Kara Harders is working toward a master’s degree in agricultural education and communication, specializing in communication. The majority of her research is focused on consumer perceptions and understandings of food labeling and nutrition. She is finishing her program at the University of Florida in the spring of 2017, and looks forward to working in the agricultural field upon graduation. Before attending UF, Harders obtained her undergraduate degree in agricultural education from Colorado State University in 2012.
By Kara Harders
Graduate Student in Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
In 2016 the PIE Center conducted research to increase awareness and preference for Florida peaches, the study was funded by the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation. The major goal of this project is to develop a plan to better market Florida’s peaches.
Growers have been experimenting with peach production in Florida for decades. However, the crop did not begin catching on until 2006. By 2012, new “low-chill” varieties of peaches were being grown by over 185 producers on 776 acres in the states, this number had risen to closer to 2000 acres in 2016. Unfortunately, demand for Florida peaches has not increased at the same rate. Historic peach producing states such as Georgia and California have trained consumers to expect US peaches to be in-season at a particular time and to be a certain size, Florida peaches meet neither of these expectations. Florida peaches enter the market around two moths sooner than peaches from other US states and they are much smaller, a result of the low chill cultivar and the Florida climate patterns.
Our research focused on discovering what people already thought about Florida peaches and what could be done to overcome the current marketing issues. Seasonality knowledge of Florida peaches proved to be a real potential problem. Only about a quarter of people surveyed claimed to know when Florida peaches were in season, and even fewer could identify the correct mid-March through mid-May Florida growing season. Most people thought the growing season was similar to the Georgia, North Carolina, and California May/June/July season. This is made more concerning by the fact that nearly one third of participants sighted “I avoid purchasing peaches when they are out of season” as a reason for non-purchase. These facts could be significantly harming Florida peach purchases, as the production season is much earlier than many purchasers believe it to be.
To help increase people’s understanding of the Florida peach growing season marketers could use signs or labels when selling their products. It is possible that consumers pass over Florida peaches thinking they are Chilean peaches. By advertising Florida peaches as locally grown or grown in the USA, consumers may be more inclined to purchase the product. It would also be important to include on these signs that the peaches are “In-season Florida” peaches, not early, out of season, peaches from typical peach producing states.
The study also showed some possibilities for education of peach health benefits. When quizzed on health benefits of peaches, the least was known about how few calories were in a peach, peach’s ability to help prevent cancer, and the nutrients in peaches. These are all qualities which are becoming more and more important in our society due to rising levels of obesity and cancer concerns. Creating awareness of these qualities could lead to peaches being associated with a specific health benefit, similar to oranges and immunity due to their high levels of vitamin C. While these factors are not exclusive of Florida peaches they are potential marketing points.
We are optimistic that the trends identified in this study will help to better market Florida peaches and the delicious and healthy food item they are.