Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Vegetables
Consumers’ perception of peach quality studied


November 30, 1999
By Hugh McElhone

Topics

Consumer perception of peach quality tends to be based on appearance, but there are many other factors to consider that producers should be aware of, says Dr. Ben Campbell with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

Consumer perception of peach quality tends to be based on appearance, but there are many other factors to consider that producers should be aware of, says Dr. Ben Campbell with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

His research team recently undertook an in-depth statistical study of how consumers perceive the quality of the peach they buy in the market and what drives them to make their purchase.

Advertisment

The research was funded by the Niagara Peninsula Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (NPFVGA), and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Growing Forward program.

“This research is important because of increasing competition – someone wants your spot on the shelf,” Dr. Campbell says. “You need to be proactive and know what’s going on in the market so you can give consumers what they want. You’re not just competing with California peaches, you have to be better.”

One problem the researchers noted is that in face-to-face interviews, consumers tended to say what they thought the researchers wanted to hear.

“They’ll tell you that locally grown is very important to them, but when they go to the store, that might not be the only criteria,”

Dr. Campbell says. “They want something that’s going to taste good, and they will not find that out until they get it home.

“When you go to the store, you’re not buying quality, you’re buying perceived quality. As farmers, you look at internal colour, size and other factors that you know make it a quality peach, but consumers don’t have that information when they go into the store,” he adds.

“Local implies fresh, flavour and quality. Local has this perception, and consumers are buying on perception.”

To perceive quality, consumers have to rely on factors in the environment to help them make their decision. Such factors include price, colour, size, external feel and packaging style. They also look at the region where it was grown, and whether or not it is organic. These are all factors that drive someone’s purchase.

To determine driving factors, the research team assembled different combinations of peach size, colour and packaging methods and asked consumers which combination they preferred. This national survey was conducted over the Internet and received 891 completed surveys, a 60 per cent response rate. “If we’d done this by mail, we’d have hoped for 20 per cent,” Dr. Campbell explains.

People were asked to rate the combinations displayed on a scale of one to 100 to determine if they would purchase them. They were then asked a series of demographic and purchasing behaviour questions so that profiles could be built that related consumer characteristics to product preferences.

Respondents under the age of 18 were not included, nor were those who did not buy fruit of any kind. “Roughly 30 people did not buy fruit because someone else was buying it for them. These people were not included in the sample,” he said.

Sample questions specifically asked consumers if they bought peaches. If they answered no, they were asked why not.

“We found 24 per cent said the skin was too fuzzy,” says Dr. Campbell. “It should be noted that 70 per cent of those who found the skin too fuzzy were buying nectarines, a replacement fruit.”

Some found the fruit too expensive, or simply did not like the taste.

Of those who did buy peaches, researchers found that price was the most important factor across the country, accounting for about 18 per cent of the purchase decision. The second most important factor, at 15 per cent, was where it was produced.

“So really, the regional label has a value when it comes to consumer purchases,” says Dr. Campbell.

Of regional labels, they found that the eastern region, including Ontario, prefers the Ontario label, while the western region prefers the B.C. label.

“Consumers in central Canada, on the other hand, tended to put equal value on the B.C. and Ontario labels, and of course, no one wanted the imported label,” he says.

They then looked at ethnic heritage as a factor in peach purchases by asking consumers how they identified themselves culturally.

The total percentages were then broken down, and respondents with like preferences divided into six segments. This helped profile the consumer based on such factors as gender, demographics, socioeconomic status, and behavioural and purchasing tendencies.

Segment 1 – the price conscious – accounted for 15 per cent in this analysis.

“For this segment, price made up 42 per cent of the buying decision; this implies that price was more important than other factors,” explains Dr. Campbell.

These consumers were higher educated, shopped at discount stores, had lower income, had fewer children, and tended to be male. Culturally, they were Chinese/Japanese, non-Western European, and not very knowledgeable about local produce.

Segment 2 – location matters – accounted for seven per cent. Of this group, the regional label was responsible for 39 per cent of their purchase decision. These consumers tended to live in a production area, were very knowledgeable about local produce but less so about organic. They were less likely to shop at discount or mass merchandise stores.

Segment 3 – Ontario label and external feel – highlights elements that were important for 21 per cent of Ontario consumers. For 15 per cent of this group, the peach had to be firm and from Ontario before they would buy it. These consumers tend to spend a high percentage of their fruit budget on peaches and were more likely to shop at large chain stores. They tended to be married, and were not very knowledgeable about local or organic production.

Segment 4 – external feel – accounts for 11 per cent of consumers countrywide who preferred a firm peach. A full 36 per cent of the buying decision came from the external feel characteristics. Consumers within this segment tended to be female, and shop at both the large chain and discount stores. This group did not live in a production area, did not want an extremely juicy peach, and were not very knowledgeable about local or organic production.

“This group is comprised of the urban person who wants a peach similar to what they’ve had in the past, one that’s firm and not very juicy,” says Dr. Campbell.

Segment 5 – find their own – accounts for 20 per cent of the total. For this group, 28 per cent of the buying decision is based on package type with the preference being for loose fruit.

“They don’t like baskets, and want to look at the entire display and say ‘I want that one.’ They tend to be female, higher educated, high income, Western European, and do not shop at mass merchandise or warehouse clubs. They are knowledgeable of organic but less so on local production,” says Dr. Campbell.

Segment 6 – non-discriminating – accounts for 26 per cent of the total and tends to be made up of younger males for whom food does not matter as much. They are generally not Eastern Europeans, and shop at warehouse club stores. They are not very knowledgeable about local production.

Dr. Campbell notes there is a trend in the industry to move to plastic containers, and packaging type is important for 15 per cent of those surveyed.

“Some prefer the cardboard basket,” he says. “This may be because of tradition, or because they feel it is more environmentally friendly. We need to dig a little deeper to understand why.”

The plastic container with lid, however, is not popular among the external feel group who can no longer assemble their own basket. This style of container essentially alienates 20 per cent of the market.

Based on the results of their statistical survey, Dr. Campbell says, “we can tell you how people perceive quality and what they are looking for in the store. But when they get home, what do they really want, what are they expecting? There is actual quality that goes into this as well.”

He also found there is a better understanding of local and organic production regardless of region.

“People have strong views on organic,” he adds.

Of the export market, he says, “Sure, we now have a fairly good idea of the market here but do U.S. consumers feel the same way? Some segments, such as the price conscious, will likely be similar, but the other groups may be different across the board.”

Having looked at perceived quality in the store, Dr. Campbell and his team want to look at actual quality.

“Did the consumer get what they expected from their purchases when they got home?” he wonders.

Future research will also look at the data they have found important and further refine some group attributes.

“We need to find more specifics that we can delve into with more detail,” Dr. Campbell concludes.