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New Zealand's digital orchard project blends consumer preferences with scientific modeling

The digital orchard project in New Zealand is not just about technical aspects like imaging, modelling, and mapping. The ultimate goal is to map an orchard that produces fruit which consumers desire and are willing to buy.

Christina Roigard and her team at Plant & Food Research’s sensory and consumer science facility provide insights to connect the mechanics of modelling to consumers’ preferences. The team comprises members skilled in science, botany, psychology, and economics, and their work spans multiple food types.

“Much of our work is quite sensory focused. We assess what fruit tastes like, looks like and how people will consume it," says Roigard. She emphasizes the importance of freshness and other factors like appearance, keeping ability, firmness, and taste in consumer preferences.

“No matter what is done, there is always a point where you have to ask ‘how will this be differentiated in the market? Will there be different costs involved and how will the orchardist incorporate credence attributes that are important to consumers; things like minimal spray residuals, water use, and caring for the environment in the long term, for example."

Through online surveys, the team can identify cultural and regional differences in perceptions of what makes fruit desirable. Roigard envisions the digital modelling project incorporating these consumer signals, enabling growers to project and troubleshoot for physical production issues.

“There is a real benefit here to use the model to see what can be grown at a high-quality level, at high yield levels, at appropriate price points," concludes Roigard.


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