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Ripe for the picking

TResearch Summer 2023

Seeking to bolster the market for Irish apples, a new screening project will develop in-depth blueprints of customer preferences, allowing growers to focus on producing the most desirable varieties.

The market is ripe for the development of Ireland’s dessert apple sector. Across the globe, demand is increasing for apples and applederived products. The Irish domestic retail market alone is valued at €131 million; despite a suitable growing climate, the majority of this is imported. Against this, consumer perception of Irish-grown apples is improving, in line with increasingly positive views towards healthier eating and plant-based nutrition alongside the environmental upside of more heavily plant-based diets.

In light of this, the Smart Apples project represents a fundamental step in developing the apple sector in Ireland. The proposed Teagasc research programme will need to be built on sound decisions regarding not only which varieties are suitable for the Irish climate, but also consumer and market acceptance.

Building a blueprint for consumer preference

Different apple varieties produced in Ireland, as well as a range of new genotypes being established at Teagasc Oak Park, will be evaluated to characterise their physicochemical parameters (e.g. flesh firmness, acidity, soluble solids, size, weight, colour and shape). The same varieties will undergo comprehensive sensory testing, taking into account appearance, flavour, taste and texture attributes, using a combination of descriptive profiling and consumer evaluation techniques. Consumers’ explicit food-related emotions to the apples will also be measured, resulting in a detailed blueprint characterising the relationship between the apples, their sensory attributes and consumer liking.

Underpinning the development of apples with consumer-based sensory and emotional information is a key requirement for successful product development, and this holistic approach will provide new scientific outputs for the apple sector
in Ireland. Consumers will be asked to score apple samples based on taste and acceptability (e.g. sourness, sweetness, bitterness) and will also be asked to indicate how differences in these attributes would affect their willingness to choose a particular apple variety. This will be done using a nine-point Likert hedonic scale, as well as five-point JAR scales for attribute-specific questions. 

Sensory evaluation scales

The nine-point hedonic scale asks participants to rank product attributes according to preference, using a nine-point scale ranging from ‘like extremely’ to ‘dislike extremely’.

The five-point JAR (just about right) scale is used to measure appropriate levels of a given product attribute. The scale ranges from ‘too much’ at one end to ‘too little’ at another end, with the middle point of the scale being ‘just about right’.

Supporting Teagasc objectives

Understanding the physicochemical qualities of different apple varieties in Ireland and consumers’ sensory preferences of these fruits are, together with future evaluation of agronomic behaviour, important tools for selecting apple varieties with high market potential in Ireland. Fruit Research Officer Alberto Ramos Luz says: “The results of this research will serve as guidance for the implementation of new market-led orchard planting, as well as a variety selection tool for future research on different forms of management to obtain maximum yield efficiency and fruit quality.

“This makes it possible to recommend a more efficient technological package than those practised today in Ireland, making apple production more attractive to Irish farmers, with greater profitability and with an offer of higher quality fruits to consumers.”

This directly impacts economic, environmental and social issues, which are Teagasc strategic objectives, supporting rural development, mitigating gaseous emissions, adaptation to climate change, a more biodiverse agriculture and promoting human health and nutrition, and above all supporting viable farming, promoting the production of fruits to replace imports. Apples will be the pilot initiative in this context.

Growing for consumers

By the end of the project in 2027, it will be possible to use faster and cheaper methods to characterise the sensory profile of apples, as well as to develop an indicator based on the correlation of physicochemical characteristics, sensory profile and Irish consumer preference as a tool for selecting apple varieties.

Growers looking to diversify their production will have a better chance of succeeding in apple production and Irish apple growers will be able to improve profitability using the knowledge of consumer preference as one of the factors in choosing which varieties to produce. The project will also help mitigate the risk factor of planting orchards, as it affords growers the opportunity to focus on apple varieties that have wide market acceptance.


Internally funded by Teagasc. 


Alberto Ramos Luz, Fruit Research Officer, Horticulture Development Department, Teagasc Oak Park.

Emily Crofton, Research Officer, Department of Food Quality and Sensory Science, Teagasc Ashtown.

Francesco Noci, Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Sports, Exercise and Nutrition, Atlantic Technological University.

Dermot Callaghan, Head of Horticulture Development Department, Teagasc Ashtown.

Image credit: Jules_Kitano / stock.adobe.com