convenience sample of “buy local” consumers, sent from local farms and organizations to their email lists.  Results show that consumers think where they purchase the product is very important, and they value information about where the product was grown, as well as where it was frozen. Of course, consumers also care about the price – but consumers who already purchase local foods are less sensitive to high prices than the general consumer.

The production trials (blueberries and spinach) included experiments that tested quality attributes as a function of time and temperature using an individual quick freezing (IQF) unit at the WMFPC. Among the many quality attributes tested, drip loss and overall appearance were the key attributes that had the biggest impact on quality. Through the blueberry trials, it was determined that shorter processing times at a moderate temperature resulted in high-quality blueberries. Spinach trials revealed that it was a labor-intensive, time-consuming, low-yield product with a low probability of success at processing facilities such as the WMFPC. Production costs depend significantly on the type of equipment used. For blueberries, production costs using the WMFPC equipment are low enough that the product is likely to be profitable, while spinach is unlikely to be profitable since it requires costly manual labor.

The project also included a Cost Calculator tool to help farmers or food hubs determine if this is a fit for their business. Businesses interested in this market can use the tool to customize their operational considerations (equipment, production volume, scale, labor, etc.) to estimate the potential profitability of frozen retail blueberries for their own operation. Businesses can also use the tool for other potential frozen products by entering their specialized knowledge of production costs and price premiums for other fruits and vegetables. In addition, the standardized operating procedures (SOPs), quality protocols, and the food safety plan for frozen blueberries are available to aid others that may be interested in processing safe, high-quality frozen food.  The overall project summary, a photo library of the production trials, access to past programming, and details of the project can be found on the UMass Value Added Website.

This project estimates that they reached ~75 farmers and ~20 agricultural educators or service providers during their outreach activities. During their final lessons learned webinar, program evaluations indicated that the participant rating of the overall program of the webinar ranked 3.67±0.47 (1: poor; 2: fair, 3: good, 4: excellent). With all participants demonstrating an increase in overall knowledge related to food manufacturing IQF produce, IQF processing/production and retailing costs, and how to price and label IQF products to best meet consumer demand.

Project Objective:

The project objective was to assess farmer profitability in the Northeast region from selling a new product, retail frozen local foods, by estimating key returns and costs, and then subtracting costs from returns. We filled the knowledge gap by: 1) estimating consumer demand for locally processed products; 2)developing non-proprietary standard operating procedures for two safe, high-quality, popular retail frozen fruit and vegetable products, and: 3)estimating processing/production costs using scale processing pilots and costs data from community partners. This information addressed the knowledge gap that hinders adoptability of retail frozen local sales in the Northeast.

Introduction:

Problem, Novel Approach and Justification: There is an opportunity for farmers to meet growing demand for local foods and increase farm profitability by entering a new market for retail sales of frozen value-added products. In particular, farmers could capitalize on opportunities provided by recent investments in regional food processing facilities by freezing produce for retail sales in winter. Like many new marketing opportunities, farmers do not have access to information they need to determine profitability in the new market: whether the returns from processing and selling retail frozen produce are greater than the costs or producing safe, high-quality food products that meet food safety regulations.

The overall research hypothesis was that local produce can be profitably grown and processed (frozen) for off-season retail sales. Two additional hypotheses were important to that overall hypothesis. First, it was hypothesized that consumers have a higher willingness-to-pay for locally produced and processed frozen foods, and second, that the costs of producing safe, high-quality locally grown and processed frozen foods do not exceed consumers’ willingness-to-pay.

To test the hypotheses, the estimated returns was calculated using a demand survey to estimate consumer willingness-to-pay for product attributes, including labels, packing, origin information, pricing, past purchases, and demographics.  It was developed two safe, high-quality prototype products, and produced them at-scale to assess processing/production costs. The cost research with marketing data was supplemented from community partners to estimate total costs, then subtract cots from returns to assess profitability. 

Research results were shared through outreach efforts utilizing networks and programs established within UMass Extension.  It was provided additional knowledge regarding local value-added production opportunities to Northeast farmers and other agricultural partners and service providers. The outputs were delivered through a diverse outreach platform, including technical presentations, extension workshops, webinars, and peer-reviewed and extension publications.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Jillann Fitzsimmons (Researcher)
  • Liz Buxton
  • Kate Minnefie
  • Dr. Daniel Lass (Researcher)
  • Mariana de Oliveira Cortes

Research

Hypothesis:

Our overall research hypothesis was that local produce can be profitably grown and processed (frozen) for off-season retail sales. Two additional hypotheses are important to that overall hypothesis. First, we hypothesized that consumers have higher willingness-to-pay for locally produced and processed frozen foods, and second, that the costs of producing safe, high-quality locally grown and processed frozen foods would not exceed consumers’ willingness-to-pay.

Materials and methods:

RETURNS-CONSUMER DEMAND SURVEY (WTP)

a) Target Population: Primary household shoppers in the Northeast surveyed through Qualtrics, LLC.

b) Methods: Returns from sales of regionally frozen retail products were estimated via consumer willingness-to-pay market research. In 2018, UMass researchers completed a literature review of fresh and value-added origin-identified consumer products. Following this literature review, UMass researchers proposed a draft willingness-to-pay survey that included the product attribute categories that are both relevant to the practical needs of the Farmers interested in selling retail frozen produce and are of cutting-edge academic interest. The survey design included a conjoint choice experiment, as well as a series of questions regarding past and future shopping practices, and demographic information.

The UMass research team vetted the choice experiment design, first with the team from the WMAFPC. The purpose of the vetting was to explain the design elements and intended outcomes, share the instrument design process and how the draft survey was informed by the current literature, and to receive feedback and make changes to the design if needed. The WMAFPC team made a number of requests for changes. Based on these requests, the UMass team returned to the literature to determine the best path forward.  Using additional literature and the WMAFPC suggestions, the UMass team made a number of changes to the choice experiment design.

The UMass research team then vetted the choice experiment design with the Advisory Board. The Advisory Board similarly made a number of useful suggestions and requested information regarding the proposed design. The UMass team proposed an additional meeting with interested Advisory Board members after the survey draft and design were complete.

In early 2019, the UMass research team held one-on-one meetings with individual Advisory Board members to make further adjustments to the choice experiment design. The UMass team then completed the draft design and conducted a series of trials to test the instrument. Minor adjustments were made to the design (formatting).

One excellent suggestion provided by an Advisory Board member was to conduct the survey with both the purchased panel of representative consumers from across New England and with a convenience sample of buy-local consumers from organizations’ mailing lists. The team was able to solicit an additional set of 12 $25 gift cards to two local farms as incentives, and the choice experiment was conducted with these samples.

The UMass research team conducted the choice experiments in February-March of 2019.

The survey design used a conjoint choice experiment. The attribute levels to identify the baseline for the research included:

  • Price & Package Size Attributes
  • Product Packaging 
  • Where the product is grown (local, northeast, USA, no information)
  • Where the product is frozen (local, northeast, USA, no information)
  • Where the product is purchased

The instrument included:

i) Past purchasing behavior to establish a baseline from which to estimate changes in consumer demand due to the product availability, include:

  1. Frequency of recent purchases of fresh and frozen produce labeled “local”, “Grown in the Northeast”, or “Grown in the USA”;
  2. Recent sales outlet at which fresh and frozen products were purchased: direct (farmers market, CSA, farm stand); superstores (“big box” stores); supermarkets (regional/national grocery store chains); local grocers; or cooperative grocers.

ii) Consumers’ WTP for frozen regional product attributes: A randomized conjoint choice experiment. Respondents are shown a choice set of four products and the choice to not purchase any of the products. Each choice set offers the respondent products with five randomized product attributes. The randomly selected attributes for each product in the choice sets include:

  1. Price: standard price/12 oz. bag of blueberries: $ 3.75; $4.75; $5.60; $6.55; $7.50
  2. Production Origin: no information, locally, in the Northeast, in the USA
  3. Purchase Location: Direct (farmers market, CSA, farm stand); Super Store (“Big Box” store offering large household goods in addition to grocery items); Supermarket (Regional or National Grocery Store Chain); Cooperative grocer.
  4. Processing Origin: no information, locally, in the Northeast, in the USA
  5. Package Design: white bag, sticker label; white bag, printed label; clear bag, sticker label; clear bag, printed label

iii) Demographics: age, gender, income, education, household size and make-up, race/ethnicity, and location.

iv) knowledge and beliefs about food safety and the impacts of local food purchasing

 

c) Data Collection: The administered the survey based on the Dillman-Tailored Design Method. The choice experiment was developed using Qualtrics, and they fielded the survey to two different samples:

1) a panel of (n=510) household consumers in the Northeast US. They bought this panel from Qualtrics, LLC. They screened respondents for primary household shoppers in the Northeastern US, stratified by income, education, and age.

2) a convenience sample of three (n=247) different 'buy local organizations’ mailing lists. The "buy local organizations' included three different farm stores within the Northeast that have small direct sales with consumers (and a branded listserve).

The choice experiment took 7-12 minutes to complete.

 

COSTS-PROCESSING COSTS

a.) Treatment: They use iterative operational cost analysis to track processing, storage and marketing costs of scale-production to assess costs.

b.) Methods: Establish data collection protocols.

In Fall 2018, UMass researchers and WMFPC staff began to discuss the process of transforming food processing business management data into data that allow researchers to analyze scale production of frozen locally grown and processed blueberries and spinach. The goal of these conversations was to identify the current state of data collection, the gaps in data collection, and establish the process through which the team would develop new data collection protocols both for the purposes of achieving the goal of this research project and to provide the WMFPC with the tools to make strategic decisions regarding frozen product development in the future.

The team began to map out the current characteristics of the data associated with the frozen processed product. Initial discussions focused on three main categories of data: Labor (hiring, managing, payroll); Inputs (capital/fixed expenses, variable expenses); and Sales. The process began by discussing the timeline for procuring one hypothetical batch of product. During the discussion, the UMass researcher identified key expenses and noted the individual WMFPC staff associated with tracking and managing these expenses. From there, the team categorized the expenses, including those expenses that are currently tracked and those that are not but should be for cost analysis.

Different individuals within the WMFPC manage different aspects of each category. Each individual currently tracks information required for the task for which they are responsible.  In some cases, the information required for internal purposes is sufficient for researchers’ purposes, but in other cases it is not. The team began preliminary conversations regarding what currently tracked information will need to be shared among WMFPC staff, what additional information will need to be tracked, and how to begin the process of tracking that information.

The team translated the identified expenses incurred into a list of the data needs, and discussed which WMFPC staff handled those data, or which WMFPC staff would need to begin tracking those data and how to begin that process. The Business Development Specialist (BDS) at the WMFPC agreed to begin discussions with other staff at the WMFPC to discuss the data needed and begin to develop spreadsheets, using the lists that the team had created and internal knowledge of the current WMFPC data tracking structure and process. The team agreed that the BDS would request regular meetings with other WMFPC staff to ensure that the discussion stayed on track, and that the UMass researcher could initiate and participate in those regular meetings if needed.

Since an important part of cost analysis is data from prior years’ production of wholesale frozen products, it was agreed that a good place to begin developing the new data collection would be to review past frozen processing batches and establish newly proposed protocols in the context of new wholesale production. There are a few reasons for this strategy. First, a review of past batches will allow researchers to confirm the scope of data collected and assess the quality of the data. Second, an investigation of past batches will allow a test case of how different WMFPC staff data management practices are currently organized, and identify potential barriers to coordinating additional future data tracking. Third, since wholesale frozen product is an established product line, the addition of new data collection protocols can be tested first with wholesale production, thus identifying potential unanticipated problems with the newly established data collection protocols for retail products. Finally, using concrete examples from the past could help anchor the new data collection protocols in a concrete example, hopefully bridging the gap between practical application and academic goals of new data collection.

In addition, during Year 1 (2019), they developed products in the food science lab to determine appropriate time and temperature conditions, and then they determined the best-quality products and process them at regional-scale in the FPC to confirm reproducibility. The lab conditions aimed to mimic the FPC’s IQF machine’s freezing technique to freeze each product using forced convection with liquid nitrogen vapor, and are packed and stored at < -20C until analyzed. Quality attribute analysis included: enzyme activity (spinach only), color of frozen produce (both blueberry and spinach) using a ColorFlex colorimeter (L*a*b* scale), photo imaging, anthocyanins (blueberry only), chlorophyll (spinach only), drip loss and texture using a TA.XT2 Texture analyzer.

c.)Data Collection: Once protocols were established, they collected historical community partner retail sales data, and FPC costs data and prototype processing/production data, including inputs used at each stage for each production activity.  This work is ongoing. They assess costs of each processing stage independently so facilities with different production capacities can swap out stages and independently assess their own costs, as needed.

The team developed time-tracking sheets based on the process flow diagrams. The team did a trial run of the time tracking during the food science testing session, refined the time tracking tools, and conducted the time tracking during a full run. Unfortunately, the full run time tracking did not provide reliable data. This is because it was unknown to researchers prior to the scale run that the processing facility did not have sufficient capacity in its bagging equipment to handle the volume and flow of frozen blueberries. In the timed processing run, a portion of the berries was diverted to wholesale packaging. To address this, the team confirmed time tracking in trials trial in the 2020 season.

 

Research results and discussion:

Results were shared in a variety of channels and are summarized in the sections below.

Key research findings include: 

  • Consumer research experiments reported that there are different marketing approaches for different consumers. Specifically, 
    • “Local Foods” Consumers care most about where they buy frozen “local” products
    • “Traditional” Consumers are more price-sensitive
  • Blueberries processed using colder and longer process conditions (-140F for 3 minutes) results in lower quality berries (significantly higher drip loss & physical damage).
  • Costs and Returns research determined that retail frozen products produced using methods and equipment comparable to the WMPFC are unlikely to be profitable for individual farm operations.

Challenges and Unanticipated Findings

  • Survey Software Challenges – The UMass team encountered an unexpected challenge in the process of designing the draft choice experiment survey. The team had planned on using Qualtrics software to design the choice experiment and survey but found that the current Qualtrics license held by UMass did not include choice experiment software. The team solicited bids for the software and decided to purchase the software. The team shifted the budget to cover the cost of new software.
  • Choice Experiment challenges – The team encountered challenges designing the choice experiment that likely reflect challenges that farmers and processors would also face. For example, the WMFPC team struggled to find packaging options for the experiments. First, there was miscommunication among the team regarding the preferred package type. Originally, the word “opaque” was used to describe the preferred packaging. The team found it nearly impossible to find food-grade opaque packaging suitable for a frozen product. In the process of discussing alternatives, it became clear that the preferred option was, in fact, a white bag, not an opaque bag. While there were more options in the market for suitable white and clear bags, the bags were very difficult to source and very expensive. The team struggled to find vendors who were willing to send samples, as the potential purchase volume that would fit the scale of production was far below the minimum orders that the vendors generally handled.
  • Label preparation for Choice Experiments - The team encountered challenges with creating the printed and sticker labels for the prototype imaging for the choice experiments. The sticker labels needed to be able to withstand wet and frozen conditions, including the changes in temperature and moisture associated with a retail frozen environment where freezer doors are repeatedly opened and closed. The team contacted every regional commercial printer to try to source samples of printed clear and white bags, but were unsuccessful, either because printers were not willing to run a job with only a handful of bags for the purposes of the experiment, or because they did not have the appropriate equipment. The team’s attempts to source the appropriate sticker labels were dropped in favor of sticker labels that were easily and affordably available online, and that gave the same visual that the suitable labels would have given. The labels also needed to be printed using the WMFPC’s printer options. Similarly, the team engaged a graphic designer to create an image of a bag with a printed label in lieu of the real thing. The designer very generously donated their time, for which they are eternally grateful. Finally, the team struggled to find access to and expertise with the proper light box photography equipment required to take professional quality photographs. Fortunately, UMass Amherst has a student-run design collaborative, and the undergraduate researchers and UMass team worked with this group to take high-quality images of the final products. This took significantly longer than planned and required additional resources to execute. However, the photos prepared provided the images they needed to successfully deploy the choice experiments.
  • Bench Top Freezing - A series of freezing experiments were conducted at UMass using a benchtop cryogenic freezer to screen a variety of process conditions aimed at determining the production trials at FPC. However, results from the benchtop runs resulted in a more mild process condition than the larger scaled freezing unit of the FPC (waterfall liquid nitrogen conveyor). Therefore, benchtop trials are more appropriate for investigating some process conditions (such as washing conditions or blanching parameters). They learned that the most representative conditions for freezing need to be conducted using the actual freezing unit at the FPC which was a challenge as it required more logistical management to schedule and source materials. 
Research conclusions:

An important conclusion of the Costs and Returns research is that retail frozen products produced using methods and equipment comparable to the WMPFC are unlikely to be profitable for individual farm operations. The original outreach proposal was aimed towards providing farmers with the tools they needed to determine whether it was a worthwhile investment to invest in the equipment they would need to engage with this market, and the researchers find that it almost never will be. To that end, there is a mismatch between the materials that they have created as outputs and the stakeholders they planned to reach out to. The materials are more suitable for larger organizations or multi-farmer groups. Future projects could take the information they generated in this project and create different outreach materials to farmer groups or larger organizations to provide tools that could be used to determine what scale of participation could justify the investments in regional food processing centers with comparable freezing-line equipment. As a result of this programming, there has been interest by other states that are further exploring this work to determine if this model (shared use freezing production) would further benefit producers within their respective regions. Furthermore, some local farmers have been in discussion with the WMFPC as a co-packer for processing retail frozen produce for their farm stores and/or farmers markets.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

1 Consultations
5 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 Journal articles
3 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Other educational activities: The webpage that presents all of the work developed from this project.
https://ag.umass.edu/value-added-food/nifa-planned-extension-initiative/extending-season-new-frozen-products-for-new-market

Participation Summary:

75 Farmers
20 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Outreach description:

The final outputs of this work are outlined in a summary below. Overall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the outreach programming changed to virtual delivery which resulted in hosting a webinar and a project website that presents all of the work related to this project including recordings of presentations, videos of the overall process, a digital photo album and several tools.

    1. Kinchla, A.J., Research Recap: Profitability of Frozen Produce in Retail Markets. UMass Vegetable Notes Newsletter. Volume 33, Number 1 January 21, 2021.
    2. Kinchla, A.J., Research Recap: Profitability of frozen produce in retail markets. UMass Vegetable Notes Newsletter. Vol. 32, No. 27. November 19, 2020.
  • 5 Speaking events (4 presentations + 1 webinar)
    1. Fitzsimmons, J.F., Kinchla, A.J. Presentation titled, “New Frozen Products for a New Market: An Integrated Research-Extension Program Targeted Toward Determining New Market Channels for Local Producers”. New England Fruit, Vegetable & Berry Growers Association, Manchester, NH. December 2019.
    2. Fitzsimmons, J.F., Kinchla, A.J. Presentation titled, “New Frozen Products for a New Market: An Integrated Research-Extension Program Targeted Toward Determining New Market Channels for Local Producers”. CT NOFA Conference, CT. March 2020.
    3. Fitzsimmons, J.F., Presentation titled, “Consumers’ Perceptions of Food Safety in Markets for Local Food”. AAEA Annual Meeting, FNS/ FAMPS Track Session Presentation. Online August, 2020.
    4. de Oliveira Cortes, M., Fitzsimmons, J. Buxton, L., Minnifie,K., Lass,D., Waite, J., Kinchla, A.J. Extending the Season: Freezing Produce for a New Market. Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety Annual Meeting, February, 2021, Virtual Session. https://www.uvm.edu/extension/necafs/annual_meeting.
    5. Fitzsimmons, J., Lass, D., Minifie, K., Buxton, L., Waite, J., Kinchla, A.J., “Freezing Produce for a New Market: Sharing the lessons learned from Determining New Market Channels for Local Producers”. Webinar, September, 2020.
  • 3 peer-reviewed publications are in preparation, including:
    1. Fitzsimmons, J., Lass, D., Minifie, K., K., Buxton, L., Waite, J., Kinchla, A.J. Consumer Market Research In preparation.
    2. de Oliveira Cortes, M., Fitzsimmons, Buxton, L., J.F., Kinchla, A.J. Optimizing process conditions for frozen blueberry production. In preparation.
    3. Fitzsimmons, J., Lass, D., Minifie, K., Buxton, L., Waite, J., Kinchla, A.J. Results from the processing costs – In preparation. Combing the results from 1&2 that brings together the consumer demand estimates and processing costs to estimate profitability.
    1. Sample of a food safety plan for frozen blueberries following the Preventive Control Rule regulation – https://projects.sare.org/information-product/food-safety-plan-for-frozen-blueberries-teaching-exercise/
    2. Protocols used to evaluate frozen blueberries:
      1. Sample protocol for calculating drip loss- https://projects.sare.org/information-product/sample-protocol-for-calulcating-drip-loss-in-iqf-blueberries/
      2. Sample protocol for calculating damaged berries: https://projects.sare.org/information-product/sample-protocol-for-calculating-percentage-of-damaged-blueberries/
    3. Sample_of_and_environmental_monitoring_protocol_sanitation_preventive_control
    4. Calculating tool to determining the cost & returns for IQF frozen produce at the Western Mass Food Processing Center–Frozen Retail Blueberry Cost and Return Calculator
      1. Frozen_retail_blueberry_calculator
      2. Costs_of_local_and_regional_retail_frozen_produce
    5. Materials from the September 30, 2020 Webinar titled, “Freezing Produce for a New Market: Sharing the lessons learned from Determining New Market Channels for Local Producers”
      1. Slides presented, nesare_freezing_sept_30_2020_webinar_workshop_outreach_6_slides_per_page
      2. Recording of the live webinar session, https://umass.box.com/s/n751k77f6yqkiea2ytfpfdf7grzthola
      3. Virtual production tour of the processing operation for frozen blueberries - https://umass.box.com/s/v6hj5pt3yelu1rpyapk6perb4vqdigar  
    6. Photo library of the project https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/projects/related-files/nesarefreezingphotojournal.pdf 
    7. Project summary reporting on the overall project was posted on the Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety’s Program Sharing Clearinghouse Website: http://www.uvm.edu/extension/necafs/clearinghouse.
  1.  
  1.  
  •  
  1.  

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
12 Service providers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of project outreach
12 Educators or agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their project outreach
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Key findings from the program evaluation based on the webinar program include:

  • The project website was launched in early 2021. The team will continue to monitor hit rates through Google Analytics.
  • All of the participants reported that the webinar helped them learn about the operational, financial and business considerations for producing retail IQF produce.
  • The participant rating of the overall program of the webinar ranked 3.67±0.47 (1: poor; 2: fair, 3: good, 4: excellent).
  • Participants reported increased knowledge in
    • How to manufacture IQF produce to maximize quality, operational capacity and food safety.
    • IQF Processing/production and retailing costs
    • How to price and label IQF to best meet consumer demand.

 

BEFORE & AFTER attending this event, how much did you know about the following aspects of IQF (freezing) produce

BEFORE

AFTER

 
 

How to manufacture IQF produce to maximize quality, operational capacity and food safety.

1.667

2.556

 

IQF Processing/production and retailing costs

1.667

2.778

 

How to price and label IQF to best meet consumer demand.

1.778

2.444

 

Survey ranking - 1:None; 2: A little; 3: Moderate; 4: A lot; 5: A great deal

 

 

 

Project Outcomes

3 Grants applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$900,000.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Year 3 faced the added challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. This significantly impacted the overall programming and outreach. While the webinar was well received, participation was lower than planned and attributed to zoom/webinar fatigue. To overcome this, the team built a website that provides all of the program content, white papers and production tools so stakeholders can access this information.

In addition due to the impact of COVID on reaching the target population for outreach in the proposal, an important conclusion of  Costs and Returns research is that retail frozen products produced using methods and equipment comparable to the WMPFC are unlikely to be profitable for individual farm operations. The original outreach proposal was aimed towards providing farmers with tools they needed to determine whether it was a worthwhile investment to invest in the equipment they would need to engage with this market, and the team find that it almost never will be. To that end, there is a mismatch between the materials that they have created as outputs and the stakeholders they planned to reach out to. The materials are more suitable for larger organizations or multi-farmer groups. In the future, the team could take the information generated in this project and create different outreach materials to farmer groups or larger organizations to provide tools that could be used to determine what scale of participation could justify the investments in regional food processing centers with comparable freezing-line equipment. As result of this programming, there has been interest by other states that are further exploring this work to determine if this model (shared use freezing production) would further benefit producers within their respective regions.

One unanticipated challenge that was faced during this project was raw material sourcing. In particular, in year 1, the blueberry production was earlier than anticipated. As a result, sourcing product that aligned with the production schedule was a challenge. To overcome this challenge, in Year 2, the team provided a significant lead time to the local growers to ensure the supply. 

In December 2020 and February 2021, the team launched a second consumer choice experiment. In December they again solicited responses from the local population, and in February they solicited responses from a national sample. The team included research questions about the impact of COVID on consumers’ choices. They plan to compare the responses from pre-COVID in 2019 to post-COVID in late 2020/ 2021. 

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.