The quality of any horticultural crop is a combination of attributes that provides value in terms of human consumption. Depending on the point in the marketing chain, however, the concepts of quality can vary. Shippers and packers are concerned with appearance and absence of defects, receivers and distributors with firmness and storage life, whereas consumers perceive quality based on appearance, nutritive value, and eating quality factors such as texture and flavor.
The dilemma for horticultural industries is that as the quality attributes associated with development of a ripe, edible fruit are increasing, the storability of the fruit is decreasing (Figure F4.1). This change is often associated with the increase in ethylene production that occurs during ripening of climacteric fruit. Each industry has to establish the appropriate compromise between increasing quality of fruit and storability. The decisions on when to harvest a fruit will depend, therefore, on market requirements and factors such as distance between the growing region and the market. Examples include the following:
1. Cultural differences. Consumers in Continental Europe, for example, prefer apples at a more advanced stage of ripeness than those in the United Kingdom. Asian markets have preferences for sweeter apples such as 'Delicious' and 'Fuji' over the more acid cultivars such as 'Cox's Orange Pippin' and 'Braeburn' preferred by European markets. Asian markets also have a greater acceptance of the "disorder" watercore, which is associated with more mature fruit, while in European markets, it is considered a defect rather than a positive attribute.
2. Storage length and transport distance. A fruit destined for long-term controlled atmosphere storage or for transport, e.g., from the Southern to Northern Hemisphere, will have to be harvested at an earlier stage of maturity than a fruit that is harvested for immediate consumption.
3. Consumer acceptance. Sensory requirements of the consumer may change according to the time of year that fruit are purchased. Greater flavor, associated with tree-ripened fruit, is likely to be a premium factor in "pick your own" or gate sales during autumn. In contrast, for long-term stored fruit, earlier harvest is required because texture is more likely to be a critical acceptance factor.
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