The word "local", whether used appropriately or opportunistically, appears to have particular power in the marketing of fresh vegetables. That's the conclusion of a study published by researchers from Cornell University in New York.
According to a university news release, the Cornell researchers conducted a blind taste test of California-grown broccoli and two varieties grown in New York. In those blind tests, people judged the California broccoli to be "tastier and better-looking," the university said.
But in later tests, when other consumer panels were told the New York broccoli was locally grown, the people exerted their community pride and favored the New York product. That represented important news to the Cornell researchers, who have been working to breed broccoli varieties to grow well in the region's climate and soils.
"Buyers for grocery stores and restaurants have been reluctant to stock broccoli that looks even slightly different from what consumers are used to, most of which is grown in California," the Cornell announcement said. "But the study suggests consumers value veggies marketed as local even if they don't look more appealing than non-local options."
The term "local" has enough power, Cornell said, that it might even boost produce where local varieties aren't expected to be superior, such as tomatoes. The university said the study also has potential implications for other seasonal vegetables marketed on the East Coast, including carrots, celery, endive and lettuce.
The study would also appear to have meaning to growers and marketers of California broccoli and other products—in part because of the elastic definition of "local," which, according to Cornell "can be defined many ways, from grown inside a 30-mile radius to within the United States." The study defined it as "grown and available for purchase within a state's borders," which the university described as the most popular definition among the top 10 grocery retailers.
Regardless of the marketing implications, the Cornell study shows again how words influence perception.