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Define product quality in terms of the consumer.

Many in the food industry are realizing that a product's quality should be defined in terms of the consumer rather than the product itself. In other words, rather than defining a product's quality in terms of quantitative measurements, such as the percent of sugar content or its firmness, product developers should take into more consideration consumer reaction. Currently, defining product quality in terms of the consumer may be limited to only about 25% of all food products and about 5% of fresh-cut fruit and vegetable products.

Scientists at the University of Georgia (Department of Food Science and Technology, Athens, GA 30602) tell us that when developing a new product, researchers should target specific groups of consumers and determine which types of products would probably appeal to them. One way to do this would be to create a three-point scale for consumer testing, rather than using the nine-point hedonic scale. The objective of the new scale would be to see if a product exceeds, meets or doesn't meet consumer expectations. The new scale would indicate whether a product tastes "great," is "acceptable," or is "unacceptable." Determinations would be made by taking a percentage distribution of "great" reactions or a combination of "great" and "acceptable" reactions.

When it concerns fruit or vegetable products, the final quality inspector is the consumer. The two most important quality measurements are made at the points of purchase and consumption by the consumer. Most consumers do not give hedonic ratings to each item they taste. Or are they able to clearly differentiate between the orange they ate yesterday, and the one they are eating today. Still, most consumers in a simple way are able to tell if they are dissatisfied, satisfied or delighted with that orange. This perception shapes their subsequent buying decisions.

Quality at purchase is not the same as quality at consumption. The appearance and finger-feel of an item are important to the consumer who buys a product at the market. But flavor and mouth texture are much more important when the product enters the mouth. Different consumers like different versions of the same product. Some like their apples sweet while others like them tart. For each product there should be a finite number of market segments based on bundles of quality characteristics.

All shelf-life projections should be made under expected handling situations, and these conditions should be monitored periodically to ensure that these expectations are realistic. A subsample of selected lots should be held under expected conditions and evaluated. When it concerns product quality, it's better to measure what really is important rather than to believe that something is important simply because you measure it well. While many of these points apply specifically to fresh fruits and vegetables, the principles can apply to food products in general.

Further information. Robert Shewfelt; phone: 706-542-5136; fax: 706-542-1050.
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Comment:Define product quality in terms of the consumer.
Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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