Steve Lutz (not pictured), executive vice president of The Perishables Group, Chicago, moderated a panel discussion with consumers at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit in Atlanta. Freshness and convenience were among the consumers' top issues when it comes to buying fresh produce.
Steve Lutz (not pictured), executive vice president of The Perishables Group, Chicago, moderated a panel discussion with consumers at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit in Atlanta. Freshness and convenience were among the consumers' top issues when it comes to buying fresh produce.

ATLANTA — A panel of average consumers from the Atlanta area told workshop attendees they look for the freshest — and most convenient — produce at their local stores.

The panelists were chosen from a pool of local shoppers who weren’t originally from Atlanta, said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of The Perishables Group, Chicago, who moderated the discussion. The session took place on the expo floor at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit on Oct. 17.

“We wanted to make sure to get a sample of people from diverse backgrounds,” he said.

Almost all of the nine panelists said they shop at Whole Foods Market Inc. because they perceive its produce to be “fresher.”

Organic produce also ranked highly among the group, solely because of pesticide concerns. Panelists agreed they’d buy produce touted as “pesticide-free” even if it wasn’t organic.

Value-added items, such as ready-to-eat snacks, also were mentioned frequently by panelists.

“I’ve gotten a lot lazier,” said one panelist. “We eat a lot of the packaged, cut produce now.”

Another said snack-sized produce is a big hit with her kids.

“My son will eat it because it’s in a cool little package,” she said. “He won’t eat it if I put it in a bag myself.”

Most of the panel agreed they are eating the same amount, if not more, produce than they were a year ago.

“I’ve really made a dedication to eating healthier over the past year,” one said. “I’m eating much less red meat because my partner is a vegetarian.”

Looks were a driver for produce purchases, according to the panel. While they might shop with a list for main dishes and some ingredients, most of them said they hadn’t made a decision what produce to buy until they reached the department itself.

“I might not have grapes on my list but if they look good, I’ll get some,” one said.

But they all recognized that looks can be deceiving.

“Probably 20% of the time, I’m disappointed when I eat it,” one said. “Especially tomatoes and peaches.”

Another panelist said he’s unsure of how to select good melons, peaches and nectarines.

Consumers also said they like to purchase organic produce, and consider either Georgia or the Southeast to be “local.” Most of them said they do their organic produce purchasing from farmers markets or roadside stands.