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Michael Collins
April 11, 2019

Produce Quality and The Customer’s Willingness to Pay

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Why do customers gravitate towards certain products? With produce specifically, the issue is less about supply, and more about quality. Actually, if we can speak frankly, quality is really the most important factor that’s in play when customers shop for local produce. Obviously, we’re all privy to all the tricks from the old country. Grading a tomato in real-time based on firmness, shape, and color is still the best way to determine the quality of the product to some purists. However, the produce industry has expanded to the point where we can no longer expect people to use these tried and true, yet rather archaic methods to weed out the good from the bad. A consumer’s demand for produce cannot be conveniently packaged in a tiny box. Rather, it is determined by the consumers location, age, sex, and perhaps most importantly, their socioeconomic status which dictates their access to such produce in the first place. Luckily for the produce industry, there seems to be a great shift in the favor of fruits and vegetables over certain carbohydrates, fats and oils. This establishes the demand in a general sense.

Another factor contributing to diversity in regard to the customer’s demand for produce is the copious varieties that exist for a specific product. Take apples for example. You probably couldn’t name all of the variations of apples that exist, much less recognize why a Granny Smith Apple is more sought after than a Red Delicious apple in some regions. It all boils down to personal preference. Some preferences are a byproduct of the individual’s environment, like most things about that person. Once the demand for that one particular species or brand of apple is recognized and established, the marker or grocer can cater to that demand efficiently.

Also, the demand for higher quality produce is fiercely impacting the customer’s willingness to pay. By quality, we of course mean both internal and external quality. Quality that can be recognized visually and physically, but most importantly taste. External factors actually influence the customer’s idea of quality more than internal factors. In terms of external factors that contribute to the quality of a vegetable or fruit, emphasis on ripeness, freshness and color is ever-prevalent. The majority of consumers will weigh these components to make an educated purchase. Produce is also unique because for the most part, you are expected to sift through the batch of whatever product you’re looking for and find the ideal apple, avocado, onion, pear, etc.

But what is the impetus behind the development of one’s personal preference? What is it about a certain piece of fruit or a vegetable that is inherently more appealing to someone? To dig deeper, we need to take into account how people measure quality, and to what degree do they value it? If the product in question meets the consumer’s expectations, then its quality is established as far as the buyer is concerned. The customer has determined that “Apple X” is superior, or better than “Apple Y,” for whatever reason. There are some exceptions, but in general, personal standards for produce shift based on the individual’s specific taste. There are some obvious constants, for example: no one will want to buy a rotten grapefruit over a ripe one. Beyond that, a grapefruit’s plumpness, firmness, color, size, etc. are all up for interpretation.

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