Purpose – The aim of this study is to identify descriptions involved in defining the concept of freshness from a consumer perspective.
Design/methodology/approach – A total of 559 subjects recruited in supermarkets of different cities and villages in Switzerland were asked to write down their understanding of freshness in general, and for fruits and vegetables in particular. Direct elicitation by means of an open-ended questionnaire was used.
Findings – Respondents mentioned a large variety of descriptors in relationship with fresh fruits and vegetables. Results suggest that freshness describes a level of closeness to the original product, in terms of distance, time and processing. Respondents having more contact with the place of fruit and vegetable production mentioned non-sensory attributes more frequently, whereas those having fewer contacts mentioned sensory attributes more frequently. It can be concluded that consumers have a collective concept of freshness but they use their different everyday experiences with fruits and vegetables to describe freshness.
Research limitations/implications – Analysis of open-ended questionnaires is time-consuming and difficulties were encountered in the categorisation of phrases. Participants might have been influenced by the environment in supermarkets.
Practical implications – The perception of freshness is influenced by the information consumers have on products. Therefore, the importance of providing sufficient information on the products is emphasized.
Originality/value – The study is the first to extensively investigate the consumer understanding of the term “fresh” in relationship with fruits and vegetables. The use of an open-ended questionnaire is particularly interesting as it allows greater freedom of expression by the participants compared with other forms of enquiry.