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This display card was part of a stone fruit promotion program that earned Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, a Marketing Excellence Award from Produce Business magazine. The promotion was designed to help consumers differentiate Stemilt's peach

This display card was part of a stone fruit promotion program that earned Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, a Marketing Excellence Award from Produce Business magazine. The promotion was designed to help consumers differentiate Stemilt’s peach

In consumer taste tests conducted in Oregon last summer, consumers much preferred the Washington peaches to the California peaches that they sampled.

They scored the Washington peaches higher in terms of appearance, aroma, sweetness, juiciness, flavor, and overall quality.

Ann Colonna, manager of the sensory program at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, conducted two taste-testing sessions, the first on August 10 at the Bite of Oregon Festival in Portland, and the second on August 25 at the Beaverton Farmers’ Market. She bought the peaches from grocery stores in the Portland area so that the fruit was representative of what consumers would find for sale in the stores. Results from the two tasting sessions were combined.

Of the 640 consumers who tasted the peaches over the course of the two days, almost 78 percent said they preferred the Washington peaches to the California peaches.

Colonna said she expected that the Washington peaches might score higher, since they had not been shipped as far as the California fruit, but she was amazed by the strength of the results. "I have never seen a preference that strong in a study," she said.

Flavor

When asked to rate the fruit overall, 75 percent of the consumers said they liked the Washington peaches, but only 58 percent liked the California peaches.

In terms of aroma, 70 percent of the consumers in the tests liked the aroma of the Washington peaches, versus 51 percent for the California peaches. The differences in the scores for flavor were even greater. Almost 84 percent of the consumers liked the flavor of Washington peaches versus 56 percent for the California peaches.

Concerning sweetness, 43 percent said the sweetness of the Washington peaches was just right, versus 22 percent for the California peaches. On juiciness, 57 percent said the Washington peaches were just about right, versus 33 percent for the California peaches. Seventy percent of the consumers thought the firmness of the Washington peaches was just about right, versus 50 percent for the California fruit.

Asked what attribute they liked most about the fruit, flavor was most often mentioned for the Washington fruit. For the California fruit, the number-one comment was "I did not like this peach."

Good news

The Washington State Fruit Commission sponsored the research. President B.J. Thurlby said several retailers had asked for a controlled study based strictly on fruit in the marketplace, rather than supplied by a specific grower. "It’s always good as an industry to measure your product," he said.

Thurlby said the results were great news for Washington, and he felt the differences might have something to do with the soil and conditions where the peaches are grown. "There are people out in retail that don’t think there’s any difference between a Washington peach, a New Jersey peach, or a California peach. Now, we have pretty powerful data that shows otherwise."

For the first test, the peaches from Washington were the Rich Lady variety, and the peaches from –California were Sweet Dream. Both were 42 count.

For the second test, the peaches from Washington were again Rich Lady, but the California peaches were Zee Lady. Both were 44 count.

Colonna acknowledged the fact that the peaches were of different varieties could have affected the results. "But the primary objective of these tests was to see what’s available to consumers in the stores in terms of quality, and what they prefer," she said. "I didn’t have any control over what was in the stores. I was trying to get peaches that looked similar and were the same size."

She thinks that transportation could be one of the reasons that the California peaches seemed to be of poorer quality. "They’re probably being picked green so they will not bruise by the time they make it up to Portland, and the flavor is not there, or the acidity. They’re not a well-balanced peach."

The consumers at the tests said flavor and sweetness were by far the most important attributes of peaches in general. Seventy-one percent said they would be willing to pay $1.99 a pound for the Washington peaches, but only 29 percent said they would pay that much for the California peaches.

More than 78 percent of the consumers said they would prefer to buy locally grown fresh peaches if they were of the same quality as others in the market, even if they cost 50 cents per pound more.