Berry Sampling – It Can Be a Lot of Fun to Let Your Customers Evaluate Your Varieties! (4/23/17)
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I have been very involved with evaluating numerous Advanced Selections from the Lassen Canyon Breeding program against our standard varieties like Chandler, Camarosa and Sweet Charlie. I know that most of you are probably way too busy at the moment to try to organize a Berry Tasting type of activity for your customers, but this is definitely something you might want to think about doing for next season. There are a number of new varieties “out there” that may really be worth your testing at your farm market next season, and this could in turn guide your decision-making on just how much of a risk you want to take on anything new. I know that I was really struck by the comment of one grower who attended out Strawberry Tour in Faison on Thursday (4/20) about how more than half of his die hard Sweet Charlie customers were willing to buy another variety after he let them do some taste testing of a new variety.
You really don’t need that many plants of a new variety, or varieties, to get some good customer feedback. I would recommend a minimum of 500-1000 plants. That number of plants will give you a pretty good idea about “how well the variety grows” relative to your standard varieties, and it will provide plenty of fruit for a taste testing.
I developed this blind taste testing sheet for a friend here in Virginia yesterday – they are interested in looking at some newer varieties and comparing them to how their customers like Camarosa, Chandler and Sweet Charlie.
|Skin Appearance||Flesh Appearance||
Rating scale: 5=excellent; 4=very good; 3=good; 2=fair; 1= poor
Skin Appearance – please take into account skin color and berry ‘shape’ and feel free to jot down any notes like “very attractive.” It has been my experience that customers in the Carolinas are very accustomed to darker red fruit, but some people like a brighter red color berry and may write something like “too dark.”
Fig. 1. This is Merced, a relatively new variety for our region from the Univ. of Calif. This variety has a very attractive bright red color, and is amazingly symmetric and has consistently good size. However, a bright red color is not necessarily a requirement in a market such as the one in the Carolinas where so much Camarosa is being grown. For Camarosa to taste really good, you need to let it get ripe on the bush. And, we all know that Camarosa tastes best when it has that darker red appearance (Fig. 2). It also has a very nice gloss (another component of appearance).
Fig. 2. A wonderful display of Camarosa berries in a farm market in North Carolina. To a visitor to this region, like Jim Bagdasarian, Lassen Canyon Strawberry Breeder, he was struck by how people in this part of the county are accustomed to darker red berries. Buyers in CA markets prefer the brighter red color you see in Merced
Fig. 3. Another component of appearance is berry symmetry and smoothness. The newer variety Ruby June from Lassen is pretty good on symmetry, but it does have these “ridges.” The advanced selection on the left is very symmetric and smooth (22K45). One thing that all three of these berries has is a nice looking calyx!
Flesh Appearance – this is very subjective and feel free to jot any notes about the flesh color and appearance. I am not necessarily tied to having a berry with solid red flesh! I personally really like Ruby June’s flesh appearance (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4. Ruby’s flesh – many folks seem to like it’s interior color.
Flavor – this is very subjective, but it would help if you would write down any notes like “not sweet” or “too acid” or just “no flavor”
Firmness – this is also a very subjective thing! Some people really like a ‘juicy’ berry and some softness is not an issue; others like a berry with a crunch! Feel free to jot any notes under firmness
Overall rank – go ahead and provide an overall ranking. A simple system we’ve adopted for doing the overall ranking is to assign three pluses (+++) for a really great berry, two pluses for a good berry, and a single plus (+) for a poor berry.
PDF of this sample sheet: Berry Sampling
Taste testing can be fun for people of ALL AGES (Fig. 5)