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Keywords:

  • consumer demographics;
  • consumer liking;
  • production method;
  • sensory quality

ABSTRACT:  Consumers of organically grown fruits and vegetables often believe that these products taste better than conventional produce. However, comparison of produce from supermarket shelves does not permit adequate assessment of this consumer perception, given potentially confounding cultivar and environmental effects. We used replicated side-by-side plots to produce organic and conventional vegetables for consumer sensory studies. In one test, red loose leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, and mustard greens, grown organically and conventionally, were evaluated for overall liking as well as for intensity of flavor and bitterness. Another consumer test was conducted comparing organically and conventionally grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Overall, organically and conventionally grown vegetables did not show significant differences in consumer liking or consumer-perceived sensory quality. The only exception was in tomatoes where the conventionally produced tomato was rated as having significantly stronger flavor than the organically produced tomato. However, overall liking was the same for both organic and conventional samples. As conventional tomatoes also were scored marginally significantly higher in ripeness and a positive correlation was found between ratings of flavor intensity and ripeness, the flavor difference observed could not be simply ascribed to the contrasting growing conditions. Consumer panelists in both tests considered organic produce to be healthier (72%) and more environmentally friendly (51%) than conventional produce, while 28% considered organic produce to have better taste. Covariance analysis indicated that consumer demographics affected sensory comparisons of organic and conventional lettuce and cucumbers. Future study is needed to substantiate the influence of segmentation of consumers on their preference for organic food.