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Jurnal ” A Chain of Quality: Linking Quality Aspects in the Chain to Meet Consumer Demand ”

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A Chain of Quality: Linking Quality Aspects in the Chain to Meet Consumer Demand

INTRODUCTION
This paper examines the impact of changes in life styles in a developing Asian
country such as Thailand on the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to urban domestic
populations as well as to export markets. As a consequence of improving education
standards and public communications systems people in Thailand are becoming just as
aware of issues such as food safety, value for money, reliability of supply and variety of
choice as in more highly developed countries. Successive Governments have also
encouraged export development to earn foreign exchange. A large number of Thai people
have received advanced education in foreign countries and many of them are challenging
traditional ways, which they perceive to be unhealthy, unsustainable or damaging to the
environment. The growing public awareness of these issues is evident when one sees on
company signs, e.g. catering companies, advertising that they are certified according to
ISO 9000. These changes in Thailand are evidence of globalisation of markets at work.
Governments throughout South East Asia are grappling with these pressures for change.
Regional Trade Groups are being formed and more countries are joining the World Trade
Organisation (WTO). Membership of WTO requires the gradual removal of trade barriers
and import duties but recognises that countries have a right to implement quarantine
measures to prevent the entry of unwanted pests and diseases. These economic pressures
require new ways of growing, handling and distributing fresh produce if the Nation’s
farmers and population as a whole are to benefit from the move towards free trade. The
freeing of trade allows imported products to enter the domestic market. Some of these
may be aimed at the luxury end of the market but others may actually force some local
products off the local market. Ideally these new ways of doing business should
accommodate traditional social customs.
The domestic trade in fresh fruits and vegetables in the larger cities such as
Bangkok is shifting from traditional wet markets to supermarkets as people have more
disposable income and an increasing desire for convenience and safe quality fresh
produce. A high proportion of the supermarkets are controlled by global companies from
Europe and Japan that have introduced practices from their parent companies. For many
years, some Thai companies have been developing exports of specialty products such as
baby corn, asparagus and various Asian vegetables to gain the advantage of lower labour
costs in the country. The importing countries expect the same standards of imported
produce as for their home-grown supplies. These demands have required changes in the
traditional ways of growing and postharvest handling of produce. Since most farmers are
small family units, the lead in the implementation of HACCP-based quality assurance
systems (QA) had to be taken by businessmen or companies with sufficient capital to
provide the infrastructure such as packinghouses and advisory services to the growers.
This has necessitated changes in the historical relationships between farmers and the
members of the distribution chain. Some models for managing this process are described
in this paper. The implications of these changes for research, extension, training and
education by the Government Agencies and the Universities are also discussed.
PRODUCE QUALITY AND CONSUMER DEMAND FACTORS
The dilemma of defining quality applies equally well to Thailand as in any other
country. Quality is still very much in the “eye of the beholder”. This means that
appearance is the first factor that concerns the last buyer (the consumer?) but the
Proc. Int. Conf. Quality in Chains
Eds. Tijskens & Vollebregt
Acta Hort. 604, ISHS 2003
372
perception of quality changes as the product moves along the distribution chain. Factors
such as size, freedom from obvious defects and percent packout are important to the
grower. To the wholesaler (middleman) the durability or how long the product will
maintain its fresh appearance (keeping quality) are more important but the retailer may
have additional requirements such as a minimum re-trimming, freedom from obvious
decay and a guarantee that no residues of unapproved pesticides or excess levels of
approved pesticides are present, particular product sizes and specific packaging.
Ultimately, the retailers have to make the correct judgements if they are to maximise
turnover and minimise losses. The consumers usually can only make their decisions on
appearance, judgment of value for money, faith that the products are safe to eat and
historical experience that the product they purchase will have acceptable eating quality. It
is this latter issue that is the most vexatious for everyone. The leading retailers in
Thailand all have documented HACCP based QA standards but as in other countries they
have to rely on destructive sampling and feed back from consumers about internal quality.
In a country such as Thailand where there are no food shortages consumers have much
choice. Consumers will stop buying products that have internal defects or poor eating
quality. These issues pose a major challenge for all those people who service the supply
chain. The underlying key discipline is postharvest technology that recognises that we are
dealing with highly perishable living products continuously losing quality. The
application of the first principles of temperature management is especially important in
Thailand’s tropical climate where the products range from traditional cool season or
temperate vegetables to sub tropical and tropical fruit and vegetables.
Consumers’ perception of expected quality before a purchase is often different
from that after consumption. Shewfelt (2000) cited that in mango for example, most
important purchase quality characteristics were found to include colour, size, firmness
and aroma while for consumption quality characteristics, flavour, mouthfeel, juiciness,
flesh colour and fibrousness. Models and concepts were formulated to correlate product
characteristics with consumers’ quality expectations, such as the Total Food Quality
Model (Grunert et al., 1996), the Quality Function Deployment Model (Hauser and
Clausing, 1988), Quality Guidance concept (Steenkemp and van Trijp, 1996), the
Assigned Quality concept (Sloof et al. 1997) and Quality Formation concept (Poulsen et
al., 1996). Ideally, the product should possess both high quality at the time of purchase
and at the time of consumption to ensure high marketability. There could be strong
relationships between expected quality and experienced quality, but in some cases
expectations may not be fully predictive of the quality upon consumption. Hence,
mutually beneficial tradeoffs are necessary. However, the situation becomes more
complicated when the overall acceptability of the product is taken into account because
product quality is only one of the determining factors (Tijskens, 2000).

 

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