In order to meet the demand for high-quality fruit and vegetable (F&V) products, a wide variety of novel non-thermal processing (NTP) technologies are under development. This study used a qualitative focus group approach to investigate consumers' perception and attitudes towards non-thermally processed F&V products among young (18-30 years old) and middle-aged (45-60 y.o.) consumers across six European countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy, Serbia, Spain, and the Netherlands. Findings show that the expected benefits and social concerns are important factors which affect consumers' attitudes toward non-thermally processed F&V. Extending shelf-life, being healthier and more nutritious, and better hygiene and safety were important benefits, whilst impacts on product quality, safety risks, higher price and environmental costs were the concerns most often mentioned by participants. However, due to a lack of knowledge and trustworthy information sources, consumers have difficulties in assessing relevant benefits and risks. Targeted communication that could explicitly and efficiently reveal benefits and risks is highly recommended to enhance consumer awareness and trust. This may especially be needed to reach middle-aged consumers who showed less confidence in NTP, compared to young consumers. Consumers from Spain, Denmark, and the Netherlands appeared more interested in consuming NTP F&V, compared to Italy, Serbia, and Germany. These findings are expected to provide recommendations to better communicate non-thermally processed F&V with consumers in the EU.
Keywords: consumer perception; food processing; fruit and vegetables; non-thermal processing technologies.