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Summary report on sensory-related socio-economic and sensory science literature about organic food products

Canavari, Maurizio; Asioli, Daniele; Bendini, Alessandra; Cantore, Nicola; Gallina Toschi, Tullia; Spiller, Achim; Obermowe, Tim; Buchecker, Kirsten and Lohmann, Mark (2009) Summary report on sensory-related socio-economic and sensory science literature about organic food products. Dipartimento di Economia e Ingegneria agrarie, Alma Mater Studiorum-University of Bologna (UniBo), Bologna, Italy.

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Organic food’s initial attraction to the public was that it was perceived to be healthier and tastier, but scientists and policy makers have mainly stressed the benefits to the environment of organic and sustainable farming. Scientific support for marketing actions addressed to those who want to be healthier and who want to enjoy better taste, and are willing to pay more for these benefits is scarce. Past research has produced little clear evidence about the importance of sensory characteristics such as taste, smell, appearance etc in consumers’ preferences with regard to organic food. The Ecropolis project, funded by the E.U., was set up with the aim of investigating the role of the senses in consumers’ preferences regarding organic food, and leading to research into how best to satisfy those preferences.
This deliverable is aimed at providing a solid basis for such research with an in-depth review of, and two reports on, the relevant scientific literature. The first report (Annex I) regards what consumers expect from organic products in terms of taste, smell, appearance, etc and how these expectations are (or are not) met; the second is about the science of the senses (Annex II).
The first project tasks included creating and agreeing on a glossary of terms, deciding on search criteria (key words, etc.), setting up a bibliographical data base, preparing then circulating the above-mentioned reports, and finally preparing a summary of the reports.
The report on consumers expectations highlights the suggestion that while organic food has traditionally been marketed through specialized retailers, its market share will only grow significantly if it is promoted by multiple retailers. Research literature from all over the world seems to agree in indicating that consumers’ choices are largely motivated by health, the environment, price and social status. Other considerations include ethics, the localness of the product and lifestyle choices.
The literature also indicates that the organic market will expand significantly only if consumers are more willing, and able, to recognize quality, but this presents serious issues. When buying the product they cannot personally verify its quality and genuineness and thus must rely on
regulation and inspection bodies. The recognition of quality can also be encouraged by effective communication by producers and retailers through appropriate branding, labelling and presentation. There are connections between this information and questions of sense perception, but researchers disagree about how important the latter is in influencing the customer, and in which ways it does so.
The following report focuses, in fact, on the science of the senses, which tries to analyze in detail people’s responses to food, despite the many potential pitfalls in carrying out the research which might influence the reliability of the results. There is broad agreement on two points:
- there is no proof that organic food is more nutritious or safer, and
- most studies that have compared the taste and organoleptic quality of organic andconventional foods report no consistent or significant differences between organic and conventional produce. Therefore, claiming that all organic food tastes different from all conventional food would not be correct. However, among the well-designed studies with respect to fruits and vegetables that have found differences, the vast majority favour organic produce. Organic produce tends to store better and has longer shelf life, probably because of lower levels of nitrates and higher average levels of antioxidants. The former can accelerate food spoilage, while antioxidants help preserve the integrity of cells and some are natural antibiotics.
The first conclusion may, however, depend on factors not directly connected to organic farming, such as harvesting and storage methods and the type of land used for growing the food.
About the second finding it must be considered that measuring organoleptic quality is difficult and inherently subjective and evaluations may be clouded by the influence of numerous factors on the consumer’s perceptions of the food and not just its appearance and taste. Experimental research indicates that the information that a food is organic confers upon it a “halo effect” (making it seem better sense-wise simply because it is organic) which might make consumers like it more.
Ecropolis researchers will analyze in detail which senses are indeed impacted on, and how, and try to match them to consumer needs and expectations in order to be able to offer suggestions for future policy, including how the food is stored, transported and presented, which is also essential for maintaining sensory properties.
The workpackage WP1 has also produced a specific report on how organic food sensory aspects are regulated. International standards, with some important exceptions, are largely in line with European ones. Differences in standards usually regard whether there is orientation towards freshness “per se” as opposed to increasing shelf-life, or quality standardization as opposed to quality differentiation. Differences in regulations regard such aspects as ingredients, additives, processing aids and methods, packaging, storage and transport.
The lack of harmony among the different regulatory systems often reflects different traditions and market conditions, however, more complicated compliance procedures result in higher costs for importers. Greater homogeneity would not only reduce such costs but would also increase consumer confidence in international standards. Ecropolis will also investigate the effect of different regulations on how people perceive organic goods sense-wise.
The work done to date is seen as a starting point for future research aimed at producing practical results in the organic food market. Ecropolis will try to bring together separate strands of research concerning how organic goods are regulated and marketed with regard to taste, appearance, etc., and how consumers themselves are affected by such factors. The aim is to find optimal matches between the two, and thus to greatly increase organic food’s share of the food

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:Organic food, sensory characteristics, sensory analysis, sensory science, taste, consumer preferences, FiBL 218477, Lebensmittelqualität, Konsumentenforschung
Agrovoc keywords:
food quality
organic agriculture
Subjects: Values, standards and certification > Consumer issues
Values, standards and certification > Evaluation of inputs
Research affiliation: Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Society > Food quality
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Society > Rural sociology
Germany > University of Göttingen > Marketing for Food and Agricultural Products
European Union > ECROPOLIS
Italy > Univ. Bologna
Deposited By: Canavari, Prof. Maurizio
ID Code:17208
Deposited On:19 Jul 2010 07:22
Last Modified:15 Mar 2022 09:58
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed
Additional Publishing Information:co-published by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Frick, Switzerland

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