GAINESVILLE, Fla. — More than three quarters of Florida’s strawberries are shipped to American markets east of the Mississippi River. Most of those out-of-state consumers enjoy the fruit, but some mistakenly think Sunshine State strawberries aren’t available at their grocery stores, a new University of Florida study shows.
That means marketers and others must do a better job ensuring consumers know strawberries come from Florida, said Joy Rumble, an assistant professor of agricultural education and communication. This is particularly true in light of increased competition from California and Mexico, Rumble said. In Florida, the strawberry harvest brought in $267 million in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Rumble, a faculty member at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and a team of researchers from the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education conducted 10 focus groups in five cities east of the Mississippi River. The cities
were Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; New York City and Boston.
UF/IFAS researchers wanted to determine consumers’ purchasing intent so they could develop marketing strategies for Florida strawberries in competitive markets. They found consumers like Florida strawberries – saying they’re fresh and high quality — so they want to buy them. But some said they didn’t think Florida strawberries were available at their grocery store.
“Eastern U.S. consumers’ lack of awareness or misperceptions about Florida strawberries is likely due to our winter growing season and consumers looking primarily at the quality and price of the fruit when considering a strawberry purchase, rather than growing location listed on the label,” Rumble said. “Several consumers were surprised to learn that our growing season was in the winter because they are used to strawberries being available in the summer, or they thought that Florida should be able to grow strawberries all year round because of our warm climate.”
Consumers also reported not regularly looking at the growing location on strawberry packaging, she said.
This finding provides an opportunity for increased promotion and marketing of Florida strawberries to increase demand throughout the eastern U.S., Rumble said.
Using a state branding campaign, such as Fresh from Florida, helps boost consumer awareness and reinforce positive attitudes they have toward Florid strawberries, the study says.
UF/IFAS has a program, led by Associate Professor Vance Whitaker, that’s dedicated to strawberry breeding. Whitaker conducts his research at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida.
Rumble and Ruth presented their findings in February at the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists conference in San Antonio, Texas. The study was funded by the Florida Strawberry Research and Education Foundation.