Consumers place high value on the taste of produce, and many are willing to pay more to get it, but some feel the produce industry fails to deliver, according to new research commissioned by the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

Taste is somewhat or extremely important to nearly 92 percent of the 1,000 primary shoppers surveyed by telephone in late April by Opinion Dynamics Corporation.

Produce flavor is an important factor driving store choice for more than three-quarters of surveyed shoppers. Yet 30 percent of the shoppers report only middle-of-the-road satisfaction with the taste of the produce they purchase, and only 25 percent report they are very satisfied.

“We are responsible for some of the only foods consumers are being encouraged to eat more of, not less. Fruits and vegetables promise great taste, too,” said PMA president Bryan Silbermann, “yet our customers tell us we are failing to deliver on that promise.”

Surveyed shoppers who reported they are not satisfied with their produce most often point to a lack of freshness.

“Educating consumers about produce availability, handling, and use is a tremendous opportunity to drive sales that is frequently under-utilized,” said Dave Corsi, PMA board of directors secretary-treasurer and vice president of produce and floral operations for Wegmans Food Markets. “It’s really a win-win situation — showcasing flavorful, ripe products at their peak satisfies consumers’ taste buds and inevitably leads to increased sales.”

When asked how important taste was compared to other produce characteristics such as health, 38 percent of respondents reported making decisions to purchase produce for taste and health reasons and not just one or the other. Taste was even more important than year-round availability. Surveyed shoppers also reported that freshness and taste are key influences in decisions to purchase locally grown produce.

This gap between consumers taste expectations and their prior experiences are felt at the checkout, noted Silbermann. Consumers want good-tasting produce, and many of them are willing to pay more for it. Nearly 70 percent of shoppers surveyed, reported they would pay at least a little more for better-tasting produce, and 10 percent were willing to pay a lot more.

“Our industry appears to be missing out on a sales-growing opportunity to market and deliver better-tasting produce,” Silbermann said. “This research offers a vision for increasing sales and margins by giving our customers what they want.”