Sandra Blaue
Institute of Market Analysis


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38116 Braunschweig
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Consumer communication of quality standards in organic fruit growing


 (c) Thünen-Instiut/Matthias Rütze

Sustainable development of the general concept of plant protection in organic fruit growing including relevant aspects of the society as a whole based on five years database of the application of measures relevant for plant protection in practice

No matter if organic or not - Consumers seem to prefer perfect looking apples. Which possibilities do we have to increase the acceptance of organically produced apples with skin deficiencies?  This is what we aim to find out with help of a consumer study.

Background and Objective

Within the project "sustainable development of the general concept of plant protection in organic fruit growing" it became clear that the consumer demand for apples influences the future development of pesticide use in organic fruit growing. Perfect looking (organic) apples require more pesticides than apples with minor skin deficiencies.

The goal of the study is to explore consumers' opinions and preferences for organic apples with focus on consumers tolerance for skin deficiencies. How does provided information about skin deficiencies and pesticide use influence consumers' purchase decisions?

Against this background the following questions regarding consumers will be asked:

  • Which external quality standards do consumers expect of organic apples?
  • How do consumers evaluate organic apples with skin definiencies?
  • Which measures exist to increase tolerance for organic apples with skin deficiencies?
  • Which could be possible ways to communicate causes for skin deficiencies, reduced pesticide use and its consequences for biodiversity to consumers?

Target Group


At first, focus group discussions were conducted to get an overview  of the variety of consumers` opinions and attitudes towards apples with skin deficiencies. This also led to possible approaches for communicating the relation between apple quality and use of pesticides.

And second, the results of the focus group discussions will be quantified by an online survey.


The respondents mentioned the following terms for the purchase criteria for organic apples: "better taste", "healthier", "not standardized", "adequate package size" and "better for climate protection". For some, regional production is more important than organic production. Reasons not to buy organic apples are the price, a lack of trust in the organic label or the perception of "organic" as a pure marketing strategy and money-making. In addition, sensory and visual characteristics are important to the respondents. An apple should be juicy, sweet, sour and crunchy, but not mealy. In addition to size, shape and color, the skin quality is decisive for most people: no pressure marks or dark spots, not wrinkled or waxed. An apple should look firm, crunchy and juicy, an invitation to eat it. Stains or small bruises are accepted if the apples e.g. can only be used for baking. People who own an apple tree or get apples from their private environment often have lower demands on the skin quality. The prior knowledge of the surveyed consumers about the cultivation of organic apples is rather low. Many associate “no chemistry” and “not sprayed” with organic fruit growing. Other aspects are "fluctuating or lower yields", "more care-intensive", "more environmentally friendly", "more natural" and "organic pesticides". For some, orchards are synonymous with organic farming. Some associate the cultivation of organic apples with "grown as in the garden", others believe that the arrangement of the trees does not differ from conventional cultivation, only the resources used. Skin deficiencies We discussed pictures of apples with and without skin deficiencies with the participants. Perfect looking apples were accepted and there was a high willingness to buy. Upon request, many attributed a perfect organic apple to the applied sorting policy or good production. Others associated organic apples with having natural appearance and dots; or they suspected fraud behind perfect organic apples. Scab was the least accepted of all skin deficiencies. It reminded some of worms or mites or apples forgotten in the fruit bowl. Most said they had to peel these apples before eating them. The willingness to buy was rather low. With additional information about organic fruit growing and explaining the causes of skin deficiencies, the acceptance for apples with skin deficiencies increased overall. Above all, information about unchanged shelf life and taste, as well as the harmlessness of the shell deficiencies, increased acceptance. With regard to the communication of information about skin deficiencies, many participants wanted short, concise statements in the shop or on the fruit shelf, e.g. as a small sign. In terms of content, the information should relate to the origin of the apples - region and farm - and indicate the causes of the skin deficiencies, e.g. hail damage. Messages that related specifically to the product tended to be judged more positively than those that related to other content. Positive formulations were preferred, i.e. that e.g. the word "skin deficiency" should be avoided. In addition, the participants wished to be addressed directly. Conclusion The participants expressed different levels of acceptance for organic apples with skin deficiencies. It became clear that easily understandable information can increase acceptance. It is important to involve consumers with their often little knowledge of production processes. The investigation of new advertising messages with a focus on authenticity and sustainability messages of the products could provide important insights for the further development of communication strategies.

This will be done via an online survey at the University of Kassel from April 2020 onwards.


Involved external Thünen-Partners


hits: 1

  1. Hüppe R, Zander K (2020) Verbraucherkommunikation zu Qualitätsanforderungen im ökologischen Obstbau. Braunschweig: Thünen-Institut für Marktanalyse, 2 p, Project Brief Thünen Inst 2020/10, DOI:10.3220/PB1583415484000
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