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David C. Diehl, Nicole L. Sloan, Christine M. Bruhn, Amarat H. Simonne, Jeffrey K. Brecht and Elizabeth J. Mitcham

As part of a larger project to show how fresh fruits and vegetables with enhanced flavor can be successfully handled to improve consumer satisfaction without compromising food safety, key informant interviews were conducted with fruit industry leaders dealing with melons (Cucumis melo and Citrullus lanatus), peaches and nectarines (Prunus persica), pears (Pyrus communis), tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), strawberries (Fragaria ×ananassa), and blueberries (Vaccinium sp.). The interview was designed to collect information on industry attitudes and practices related to postharvest handling of more mature fruit, harvest timing, preconditioning, cold chain management, and shipping and handling procedures throughout the supply chain. The current analysis focuses on two key questions from the interviews: 1) To what extent do industry experts believe that better fruit handling and shipping procedures contribute to better taste quality in fruit? 2) To what extent do industry experts believe that better fruit quality will lead to more consumer purchasing? In response to the first question, the majority of respondents (70%) agreed that postharvest handling affects fruit flavor with the most cited themes related to agreement being gentle handling, cold chain management, and harvest timing. Of the respondents who expressed disagreement most acknowledged the importance of postharvest handling, but felt other factors were also important, mainly the variety grown, the shelf life requirements, and the growing conditions. For the second question, 95% of respondents agreed that increased taste quality of fruit would mean increased purchasing and consumption. The primary theme related to agreement was that consumers would repeat purchase after positive eating experiences. Other important factors were the price point of fruit, retail display, product identity, and fruit appearance. With increasing consumer attention to fruit quality and a generally accepted belief among industry representatives that fruit flavor and quality drives consumer demand, there is an opportunity to shift industry practices toward postharvest handing that is conducive to consistently delivering better-tasting fruit to consumers.