The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

PMA Produce Study

PMA Produce Study

Shoppers and Trends

July 31, 2007

PMA Produce Study
When it comes to produce, flavor matters, says a recent study from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). The study, which surveyed 1000 primary shopper consumers, found that shoppers place a high degree of importance on the taste and flavor of their produce – a trend consistent with research in previous years. So important is flavor and taste that 69% are willing to pay a little more to get it; 10% are willing to pay a lot more.
But the same study also found that shoppers, who are extremely interested in the taste and flavor of their fresh produce, demonstrate a relatively low level of satisfaction with these factors. In fact, only 25% of primary shoppers express a high level of satisfaction with the taste of their fruits and veggies; 37% were less than satisfied.
Of those less satisfied with their produce, 21% pointed to lack of freshness as the main reason for their position, 19% listed a lack of taste and flavor and 8% percent listed a lack of ripeness. Location and availability issues also came into play. Others said their produce used to be better, thoughl wasn’t up to par anymore.
Lorna Christie, Senior Vice President for Industry Products and Services at PMA, says this study significant because it lays out a clear “road map” for action on the part of the retailer, complete with both problems and opportunities. 
“Seventy-nine percent of primary shoppers are willing to pay more to get better tasting produce, and this puts retailers in a unique position,” she says. “Retailers have a huge opportunity to introduce consumers to new flavor expectations.”
Christie likes to think of flavor as an emotion made up of technical components, of which taste is one, and smell is another. More than just a physical reaction, the perception of flavor is influenced by past experiences, and individual cultures and preferences. If retailers can rethink the way the look at flavor from this perspective, she says, they will be in good shape.
“First of all, let’s stop training our customers to judge a book by its cover. The external part doesn’t have to perfect as long as the internal flavor satisfies. Secondly, consumers need to be educated about what’s out there. Let’s remember that exotic flavors can be created from everyday components to create a new flavor experience. Thirdly, bring more excitement to the produce department by having a ‘silent salesman’. That means better signage, recipe cards, samples and chef demos.”
Christie points out that customers have been trained to expect year-round availability when it comes to produce. Still, the study reveals that when given the choice, shoppers would much prefer flavorful produce over year-round availability – a fact that has clearly inspired a surge in the seasonal and local eating movements. Most shoppers (34%) say that they buy locally-grown produce because it’s fresher, and 22% say they buy it because is tastes better. The move toward favoring domestically-grown produce over imported produce is taste and flavor-related too. While two-thirds (66%) of the sample would rather buy domestic product, a mere 1% has a preference for imported fruits and veggies.
“Fifty-six percent of shoppers indicate they shop locally, which means these shoppers are becoming a major force at the retail level,” says Christie. “The important factor to consider is that, above all else, this choice is flavor and taste driven.”
Since a majority of shoppers (54%) say they even make flavor and taste factors a priority when choosing where to buy their groceries, improving overall taste can make a difference toward increasing sales, and toward changing shoppers’ overall perceptions about their produce. On the most basic level, this requires the forging of close relationships with suppliers, and the careful handling of produce during delivery and at the display.
“So much is happening right now to respond to consumer flavor demands,” says Christie. “We are looking at scientific components to create stronger, better tasting hybrids. We’re enhancing packaging to protect the product during shipment. Education is taking place in the supply chain to maintain flavor and safety,” she says. “It’s an exciting time for produce.”
Flavor is not only the responsibility of the retailer, says Christie. The consumer has a role to play as well, as often produce arrives tasting flavorful, but may not maintain its flavor due to improper handling or storage at home.
“The biggest mistake customers make is storing their tomatoes in the refrigerator, which degrades the tomato’s flavor,” she says. “Get out there and talk to your shoppers, educate them and introduce them to new, fresher flavors. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can create a more satiated, loyal customer base.”