The U.S. apple industry is experiencing increasingly intensive competition (Axelson and Axelson, 2000). This intense competition coupled with consumers’ increasing expectations for high food quality (McCluskey et al., 2007) has driven the apple industry to continuously improve the quality of existing apple varieties and develop new ones. In the recent past, many new varieties have been released but not all of them have succeeded in the marketplace (The Packer, 2010).
The success of an apple variety depends on its quality attributes. Quality attributes can be divided into three categories: search characteristics, experience characteristics, and credence characteristics. Search characteristics are those attributes that can be ascertained before the purchase; as for example, the color and size of apples. In contrast, experience characteristics can only be established by experiencing the product, such as the crispness, juiciness, sweetness, and tartness of apples. Credence characteristics cannot be validated (or can be validated only at very high cost) by consumers either before or even after the purchase. An example of a credence characteristic is the health benefit derived from consuming apples. Search characteristics of apples, such as size and color, are certainly important since these appearance factors do influence consumer apple choice. Experience characteristics such as sweetness, tartness, crispness, juiciness, etc., are even more important since these experience characteristics determine if consumers like apples they have purchased and come back and make repeat purchases, which ultimately determines the demand for the apple variety (McCluskey et al., 2007).
There is some literature on consumer WTP for apples but mostly focused on some particular search or credence characteristics, such as eco-labeled (Loureiro et al., 2002), food safety attributes (Rozan et al., 2004), organic attributes (Yue et al., 2009), local, organic, and genetically modified organism-free attributes (Loureiro and Hine, 2002), and cosmetic damage (Yue et al., 2007). Many of these studies were particularly interested in specific characteristics and one apple variety rather than using multiple varieties to test consumers’ preferences and WTP for the characteristics. Some studies have investigated consumer preferences for apple search or experience characteristics. These studies have been driven by two forces: improving the competitiveness of apples in response to needs of the industry and increasing consumption of fruits to improve public health (Harker et al., 2003).
According to Harker et al. (2003), assessing the impact of quality attributes on consumer preferences and choice of fruits is difficult. This is because experience characteristics, such as crispness, juiciness, and tartness, require consumers to eat the products, which is not always easy due to experimental resource constraints. Many studies that allow consumers to taste apples are often conducted in formal tasting facilities, lacking in usual contextual and situational associations with real fruit purchases (Harker et al., 2003).
Our study successfully overcomes the aforementioned difficulties. We used choice experiments to investigate consumers’ preferences and WTP for various apple varieties and then evaluated a series of quality attributes by allowing them to taste apples. The choice experiments were conducted in real markets where consumers were making fruit purchases, which can eliminate any decontextualized biases. The use of a choice format has gained popularity among consumer preference and WTP researchers. Lusk and Schroeder (2004) developed the choice format with posted prices in different scenarios to investigate consumers’ WTP for food quality attributes. Alfnes et al. (2006) used a choice experiment to investigate consumers’ WTP for salmon with different colors.
Taste and texture account for most of the variability in consumer liking of apple fruit (Harker et al., 2003). Consumers’ targets for texture and taste differ between individuals, which suggest that each apple variety needs to be considered in relation to its specific niche market. Because consumer preferences are dependent on previous experiences and expectations, the release of new varieties may change consumer expectations and therefore their preferences. In the past couple of decades, several new apple varieties have been developed and released by the apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota. The ‘Honeycrisp’ apple was released in 1991 and has rapidly become a prized commercial product in the United States and worldwide. The ‘Zestar!™’ apple, released in 1998, was bred to survive in cold climates and to be sold as an early season apple. ‘SweeTango®’ is the brand name for the premium quality apple fruit produced from the variety ‘Minneiska’, which was released in 2009 and is a cross between ‘Honeycrisp’ and ‘Zestar!™’. Since ‘SweeTango®’ has only been available in the marketplace since the fall of 2010, consumer preferences and WTP for it in comparison with other apple varieties are still not known. To our knowledge, there is no comprehensive study that has systematically compared consumer preferences for the varieties ‘Honeycrisp’, ‘Zestar!™’, and ‘SweeTango®’ with other new and existing varieties.
An objective of this study was to determine if consumers are willing to pay more for ‘SweeTango®’, ‘Honeycrisp’, and ‘Zestar!™’ in comparison with other apple varieties. If so, by how much? What quality attributes do consumers like or dislike in new vs. older apple varieties? Are there any differences between frequent apple buyers and infrequent apple buyers in terms of their WTP for various apple varieties? The results of this research can be useful for apple growers, wholesalers, and shippers in making their production and marketing decisions.
Alfnes, F., Guttormsen, A., Steine, G. & Kolstad, K. 2006 Consumers’ willingness to pay for the color of salmon: A choice experiment with real economic incentives Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 88 1050 1061
Harker, F.R., Gunson, F.A. & Jaeger, S.R. 2003 The case for fruit quality: An interpretive review of consumer attitudes, and preferences for apples Postharvest Biol. Technol. 28 333 347
Loureiro, L.M. & Hine, S. 2002 Discovering niche markets: A comparison of consumer willingness to pay for local (Colorado Grown), organic, and GMO-free products J. Agr. Appl. Econ. 34 477 487
Loureiro, L.M., McCluskey, J.J. & Mittelhammer, R.C. 2002 Will consumers pay a premium for eco-labeled apples? J. Consum. Aff. 36 203 219
Louviere, J.J., Hensher, D.A. & Swait, J.D. 2000 Stated choice methods: Analysis and application Cambridge University Press Cambridge, UK
Lusk, J.L. & Schroeder, T.C. 2004 Are choice experiments incentive compatible? A test with quality differentiated beef steaks Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 86 467 482
McCluskey, J.J., Mittelhammer, R.C., Marin, A.B. & Wright, K.S. 2007 Effect of quality characteristics on consumers’ willingness to pay for Gala apples Can. J. Agr. Econ. 55 217 231
Rozan, A., Stenger, A. & Willinger, M. 2004 Willingness-to-pay for food safety: An experimental investigation of quality certification on bidding behavior Eur. Rev. Agr. Econ. 31 409 425
Yue, C., Alfnes, F. & Jensen, H.H. 2009 Discounting spotted apples: Investigating consumers’ willingness to accept cosmetic damage in an organic product J. Agr. Appl. Econ. 14 29 46
Yue, C., Jensen, H.H., Mueller, D., Nonnecke, G. & Gleason, M. 2007 Estimating consumers’ valuation of organic and cosmetically damaged apples HortScience 42 1366 1371
Yue, C. & Tong, C. 2009 Organic or local? Investigating consumer preference for fresh produce using a choice experiment with real economic incentives HortScience 44 366 371