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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Food Quality Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #386281

Research Project: Reducing Postharvest Loss and Improving Fresh Produce Marketability and Nutritive Values through Technological Innovations and Process Optimization

Location: Food Quality Laboratory

Title: Charting the future of e-grocery: An evaluation of the use of digital imagery as a sensory analysis tool for fresh fruits

item Fonseca, Jorge
item Luo, Yaguang - Sunny
item Park, Eunhee
item Trouth, Frances

Submitted to: Horticulturae
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/22/2021
Publication Date: 8/25/2021
Citation: Fonseca, J.M., Luo, Y., Park, E., Trouth, F.J. 2021. Charting the future of e-grocery: An evaluation of the use of digital imagery as a sensory analysis tool for fresh fruits. Horticulturae. 7(9):262.

Interpretive Summary: Electronic commerce (e-commerce) may be used to promote more consumption of fruits and vegetables. The main challenge of increasing online shopping of fresh produce is the inability of the consumer to examine the products. We proposed to study the potential of digital-imagery evaluations as replacement to the common inspection consumers undertake in grocery stores. Photographs of fresh strawberries, cherry tomatoes, grapes and blueberries were used to assess consumer’s acceptance/perception and compare sensory scores assigned to images with those of the real fruits. Statistical analyses revealed that scores for texture and overall eating quality have mixed results. However, the scores for quality appearance, the most important factor of the purchasing decision, was remarkably consistent denoting no differences between the perception derived from images and that of the real fruit. The results demonstrated that digital images may serve to nudge consumers to purchase fruits and vegetables. This work also discusses benefits that digital images can have in food sensory analysis research.

Technical Abstract: While online grocery shopping has been rapidly expanding over the last several years, online sales of fresh produce have lagged. One of the most significant contributing factors, for this lag, is the consumer’s inability to assess the quality of produce online. We hypothesized that this could be alleviated by machine vision technology. This study examines perceived sensory attributes derived from digital images of fresh produce and compares them with sensory attributes obtained from the actual fruit. Digital images of fresh strawberries, cherry tomatoes, grapes, and blueberries were acquired using a high-resolution digital camera. Consumer panelists evaluated the appearance, texture, flavor, and overall eating quality to determine purchase decision. Panel sizes ranging from 32 to 40 members (a total of 147) also conducted in situ evaluations of the different fruits. The paired t-test indicated that the mean results between pairs of image scores and in situ evaluation scores were statistically insignificant. The scores obtained for texture and overall eating quality showed some variability, but the scores for quality appearance were remarkably consistent revealing no difference across the evaluations of the various commodities. The results demonstrated that digital images can be utilized to effectively relay the appearance attributes of fresh produce. This finding is relevant for the industry, as the appropriate construction of real-time images can help to build consumers’ trust in the quality of e-deliveries, nudge consumers to purchase fruits and vegetables, and increase the overall e-commerce acceptance of fresh produce. A discussion of the limitations and opportunities for improving the effectiveness of digital sensory analysis of fresh produce is provided.