In recent years the Australian stone-fruit industry has experienced low and at times negative growth in domestic and export sales due to variable fruit quality, over-supply and increased competition from global suppliers. The aim of this study was to identify Australian consumer preferences for acidity, firmness and sweetness in fresh stone-fruit and to determine the important fruit quality characteristics that influence consumer acceptance. Two low acid cultivars ('Snow Fire' peach and 'August Fire' nectarine) and two high acid cultivars ('Summer Flame 29' peach and 'Fire Sweet' nectarine) were stored and ripened prior to hand sorting into two firmness categories (firm and soft). Fruit were then sorted into high and low sweetness categories using near infrared spectroscopy. One hundred and fifty consumers recruited from a major shopping centre in Melbourne, Australia, tasted the fruit and their hedonic responses recorded. Consumers preferred sweeter fruit with the effect of high sweetness more evident in firmer peaches and softer nectarines. The high acid peach variety and the low acid nectarine variety were preferred, with fruit firmness being the main driver of consumer liking. Rating of soft fruit for acceptance and purchase intent was significantly higher than for firm fruit, irrespective of acid content. Consumer scores for firm peaches were not significantly affected by acid content whereas firm nectarines with low acid achieved significantly higher scores than firm nectarines with high acid within the same sweetness categories. Key drivers for consumer preference of yellow flesh peaches were taste/flavour and sweetness as well as juiciness in yellow flesh nectarines. This study demonstrated that fruit firmness and sweetness are important drivers of consumer preference for stone-fruit. The preference for both sweet and soft fruit presents a major challenge to the industry. A review of the supply chain from optimal harvesting indices through to cool chain management and cultivar specific ripening protocols would help the industry to supply consumers with fruit of consistently high eating quality.

International Society for Horticultural Science: http://www.actahort.org/books/1120/1120_75.htm

G. Hale1, J. Lopresti1, B. Tomkins1 R. Jones1, C. Clark2, D. Hunter3, R. Harker3, M. Wohlers3 and A. White3

1Agriculture Victoria, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia; 2The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Ltd, Ruakura, New Zealand; 3The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.

Further reading - Profitable Stonefruit Research at Agriculture Victoria