New University of Florida research shows taste trumps health benefits for blueberry buyers, sending a strong message that fruit consumers value flavor most.
About 61% of blueberry consumers buy the fruit for its flavor, while 39% do so for psychological reasons — they believe the fruit, which contains antioxidants, provides health benefits, according to two national online surveys.
UF/IFAS horticultural sciences assistant professor Jim Olmstead will use the data as he breeds new types of blueberries. Olmstead uses traditional breeding methods to create blueberry cultivars that have traits consumers want.
“What we’re trying to determine is: What is the consumer’s perception of the ideal blueberry? What should it look, taste, and feel like?” said Olmstead.
A company called Panel Direct Online recruited survey takers, using an online questionnaire to ensure participants bought blueberries in the 12 months before the survey and that they were evenly split between men and women.
Three hundred and six people answered the first survey, conducted in 2011. In 2013, the researchers surveyed another 300 blueberry buyers. Respondents in both surveys answered the same questions about six blueberry traits: firmness, texture, size, color, flavor and human nutrition. Researchers then divided traits into six more categories, so respondents revealed their preferences about 36 different blueberry traits.
Consumers valued such factors as “so sweet…no sugar added” and “bold and intense blueberry flavor” the highest. Also high on their list were “full of juice” and “full of antioxidants.”
Olmstead said his ongoing research includes improving blueberry texture, but survey respondents did not rate texture high on their list of preferred traits.
Using a nine-point scale, respondents were asked to rate their blueberry experiences, both good and bad. Respondents were tested on what scientists call psychophysics, or how your brain reacts to stimuli such as taste, smell, and texture.
Recent surveys by online grocer FreshDirect showed only 48% of U.S. consumers bought blueberries in the past year, compared with 88% who bought the top-selling fruit, bananas.
Historically, many blueberry traits have been selected with producers in mind, including climate adaptation, yield, harvest potential, and disease resistance, said Thomas Colquhoun, an environmental horticulture assistant professor and study co-author.
Developing a new blueberry variety can take more than 10 years, so before investing that time, scientists and growers need to know what consumers want, he said.
“There’s not just one type of customer,” Colquhoun said. “You have purchasers that work with the sensory side of the brain, and then you have purchasers that work with the psychological side.”