Packaging affects produce purchases

October 16, 2012

New academic research shows what sways produce shoppers when they eye the fresh goods.

It’s hard, but not impossible, to improve on Nature’s packaging of produce. Bursting with color, fresh fruits and vegetables set a tone at the start of store visits and are nutritional stars in supermarkets.

This didn’t prevent a Michigan State University research team from looking to escalate “current minimal understanding of packaging influences” on purchase decisions and consumption. Why not? Bagged salads have already brought convenience, and clamshells have helped turn produce into grab-and-go snacks.

About produce packaging in general, the authors Georgios Koutsimanis et al revealed in Influences of packaging attributes on consumer purchase decisions for fresh produce (Appetite Journal, May 22, 2012):
•    ‘Extend the best by date’ is the top convenience feature
•    92.7% of respondents believe that packaging materials affect food product quality
•    On a 3.52 ranking out of 5.00, bio-based materials are highly appealing
•    The most prominent purchase influences on sweet cherries are price (25%), shelf life (19%), container size (17.2%), and disposal method (15.4%).

Their data came from an online study of 292 consumers. The researchers acknowledge that fresh produce appearance “is a critical selling point” but say produce selection hinges on many factors—consumer demographics, marketing strategies, environmental awareness, convenience of use, package design and aesthetics, amount of product in the container, and price.

The report cites how wood, corrugated fiberboard, paper pulp, and plastics are the most common today for produce—yet plastics “are the only ones that allow the implementation of a modified atmosphere to maximize the projected shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

When measuring convenience among respondents in different age groups, survey findings suggest that ‘easy to carry’ and ‘easy to open’ are valued more by older consumers than younger ones.

Asked to rate the importance of various traits, people say ‘absence of foreign particles’ and ‘pesticide free’ beat out ‘labeled nutritional value’, ‘brand name’, ‘traceability’ and ‘environmental footprint.’ Survey takers overall favor nine days of shelf life over three or six, and larger containers (16- or 32-ounces) over smaller ones (8 ounces).