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Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

www.elsevier.com/locate/foodqual

Consumer perception and choice of minimally processed


vegetables and packaged fruits
Peter Ragaerta, Wim Verbekeb, Frank Devliegherea,*, Johan Debeverea
a

Department of Food Technology and Nutrition, Laboratory of Food Microbiology and Food Preservation, Ghent University,
Coupure links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
b
Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
Received 15 July 2002; received in revised form 8 February 2003; accepted 26 April 2003

Abstract
Sales of minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits are rapidly increasing thanks to their image of convenience and
healthiness. In this paper, consumer perception and choice of these packaged produce was investigated through implementing a
consumer survey in Belgium. The rst part of the survey consisted of face-to-face interviews (n=294) at the point of sales with
people buying minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits. The second part of the survey was self-administered by consumers at home after consumption (n=237). The likelihood of buying minimally processed vegetables tends to be higher among
better-educated consumers and among consumers with young children. Search attributes emerge in terms of importance during the
purchasing stage, while experience attributes gain importance after consuming the product. The most important motivation for
purchasing minimally processed vegetables relates to convenience and speed, especially for consumers who buy this product during
weekends. Although health and nutritional value scored relatively low in terms of importance during the purchasing and consumption stages of minimally processed vegetables, consumers with a high awareness of the relationship between food and health
attach signicantly more importance to these credence attributes.
# 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Vegetables; Fruits; Consumer; Perception; Survey; Belgium

1. Introduction
Todays society is characterised by an increasing
health consciousness and growing interest in the role of
food for maintaining and improving human well-being
and consumer health (GfK, 2002a; Gilbert, 2000; IFIC,
2000). Vegetables and fruits are fully recognised for
their benets towards healthy living (Cox et al., 1996),
thanks to their protective function against cancer (IFIC,
2001; WCRF/AICR, 1997) and other chronic degenerative diseases (Leather, 1995). The World Health
Organisation suggested a daily intake of 400 g of vegetables and fruits (World Health Organisation Study
Group, 1990), in response of which many food-health
campaigns (e.g. ve-a-day) were launched to promote
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +32-9-264-6178; fax: +32-9-2255510.
E-mail address: frank.devlieghere@rug.ac.be (F. Devlieghere).
0950-3293/03/$ - see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S0950-3293(03)00066-1

the intake of vegetables and fruits during the nineties


(Cox et al., 1996).
Despite clinical evidence and eective public health
campaigns (e.g. Cox et al., 1998), vegetable and fruit
consumption remain below recommended daily intake
in many countries due to barriers such as complacency
and lack of willpower to change the diet (Marshall,
Anderson, Lean, & Foster, 1994). Even among highly
motivated consumers, constraints can emerge related to
availability and income (Anderson, Cox, McKellar,
Lean, & Mela, 1998). Especially for lower income
groups, economic constraints play a major role. Leather
(1995) suggested that the low intake of carotene and
vitamin C, possibly resulting in a higher mortality rate,
by low-income groups in the UK correlates with a low
intake of expensive vegetables and fruits. Within the
richer part of society, barriers relate to changes in consumers social environment, e.g. more women working
outside the home, less time for cooking, leisure instead of

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cooking and increasing out-of-home food consumption


(Cowan, Cronin, & Gannon, 2001; Frewer, Risvik, &
Schierstein, 2001; Lambert, 2001; Marshall, Duxbury,
& Heslop, 1995).
Many of the above-cited constraints to vegetable and
fruit consumption relate to real or perceived time pressure, which is one of the key factors for convenience
orientation (Candel, 2001; Capps, Tedford, & Havlicek,
1985; Verlegh & Candel, 1999). Numerous studies have
shown that consumers needs for convenience are correlated with food choice (Anderson & Shugan, 1991;
Eales & Unnevehr, 1988; Grunert, Bruns, Bredahl, &
Bech, 2001; Rappoport, Peters, Downey, McCann, &
Hu-Corzine, 1993; Verbeke, 2001; Verlegh & Candel,
1999). A wide assortment of minimally processed vegetables and fruits has been developed to meet consumers
needs for quick and convenient products, and to
benet from vegetable and fruits healthy image (Ahvenainen, 1996). Salunkhe, Bolin, and Reddy (1991) dene
minimally processed vegetables or fruits as fresh vegetables or fruits that have been processed to increase
their functionality without greatly changing their freshlike properties. The type of process is dependent on the
type of produce. Examples of processes are washing,
cutting, mixing and packaging. This produce is characterised by a good degree of freshness, convenience and
lack of preservatives (Shewfelt, 1990). This assortment
of mainly vegetables and some fruits is becoming more
and more popular. In the US, the sales amounted to
12,000 million US$ in 2000 and are expected to reach
19,000 million US$ in 2003 (Gorny, 2001). In Western
Europe, fresh processed vegetables account for an
increasing proportion of the total fresh produce market
with an estimated growth of 1025% per annum since
1990. In the specic case of Belgium, more than 50% of
the turnover from vegetables and fruits at the retail level
consists of minimally processed produce (Van de Put,
2001).
Most research about the food category of minimally
processed vegetables and packaged fruits focuses on
microbiological quality, safety, processing and packaging issues (Foley, Dufour, Rodriguez, Caporaso, &
Prakash, 2002; Francis, Thomas, & OBeirne, 1999;
Jacxsens, Devlieghere, & Debevere, 1999; Jacxsens,
Devlieghere, Falcato, & Debevere, 1999; Nguyen-the &
Carlin, 1994; Zagory, 1999). Consumer research, e.g.
related to consumer perception or purchasing motives
towards minimally processed vegetables and packaged
fruits is scarce (Ragaert, Devlieghere, Verbeke, &
Debevere, 2002; Viaene, Verbeke, & Gellynck, 2000).
The scarcity of insight in consumer decision-making
towards this rapidly growing assortment of minimally
processed vegetables and fruits forms the rationale for
this research. In the next section, the research method,
including framework, objectives and data collection is
presented.

2. Research method
2.1. Framework and objectives
The framework of the present analysis (Fig. 1) is
extracted from a classic attitudebehaviour model based
on Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard (1995). During their
decision-making process, consumers rely on dierent
attributes or cues before deciding whether or not to buy
and which product to choose. Attributes can be divided
into intrinsic and extrinsic ones (Grunert, HartvigLarsen, Madsen, & Baadsgaard, 1996; Steenkamp, 1989).
An alternative classication includes categories called
search attributes (like price, colour and appearance),
experience attributes (like taste and avour) and
credence attributes (like health and microbiological
safety) (Grunert, Bech-Larsen, & Bredahl, 2000;
Nelson, 1970, 1974; Sloof, Tijskens, & Wilkinson, 1996).
Since attributes are evaluative criteria based on which
consumers form beliefs and develop attitudes and
intentions, insights into the perceived importance and
evaluation of attributes are a key to better understand
consumer behaviour.
Evaluative criteria may change depending on previous
experience and the stage in the decision-making process
(Gardial, Clemons, Woodru, Schumann, & Burns,
1994), because consumers may gradually become aware
of product attributes that were not experienced before
purchase. Zeithaml (1988) reported that consumers tend
to rely on extrinsic attributes such as package and its
specic characteristics in situations where relevant
intrinsic attributes (like taste, odour and texture) could
not be evaluated before buying the products. Once
experienced, these intrinsic (experience) attributes can
be expected to gain importance as evaluative criteria.
Hence, a relevant approach is to distinguish attribute
importance at purchase versus after consumption, a
distinction that was conceptualised by Grunert et al.
(1996) in their Total Food Quality Model.

Fig. 1. Framework and specic objectives (arrows) of the study.

P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

Numerous variables inuence consumers decisionmaking processes. Individual socio-demographic


characteristics are commonly included as determinants
of attitudes, perception and choice (e.g. Shepherd,
1989). Furthermore, motives or consumer motivation
depend on individual and situational characteristics and
aect the dierent levels of the consumer-decision making
process. Motivation strongly relates to the formation of
attitudes, preference and choice (Engelet al., 1995;
Mowen, 1993; von Alvensleben, 1997). In this specic
study, investigating consumer motivations is relevant
given that food industry eorts towards oering processed vegetables aim at addressing two major motives
of food demand, namely the convenience and health
motive. Finally, besides individual inuences, also the
potential role of time (moment of purchase) as a situational factor that may inuence consumers conduct
during the purchasing stage merits attention (Assael,
1995; Meiselman, 1996; Mowen, 1993).
The general objective of this study is to gain insights
in the consumer decision-making process towards minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits. This
consumer research is part of a broader research project
aiming at modelling the evolution of the quality of
minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits
during storage (e.g. Ismail, Haar, Baalbaki, & Henry,
2001; Shewfelt, 1990). For such a purpose, identication
of the cues that are important in the quality perception
process and investigating how consumers form impressions of quality based on technical objective cues is
crucial (Zeithaml, 1988). Specic objectives related to
the above-mentioned framework are twofold: rst, to
assess and compare the importance attached by consumers to dierent packaged product attributes during
purchase and after consumption; and second, to investigate the impact of individual and situational inuences
as included in the Fig. 1.
2.2. Data collection
In order to gain insight in consumer decision-making
towards purchasing minimally processed vegetables and
packaged fruits, cross-sectional data were collected
through a consumer survey. The research population
consisted of consumers who bought minimally processed vegetables or packaged fruits in one of six
supermarkets from the retail chain Delhaize (owner of
Food Lion in the USA) situated in dierent areas of
Flanders, Belgium. Respondents were selected through
non-probability judgmental sampling (Malhotra, 1996,
pp. 366367), i.e. population elements were selected
based on the personal judgement of the researcher. The
survey was undertaken during 2 weeks in March 2002.
In order to account for moment of purchase, respondents were selected both during weekdays and during
weekends (Friday evening and Saturday). Furthermore,

261

the survey was implemented in the morning as well as in


the afternoon and the evening. Respondents buying
minimally processed vegetables that normally require
further processing at home before consumption like
vegetables for making soup, soybeans or leek were not
included.
Parallel with the distinction between purchasing and
consumption, a two-part questionnaire was used as
survey instrument. The rst part was performed by
means of a personal interview with the consumer at the
moment of purchasing minimally processed vegetables
or packaged fruits in the supermarket (purchasing
stage). The second part of the questionnaire was selfadministered by the respondents at home immediately
after consumption of the purchased vegetables or fruits
(consumption stage). This way of questioning (immediately after consumption) avoids potential bias caused by
relying on long-term memory. The second part of the
questionnaire was to be sent back and if complete, a
reward voucher of 4.00E for a purchase in Delhaize was
awarded to the respondents as acknowledgement for
their co-operation.
In the rst part of the questionnaire, place, moment
of purchase, purchased product and shelf life date were
recorded. Subsequently, respondents were asked about
their motivation for buying the produce (open-ended
question format) and about their frequency of this purchase. Then, respondents were asked to indicate the
importance of dierent packaged product attributes
when buying the minimally processed vegetables or the
packaged fruits on a 7-point scale (further referred to as
ImpPur measures) (Malhotra, 1996). Attributes were
elicited based on insights from literature. Finally, sociodemographic characteristics like gender, age, presence
of children, education, profession and address of the
consumer were administered.
In the second part of the questionnaire, respondents
were asked to ll in the shelf life date of the purchased
minimally processed vegetables or packaged fruits (as
control), the date of consumption and the place where
they stored the purchased produce prior to consumption. Storage is relevant given its major importance with
respect to the quality and safety of the product (Jacxsens, Devlieghere, & Debevere, 2002a, 2002b; Piga,
DAquino, Agabbio, Emonti, & Farris, 2000). Subsequently, respondents were asked to give scores for
importance of the dierent packaged product attributes
after consuming the purchased minimally processed
vegetables or packaged fruits (7-point scales, further
referred to as ImpCon measures). Furthermore,
respondents were asked if they intend to repeat their
purchase and about their motivation for doing so
(open-ended question format). Finally, respondents were
asked to evaluate the minimally processed vegetables and
packaged fruits after consumption (EvaCon measures) and to elicit some aspects of their awareness of

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P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

the food-health association. This construct was measured as a ve-item 7-point scale (see Appendix). The
obtained data set was statistically analysed with SPSS
10.0 for Windows.
2.3. Sample description
A total of 376 respondents were approached in the
supermarkets, of whom 294 were willing to co-operate
(78%). Those 294 respondents could be separated into
two groups consisting of 235 buying minimally processed vegetables and 59 buying packaged fruits.
Respondents were personally interviewed in the supermarkets and asked to complete and return the second
part of the questionnaire. From this sample, 259
respondents sent the questionnaire back within 10 days
from purchase, which means a response rate of 88%.
From the returned questionnaires, 22 were rejected from
analysis for reason of too many missing observations or
incompleteness, which yielded a total of 237 valid
responses or a valid response rate of 81%. These 237
respondents included 192 consumers who had bought
minimally processed vegetables and 45 consumers who
had bought packaged fruits. During the analyses, two
groups of respondents were considered with the rst one
containing the entire sample of 294 respondents. The
second one was a subgroup of the rst and contained
only the 237 respondents who also completed the second part of the questionnaire. There were no signicant
dierences (all P > 0.05) between these two groups with
regard to the socio-demographic characteristics, type
of purchased produce, motivations for buying and
frequency of purchase.
The gender balance of the 294 respondents was 17.3%
male and 82.7% female, which is not surprising given
our focus on persons responsible for food purchasing
within the household. Age was normally distributed
with mean age at 43.7 years and a standard deviation of
13.3 years. More than a quarter (26.9%) of the respondents lived alone. Two-thirds of the sample (66.9%) had
children, of whom 33.7% had children younger than
twelve. The composition of the sample in terms of
employment status was as follows: 5.1% students; 9.9%
retired; 55.4% workers or employees and 13.6% selfemployed. The rest (16%) of the respondents were
working at home, housewife, househusband or unemployed. With these distributions of socio-demographic
characteristics, it can be concluded that a wide range of
socio-economic classes of the population took part in
the survey, i.e. actually bought the products under
consideration.
With respect to education, 41.3% of the respondents
had schooling until their 18th year and 58.7% had
schooling beyond their 18th year. In comparison to the
Belgian population estimates of 25% of persons (2564
years) having schooling beyond their 18th year (GfK,

2002b), our sample was clearly biased towards higher


educational status. Given our respondent selection procedure, i.e. selecting consumers who actually bought
minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits,
this nding points to a higher probability of purchase
among better educated consumers. This is consistent
with UK reports (Leather, 1995) on high-income group
preferences for more expensive and more convenient
vegetables like leafy salads instead of cabbage and
sprouts that are preferentially bought by low-income
groups. However, it should also be recognised that
Delhaize-supermarkets are positioned as top-end retail
outlets. Delhaizes image is one of selling high quality
products, oering high service levels and being rather
expensive, especially as compared with discount supermarkets, which also sell minimally processed vegetables
and packaged fruits, though with a very limited
assortment.
In Table 1, the ten most purchased vegetables reported by the sample are presented, together with the
packaged fruits that were bought. There were no signicant socio-demographic dierences between respondents buying minimally processed vegetables versus
respondents buying packaged fruits. Regarding the frequency of buying minimally processed vegetables and
packaged fruits, it seemed that some products of the
assortment, more specically mixed shredded lettuce
variants, were most popular. Our respondents were very
familiar with the product category, as exemplied by the
fact that 57.1 and 35.4% of the total sample indicated to
buy their chosen product on a weekly, respectively
monthly basis. Only 7.5% indicated a less than monthly
Table 1
Number of respondents buying the most purchased products, together
with the relative contribution (%) in the total purchased assortment,
subdivided into minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits
(all purchased packaged fruits are presented in table)
Purchased product

Number of
respondents

41

17.4

23
19

9.8
8.1

16
14

6.8
6.0

Vegetables
1. Mixed lettuce: sugar loaf, endive, curled endive,
radicchio
2. Mixture of young lettuce leaves
3. Salade gourmande: lambs lettuce, radicchio,
curled endive
4. Shredded carrots
5. Derby lettuce: carrots, red lettuce, sugar loaf,
white cabbage
6. Mixture of red crinkly lettuce and spinach
7. Lambs lettuce
8. Mixture of cabbage lettuce, lettuce leaves,
red crinkly lettuce, parsley, chive
9. Mixture of young lettuce leaves and chervil
10. Iceberg lettuce

14
14
10

6.0
6.0
4.3

10
9

4.3
3.8

Fruits
1. Strawberries in a tray
2. Strawberries in a tub, covered with foil
3. Red raspberriesblueberriesjuniper berries

31
20
8

52.5
33.9
13.6

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P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

purchasing frequency, of which only one third (2.4% of


the total sample) were purchasing the product for the
rst time (trial).

3. Empirical ndings
3.1. Attribute importance during purchase versus
consumption
Table 2 presents the average scores for attribute
importance and evaluation, ordered by descending
values. In general, the scores given on a scale from 1 to
7 were high. Typical experience and sensory attributes
like taste, odour and texture received high importance
scores already at the buying stage, although these could
not be experienced in the shop. A plausible explanation
is that those high scores result from previous experience
with the produce. In Fig. 2, the importance (ImpPur
and ImpCon) scores of dierent packaged product
attributes as perceived by the respondents are reported
and signicant dierences are indicated (Fig. 2). In line
with theory, search attributes (e.g. product appearance,
packaging in general and transparency) were signicantly more important during the buying stage,
while experience attributes (e.g. taste, odour, texture
and feeling) were more important at consumption.
Some packaged product attributes like freshness, shape
and colour of the product were equally important in
both stages. This also holds for the credence attributes
(e.g. health and nutritional value). Remarkably, shape
and feeling of the packaging scored signicantly higher
after consumption versus when buying the packaged

product (P < 0.05). This was a bit surprising because at


the moment of consumption, one would expect that the
shape and the feeling of the packaging did not matter
anymore. However, it must be noted that the importance scores given to those attributes were relatively low
(Table 2).
In order to identify underlying dimensions among
packaged product attributes, factor analysis (principal
component analysis) was performed based on the
importance scores in the buying and consumption
stage. Only respondents buying minimally processed
vegetables were included in this analysis. The results
of the factor analyses with determination based on
Eigenvalues > 1 are shown in Table 3. The factor
explaining most variance (29.6%) during the buying
stage contained the credence attributes, freshness and
shelf life date. Apparently, consumers use the search
attribute shelf life date as a proxy of credence attributes (healthiness and nutritional value and freshness)
during their purchasing decision-making. Experience
attributes load consistently on a second factor, followed
by three other factors including mainly search attributes
either relating to the packaging or to its content. At the
consumption stage, search attributes are grouped in two
factors, which account for the largest shares of the variance (35.8% for factor 1 and 14.4% for factor 2). At
consumption, freshness loads on the same factor as
the sensory attributes, denoting that experiencing the
product associates with evaluating its freshness. Credence attributes form a fourth factor at consumption
separate from any other product attribute. These ndings are consistent with the idea that consumers rely
more on extrinsic search attributes in situations where

Table 2
Importance of packaged product attributes at purchase (ImpPur) and consumption stage (ImpCon) of minimally processed vegetables and packaged
fruits; evaluation of packaged product attributes in the consumption stage (EvaCon) of minimally processed vegetables; average scores on 7-point
scale
Product attribute

Imp-Pur

Product attribute

Imp-Con

Product attribute

Eva-Con

Freshness
Labelled shelf life date
Taste
Labelled content
Transparency packaging
Product general
Health
Odour
Labelled information
Texture
Colour
Nutritional value
Appearance
Packaging general
Feeling product
Shape packaging
Labelled suggestions for use
Feeling packaging
Shape packaging

6.85
6.80
6.62
6.58
6.42
6.42
6.36
6.31
6.29
6.13
6.11
6.03
5.96
5.44
5.33
5.31
4.77
3.96
3.64

Freshness
Taste
Labelled shelf life date
Odour
Product general
Health
Texture
Labelled content
Colour
Labelled Information
Nutritional value
Transparency packaging
Feeling product
Appearance
Shape product
Packaging general
Labelled suggestions for use
Feeling packaging
Shape packaging

6.88
6.80
6.62
6.53
6.48
6.44
6.40
6.37
6.32
6.22
6.13
5.92
5.69
5.60
5.37
5.33
5.12
4.32
3.96

Labelled shelf life date


Freshness
Labelled content
Taste
Product general
Colour
Health
Transparency packaging
Odour
Texture
Labelled information
Nutritional value
Appearance
Feeling product
Shape product
Packaging general
Feeling packaging
Shape packaging
Labelled suggestions for use

6.64
6.45
6.42
6.40
6.35
6.29
6.28
6.25
6.24
6.23
6.13
6.09
6.00
5.99
5.92
5.83
5.55
5.53
4.79

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P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

Fig. 2. Perceived attribute importance (packaging attributes in legend and graph in bold) in the purchasing (ImpPur) and consumption (ImpCon)
stage of minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits; average on a scale from 1 (not at all important) to 7 (very important); *Signicant at
the 0.05 level.

Table 3
Factor analysis of the scores for the importance of dierent packaged product attributes at purchase (ImpPur) and consumption stage (ImpCon) of
minimally processed vegetables
Attributes (ImpPur)

Factor loading

Exp. Var. (%)

Attributes (ImpCon)

Factor loading

Exp. Var. (%)

Healthiness
Shelf life date
Nutritional value
Freshness

0.73
0.71
0.70
0.62

29.6

Labelled information
Shelf life date
Transparency packaging

0.84
0.83
0.79

35.8

Odour
Texture
Taste

0.87
0.84
0.81

12.2

Shape product
Feeling product
Colour product
Feeling packaging
Shape packaging

0.78
0.78
0.71
0.68
0.62

14.4

Shape product
Colour product
Feeling product

0.83
0.72
0.70

9.8

Odour
Taste
Texture
Freshness

0.87
0.86
0.74
0.62

10.0

Shape packaging
Feeling packaging

0.83
0.80

7.9

Nutritional value
Health

0.91
0.88

7.3

Transparency packaging
Appearance

0.74
0.63

6.3

Only attributes with factor loading >0.6 are included.

relevant intrinsic attributes can not be evaluated before


buying (Zeithaml, 1988), or that consumers use observable indicators (shelf life date at purchase, sensory
experience at consumption) to form an overall judgement of product quality, freshness in this case (Grunert
et al., 1996; Steenkamp, 1989).

3.2. Role of inuencing factors


Potential individual inuences include socio-demographic characteristics, experience with the product
category and food-health awareness. Motivations will
be discussed separately in the next section. Relating to

P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

respondents characteristics, it seemed that credence


attributes, both in the buying and consumption stage,
were perceived as less important by consumers who
experienced higher education (above 18 years)
(P < 0.05). With respect to age, consumers under 36
years perceived healthiness, nutritional value and freshness as less important compared to older age groups
(P < 0.05), both during purchasing and at consumption.
Furthermore, credence attributes (healthiness, nutritional value, freshness) and suggestions for use were
perceived as more important both in the buying and
consumption stage by consumers with children in comparison with consumers without children (P < 0.05).
There were also signicant dierences between males
and females. Women perceived the credence attributes
and information on the package at purchase, and most
of the experience attributes at consumption (texture,
avour, and taste) as more important than men. Finally,
respondents working outside the home attached more
importance to shelf life (expiry date) when purchasing
the produce as compared to respondents working at
home, being retired, student or unemployed (P < 0.05).
The type of purchased produce and the frequency of
buying could be related to the perceived importance of
product attributes during buying or consumption.
Respondents buying a package with only one type of
lettuce attributed signicantly lower importance scores
to nutritional value (both during the buying and consumption stage) and health (only in the buying stage) as
compared to those who bought packages with mixed
types of lettuce (P < 0.05). Consumers buying minimally
processed vegetables most frequently (i.e. on a weekly
basis) attached signicantly more importance to the
sensory (experience) attributes texture and odour,
though only in the buying stage. Furthermore, frequent
users scored the importance of the credence attributes,
nutritional value and health higher after consumption,
as compared to those who bought the product with a
lower than weekly frequency (P < 0.05).
Situational characteristics that may inuence perceived attribute importance include moment and place
of purchase. People buying the produce during the
weekend attached signicantly more importance to the
shelf life date both in the buying and consumption
stage as compared to consumers who bought it on
weekdays. A potential explanation is that consumers
envisage buying products during the weekend for storage, versus purchasing for immediate consumption on
weekdays. This explanation is supported when comparing the number of days that the products are stored
before consumption. On average, products bought on
weekdays were stored for 0.62 days, which in reality
means consumption on the day of purchase in the
majority of the cases. Products bought during the
weekend are stored on average for 0.98 days (t= 2.56;
P=0.011).

265

There was a signicant dierence in the perceived


importance of credence attributes (nutritional value and
health) between consumers buying the produce in the
two big cities (Antwerp and Ghent) compared to purchase in smaller towns. Consumers buying in a big city
perceived the nutritional value (both in the buying and
consumption stage) and health (only in the buying
stage) as less important than respondents buying in
smaller cities.
Perceived relationship between food consumption and
human health (food-health association) was measured
by means of a ve-item construct on a scale from 1 to 7.
The scores of the ve items resulted in a Cronbachs
alpha of 0.67. After dropping one item, the Cronbachs
alpha reached a value of 0.73, which indicates satisfactory internal consistency reliability (Nunnally, 1978).
The four remaining items were added up into an aggregated score ranging from 4 to 28 (mean=22.24,
S.D.=3.68, skewed towards high awareness of the
potential impact of food consumption on personal
health). Respondents aged > 60 years reported a signicantly higher score for food-health awareness as
compared with all other age groups (F=3.74;
P=0.012). Consumers who reported high food-health
awareness (score > 22) gave a signicantly (P < 0.05)
higher score for the importance (both in the buying and
consumption stage) of the credence attributes (nutritional value and health) as compared to the consumers
who gave a lower score (422) on the food-health
awareness construct. Finally, there was a tendency for
consumers buying their produce on a weekly basis (high
frequency) to score higher on food-health awareness
than those respondents buying their produce less
frequently (t=1.670; P=0.096).1
3.3. Attribute evaluation and repeat purchase
In general, all product attributes scored well above
average in the evaluation (Table 2). Specic packaging
attributes, although some are not perceived as extremely
important, scored very high in the evaluation. It should
be noted that the last column of Table 2 (evaluation of
dierent packaged product attributes in the consumption process) only presents the scores for minimally
processed vegetables. There was a complete lack of
information on the packaging of some packaged fruits
which led to signicantly worse evaluations for this
category as compared to vegetables. Consumers buying
minimally processed vegetables most frequently (i.e. on
1
An anonymous reviewer pointed out that individuals scoring high
on food-health awareness may generally report consuming more
vegetables. Actual overall vegetable consumption data would be
needed to verify whether minimally processed vegetables are bought as
a substitute of fresh vegetables (for reason of convenience) or rather as
a compliment to consumers total vegetable baskets (e.g. purchasing
those vegetables that are not available for maintaining a healthy diet).

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Table 4
Top ve of rst-stated and second-stated motivations for buying minimally processed vegetables or buying packaged fruits (frequency and %)
Motivations for buying vegetables

Freq

Motivations for buying fruits

Freq

First-stated motivation (n=225)


Convenient
Quick
Quantity (suitable for small households)
Mixture (of dierent vegetables)
Price/quality

101
45
28
17
10

44.9
20.0
12.4
7.6
4.4

First-stated motivation (n=59)


Only packaged available
Delicious
Convenient
Hygienic
By order of. . .

29
12
5
4
3

49.2
20.3
8.5
6.8
5.1

Second-stated motivation (n=140)


Quantity (suitable for small households)
Convenient
Delicious
Mixture (of dierent vegetables)
Quick

30
26
20
18
15

21.4
18.6
14.3
12.9
10.7

Second-stated motivation (n=36)


Delicious
Healthy
Only packaged available
Hygienic
Experience previous purchases/habit

12
4
4
3
3

33.3
11.1
11.1
8.3
8.3

a weekly basis) scored nutritional value higher than less


frequent buyers (t= 0.22; P=0.028). Other individual
or situational characteristics did not signicantly
associate with attribute evaluation.
Although evaluation scores may depend on preservation of the product between the moment of purchase
and consumption, no signicant dierences were detected between consumers who ate the product immediately versus those who stored the product for some time
at home. From the information about the storage conditions of the purchased produce before consumption,
the results show that packaged fruits were more frequently consumed immediately at home, while most
buyers of minimally processed vegetables stored their
produce in the refrigerator to consume it some hours or
days later (w2=10.75; P=0.001). All but one buyer of
minimally processed vegetables who did not eat their
produce immediately claimed they stored it in the
refrigerator, which may explain absence of dierence in
evaluation of the products. About 31% of the packaged
fruits that were not consumed immediately were stored
in another place than the refrigerator.
From the 192 respondents who bought minimally
processed vegetables, only three of them indicated they
would not buy the produce again because of a disappointing or bad taste or avour of the product. There
were also three respondents of the 45 who bought packaged fruits declaring they would not buy the produce
again for reasons of taste or avour. All respondents
indicating an intention to stop buying minimally processed vegetables or packaged fruit were less experienced
with the product category, i.e. purchasing the produce
with a relatively low frequency (once a month).
3.4. Purchasing motivations
The rst- and second-stated motivations for purchasing minimally processed vegetables and packaged fruits

are shown in Table 4. Clearly, in the case of minimally


processed vegetables, convenience was the most important motivation for purchasing the produce. It is also
obvious from Table 4 that for both vegetables and fruits,
the health motivation was not so important as a motivation for purchasing. It was already shown that health
was not in the top 5 of most important product attributes in the buying or consumption stage (Table 2).
Despite consumers awareness of the food-health association, health appears not to be a major motivation for
buying minimally processed vegetables.
The rst-stated motivations for buying minimally
processed vegetables were dependent on the moment of
purchase (w2=5.85; P=0.016). Contrary to Verlegh and
Candel (1999) in the case of TV dinner use, our data
showed that minimally processed vegetables are bought
more for convenience during weekends.2 Convenience
was the primary motivation for 74% of the respondents
during weekends, versus 57% on weekdays. An explanation could either be that during weekends people had
less time or less willingness to spend time on preparing
vegetables, or, as previously indicated that the products
are bought rather for storage and use during the busy
weekdays of the next week. Furthermore, convenience
as motivation tends to be associated with working outside the home (w2=2.79; P=0.095) and younger age
(41.3 for convenience oriented versus 44.9 years for
others; t= 1.89; P=0.060). Younger age could be
related to the signicant dependency between having
children under 12 years of age and convenience as
motivation for buying the produce (w2=4.15;
2
Weekend shopping was dened as Friday evening and Saturday.
An alternative approach to contrast weekend with weekday shopping
includes comparing Saturday with weekday morning shopping. This
approach was tested and did not yield stronger contrasts in terms of
motivation and perceived attribute importance. Contrasting weekend
with weekday shopping was not used as a proxy for working versus
non-working status.

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P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

Table 5
Top ve of rst-stated and second-stated motivations for future purchase intention of buying minimally processed vegetables or buying packaged
fruits (frequency and %)
Future purchase intention vegetables

Freq

Future purchase intention fruits

Freq

First-stated motivation (n=183)


Delicious
Convenient
Fulls expectations
Fresh
Healthy

44
37
29
24
10

24.0
20.2
15.8
13.1
5.5

First-stated motivation (n=41)


Delicious
Fulls expectations
Fresh
Healthy
Only packaged available

29
6
3
1
1

70.7
14.6
7.3
2.4
2.4

Second-stated motivation (n=133)


Convenient
Fresh
Delicious
Quantity (suitable for small households)
Mixture (of dierent vegetable)

27
26
19
16
9

20.3
19.5
14.3
12.0
6.8

Second-stated motivation (n=18)


Healthy
Fresh
Delicious
Only packaged available
Price/quality

6
5
4
1
1

33.3
27.8
22.2
5.6
5.6

P=0.042). About 76% (respectively 60%) of the


respondents who have (respectively not have) children
below 12 years bought minimally processed vegetables
for convenience and quickness. This nding corroborates previous empirical evidence as reported by Cowan
et al. (2001) who reported that households with young
children tend to purchase more convenience foods. Also
Zeithaml (1988) showed that women having at least one
child younger than 10 years of age, more frequently
mentioned convenience as motivation for purchasing
fruit juice. In contrast with our ndings, Candel (2001)
found that meal preparers with children are somewhat
less convenience oriented.
Finally, motivation based on convenience tends to
associate with lower importance attached to suggestions for use, taste and freshness during purchasing
(0.05 < P < 0.10). Candel (2001) also indicated that taste
is judged to be less important the more convenience
oriented meal preparers are. Lower importance attached
to suggestions for use and freshness may relate to time
constraints, i.e. lack of time to read the suggestions and
purchase for immediate consumption.
It should be noted that the respondents were not
asked to give scores on the importance and the evaluation of the price of the purchased packaged produce.
Nevertheless, a good price/quality relation was stated
although with a low frequencyas one of the motivations to buy the minimally processed vegetables and the
packaged fruits. It is important in this perspective to
consider that the survey was performed during winter,
with fresh crops being almost as expensive as the minimally processed vegetables. A number of respondents
claimed that in summer, when fresh vegetables are
cheaper, they would prefer to buy the fresh instead of
the minimally processed vegetables.
The rst- and second-stated motivations for repeat
purchase of the same type of minimally processed vegetables or packaged fruits in the future are mentioned in
Table 5. When comparing Table 5 with Table 4, it

emerges that after consuming the product, purchasing


intentions are not only based on convenience but mainly
because the product was experienced as delicious and
fresh. This supports that experience attributes and their
evaluation plays a crucial role for repeat purchases of
the product (Gardial et al., 1994; Mittal, Ross, & Baldasare, 1998). In the specic case of packaged fruits,
delicious was the most cited rst motivation for
future purchase. While implementing the survey, it
could be seen that if strawberries were promoted by
means of free taste samples, much more consumers
bought packaged strawberries as compared to supermarkets that did not provide samples.

4. Conclusions
The success of minimally processed vegetables and
fruits is growing thanks to those products ready-to-use
and convenient image (Ahvenainen, 1996; Foley et al.,
2002; Piga et al., 2000). In this article, empirical evidence is provided for illustrating consumer perception
of this product category. Minimally-processed vegetables and fruits are purchased by a wide range of consumers in terms of socio-demographic characteristics,
though with families having young children and higher
education taking the lead. The most important (reported) motivation for purchasing minimally processed
vegetables relates to convenience and speed, especially
for consumers who buy this product during weekends.
Convenience and speed are traded o to some extent
against health. This was shown by the nding that
health and nutritional value scored relatively low in
terms of importance during the buying and consumption stages, despite rather high levels of food-health
awareness. Furthermore, convenience oriented buyers
of minimally processed vegetables tend to have lower
interest in taste and information. Generally, top
importance levels were attributed to freshness, taste,

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P. Ragaert et al. / Food Quality and Preference 15 (2004) 259270

andespecially during the buying stagesome aspects


of labelling (e.g. shelf life date). Perceived importance of
search and experience attributes diered depending on
the stage in the consumer decision-making process.
Search attributes were found to be signicantly more
important during the buying stage, whereas experience
attributes were more important at consumption.
Whereas credence attributes were equally important
during both stages of the consumer decision-making
process, perceived dierences in those unascertainable attributes are found to depend mainly on the
characteristics of the individual.
A rst limitation of the study pertains to the absence
of using specic attribute elicitation techniques as an
exploratory research phase. This may have led to
neglecting important attributes. A second limitation
results from the use of non-probability judgmental
sampling, which basically is convenience sampling, during the quantitative study. In result, ndings hold for
this specic sample and cannot be extrapolated to the
population. Three suggestions for future research are set
forth. First, the study sheds some light on the debate of
changing evaluative criteria before and after experiencing products. A more thorough investigation of this
issue requires adequate quota of trial versus repeat purchasers. The share of consumers making trial purchases
in our sample was too small to derive reliable conclusions as compared to experienced consumers, which
may explain the rather modest dierences in evaluative
criteria at purchase versus after consumption (Gardial
et al., 1994). Second, the presented framework includes
a limited number of individual and situational inuences. Additional individual characteristics, which merit
attention in future research, include values, lifestyles,
psychographics and personality (e.g. Candel, 2001;
Grunert, Bruns, & Bisp, 1997; Vannoppen, Verbeke, &
Van Huylenbroeck, 2002; Verbeke & Van Kenhove,
2002; Zeithaml, 1988). Furthermore, situational inuence was limited to moment and place of purchase in
our study, whereas eating situations have also been
shown to be highly relevant in relation with convenience
foods (e.g. Termorshuizen, Meulenberg, & Wierenga,
1986; Verlegh & Candel, 1999). Third, the eventual
trade o made by consumers between convenience and
health oers interesting perspectives for future research,
especially with regard to the product category of minimally processed vegetables. Therefore, direct measures
of convenience orientation towards food (e.g. following
Candel, 2001), in addition to measures of food-health
awareness, need to be included in future studies.
Despite the growing success of minimally processed
vegetables and packaged fruits, very little is known
about the evolution of quality attributes like odour,
taste, colour and texture, as measured in an objective
way in relation to the microbiology and the physiology
of the product during storage. The insights from the

consumer research reported in this paper will be crucial


for further investigating the quality evolution of these
products from a technological point of view.

Acknowledgements
This research is part of a PhD, funded by the Institute
for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT). Authors gratefully acknowledge Delhaize for the permission to perform the survey
in its retail outlets. Two anonymous reviewers and
the editor are gratefully thanked for their valuable
comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Appendix. Items in the food-health awareness scale

Item

Factor
loading

I feel to have control over my own healtha


Food plays an important role for keeping
me in good healtha
I know which food is healthy for mea
My health is determined by the food I eata
I feel to eat healthier now as compared to
three years ago

0.73
0.64

0.79
0.75
0.49

Items included in the nal scale, Cronbachs alpha=0.73.

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