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Kevin Folta, University of Florida:

“Genetically speaking there’s a lot of potential to change fresh produce flavour”

“In general, consumers aren’t satisfied with the flavours and aromas of fresh fruit and vegetables. Agriculturalists have put the interest of other characteristics first, such as size, yield, and disease resistance. There’s still much room to improve this, and there’s also genetic potential to solve this problem.”

What consumers want
Kevin Folta, professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, spoke about this during the International Strawberry Congress. He looked for synergies between research and marketing. “It’s important to know what consumers want. The consumer is our objective, and that hasn’t always been the case. The two most important groups in this world are consumers and agriculturalists. They both think completely different matters are important. For example, consumers prefer flavour, but what exactly is flavour? We have to research what consumers want, and try to produce it before they know they want it.”

The University of Florida conducts several researches. For instance, into the relation between physical stimuli and what they cause in emotions and behaviour. “For example, we have done a flavour test with tomatoes. It’s remarkable that sweetness and sugar content aren’t always related. Certain tomato varieties had a high sugar content, but were considered less sweet than tomato varieties with a lower sugar content. Some have a high sugar content, but don’t taste sweeter.”

Genetic techniques
Kevin indicated that strawberries are simple in genomics, but complex in genetics. “Flavour and aroma are complex, and besides, these aspects are not the same for every consumer either. Technologies have been developed to genetically remove or adjust certain things. Consumers are worried about these new technologies.” According to him, we can’t solve this by teaching people more, thus removing their worries. “I think it’s important to define shared values. New pesticides are developed, other production methods are used and it’s good to use every opportunity to tell consumers why certain things are important and why we choose them.”  

Publication date: 9/21/2017


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