- Fruits: apples, general tree fruits
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution, market study, value added
- Pest Management: chemical control, genetic resistance
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
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.
Project objectives:div style="margin-left:1em;">
- 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