By: Brad Buck, University of Florida/IFAS
Florida peaches make for a succulent snack, say consumers surveyed by a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher.
That’s encouraging news for Florida producers trying to expand their reach, not only in the Sunshine State but nationally, said Joy Rumble, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication.
“I was surprised to see that one of the most common ways people reported eating peaches was as a snack,” Rumble said. “I thought that people would be consuming them as part of a meal such as lunch or in a dish such as cobbler or as a topping, like on yogurt. This finding is encouraging for the Florida peach industry because the Florida peach tends to be smaller than those produced elsewhere. There is an opportunity to position and market the Florida peach as the perfect snack.”
Rumble conducted a national survey of consumers to see if they’re buying peaches and if so, who’s buying them. Her survey results come as Tori Bradley, a graduate student in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department and Sonia Tighe, director of membership for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, will give a webinar on marketing Florida peaches at 10:30 a.m. March 23. Register here for the webinar.
Rumble’s survey reveals that most consumers nationwide don’t know the dates of Florida’s peach season, which runs from March through May. The survey also showed that consumers really value a peach with the label “Grown in the USA” on it. As the first domestically available peach of the year, the Florida peach has an opportunity to market and promote the “Grown in the USA” label as well as the “Fresh from Florida” label, Rumble said.
The survey is part of a specialty crop block grant focused on increasing the awareness and marketability of Florida peaches. This grant included a consumer survey and producer/marketer interviews done to inform a marketing plan to increase awareness and preference for Florida peaches.
For several decades, farmers have experimented with growing peaches in Florida, but it was not until recently that varieties of peaches suitable for Florida’s climate have been developed. In 2006, producers estimated that there were only 60 acres of peaches growing in the state. By 2012, the Census of Agriculture recorded 185 Florida agricultural operations growing 776 harvestable acres of peaches and today, growers estimate that the total acres of peaches in Florida has grown to approximately 1,400 acres.
Despite increased acreage, Florida peaches have yet to gain significant popularity among Florida consumers, Rumble said.
Successful expansion of the Florida peach industry requires increased consumer and retailer awareness of the industry as well as an understanding of these audiences’ preferences for, and barriers to, buying Florida peaches, Rumble said. The peach varieties growing in Florida tend to be smaller, which has led to a lack of acceptance among consumers and retailers. However, the Florida peach is tree-ripened and is “ready to eat” for the consumer and has higher sweetness than other peaches.
“The popularity of peaches from Georgia and California has overshadowed the entrance of the Florida peach into the marketplace,” she said. “For the Florida peach industry to remain viable and growing, it is essential that the product is effectively marketed, and promoted and that consumer and retailer awareness of the product increases.”