AMES, Iowa – A research study published in the October 2007 issue of HortScience found that consumers don’t like blemishes – on apples, that is.
The study of consumer values led by Chengyan Yue, assistant professor of horticultural science and applied economics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, found that low tolerance for cosmetically damaged apples impacts consumers’ purchasing decisions.
The study looked at consumers’ preferences for either organically or conventionally grown apples to gauge buyers’ tolerance for blemishes and other “cosmetic” defects.
Choices. The findings were clear: when given a choice between organically grown apples with surface blemishes or conventionally grown apples, consumers prefer the conventionally grown apples because they “look better.”
Even though consumers understand that spots are merely a cosmetic problem and do not affect the taste or quality of the apples, buyers prefer apples with a better appearance.
Consumers in Midwestern markets were surveyed to determine their preference between cosmetic appearance and organic production methods in terms of their willingness to pay for organic apples in the market. Results showed consumers will pay a premium for organic production methods and for apples with low amounts of cosmetic damage.
Yue explained the background for the research, noting that organic apple producers must control weeds and monitor and respond rapidly to harmful diseases and insects.
Fewer options. Unlike producers who use conventional growing methods, proponents of organic growing methods are limited in the ways they can use weed management and pest control.
“While there are higher costs and risks in organic production, the additional income from the higher price of an organic product may be appealing. But organic producers’ limited methods of control may produce apples with cosmetic damage, which consumers may discount in the marketplace,” he said.
The relatively low consumer acceptance of cosmetically imperfect apples narrows the margin of error and presents challenges for organic growers. Organic apple producers must account for the trade-off between production technology and cosmetic damage in their production decisions.
Sale and shipping. Yue observed that, in addition to improving management methods and using inputs effectively, taking more care in preparing apples for sale may also provide producers with opportunities for improved presentation of cosmetically damaged apples in the retail market.
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