Measuring and managing quality

What is quality?

Quality means very different things to different people. Quality can include external attributes such as size and shape as well as internal attributes such as flavour. Food safety, ethical issues, convenience and price can also be regarded as quality factors. 

Quality is very much in the eye of the beholder. Different members within a given supply chain will all have different ideas of what constitutes good quality.

For example, a good quality tomato is:

Grower The one that maximises returns on investment and, therefore, profitability.
Harvest crew Large, so that harvest bins or buckets can be picked quickly, effectively increasing the hourly pay rate.
Packer Firm, evenly sized and shaped and with minimum defects, so they can be processed quickly and with little waste.
Transporter Hard, so able to be transported without bruising, and compactly packed.
Retailer Visually appealing and with good shelf life. Possibly packaged so as to increase purchase size and reduce damage caused by consumer 'rummaging'. 
Consumer Looks fresh, well coloured, juicy and full of flavour. Also good value for money and with long shelf life.

Most quality criteria can be divided into external and internal factors. External factors are what generally sells product, as these relate to appearance — size, colour, shape and freedom from defects. Internal factors are what bring customers back — flavour, texture and nutritional value. 

Products may also have additional quality attributes such as convenience, food safety, shelf life, value for money and nutritional quality. Such attributes will vary in the order of importance within the context of a supply chain.

Finally, products may have quality factors based on ethics or belief systems. These include: 

  • Sustainability
  • Locally grown
  • Country of origin
  • Worker welfare
  • Organic / biodynamic production
  • Absence of artificial genetic modification (currently not applicable in Australia) 

Studies have shown that consumers most value vegetables that look fresh, are good value for money, and have no rots or bruises. Their biggest turnoffs are if vegetables are mouldy, bruised or wilted. Some people react negatively if, for example, they see an insect on the product, or if the discover the product is imported.

However, context is everything—a bunch of beetroot with dirt attached is likely to be perceived negatively in a supermarket, but may be seen as more ‘authentic’, with local flavour, if it is for sale at a farmers market. 


What consumers value when purchasing fresh vegetables (left) and what the turnoffs are (right). Consumers were asked to rank the potential answers. Column heights indicate the percentage of respondents ranking each attribute in their top 3 (n=1,105). (Data from HAL Final Report VG12084)