In 2016, United States ranked the fourth peach-producing country in the world, with a total production of 927,178 tons, following China, Spain, and Italy (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2018). Total U.S. peach exports were $200 million in 2012, $173.4 million of which were fresh market fruit, whereas total imports were $161.3 in 2012, $50.3 million of which were fresh market fruit (Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015). Despite ongoing marketing efforts from the public and private sectors, overall per-capita consumption of fruit in the United States is less than half of the recommended amount. Fresh market peach exemplifies this unfortunate trend, despite ranking seventh among fruits in per capita consumption in the United States. Even with an average retail price that has remained steady since the 2000s, domestic consumption of fresh peaches has steadily decreased from around 6 pounds in the 1980s, to around 5 pounds in 2008, and to less than 3 pounds in 2016. Concurrently, the bearing acreage of peach trees has declined from around 190,000 acres in the 1980s to roughly 94,100 acres in 2016 (Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2017).
Unlike fruits such as oranges or apples, fresh peaches have a short shelf life and a narrow harvest window. Peach fruit require gentle handling and strict storage conditions, making quality consistency difficult to achieve; furthermore, consumers at the point of sale often are unable to identify properly handled peach fruit (Uva et al., 2004). Mediocre and/or inconsistent quality might prevent consumers from purchasing fresh peaches regularly. Understanding consumer preferences for peach fruit quality attributes could provide critical information to the U.S. peach industry to effectively marketing their products.
A number of studies have assessed consumer preferences for specific fruit attributes. For example, van der Pol and Ryan (1996) found Scottish consumers preferred fruits that were sold in supermarkets and loosely packaged, as well as with greater quality and lower price. Loureiro et al. (2001) studied Oregon consumer choices among conventional apples, apples with eco-labels, and organic apples. They found consumers considered eco-labeled apples a transitional option between relatively unfavorable conventional apples and favorable organic apples. Crisosto et al. (2003) found that Californian consumers preferred fresh sweet cherry fruits with higher soluble solid concentration and dark color and that older consumers have a stronger preference for these two attributes. Campbell et al. (2004) conducted an analysis on Alabama and Georgia consumer preferences for Satsuma oranges. They found three groups of consumers defined by their preferences for fewer blemishes, lower price, and fewer seeds, respectively, and the three groups differed in their demographics such as gender, ethnicity, age, and family structure.
In a study focused on fresh market peach fruit quality attributes, Bruhn (1995) interviewed consumers in grocery stores in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Northern California and concluded the most important attributes used to determine the quality of peach fruit were firmness, color, and aroma. In addition, consumers saw smaller size as an indicator of poor quality.
Uva and Cheng (2005) conducted a survey with randomly chosen household samples in New York State to quantify how each peach fruit attribute affected consumer-purchasing decisions, finding the probability of paying a premium for tree-ripened peaches increased with consumers’ previous purchasing experience and decreased with dissatisfaction with the tree-ripened peaches previously consumed.
Two studies in Germany and Canada investigated preference heterogeneity among peach consumers and attempted to divide consumers into groups based on the heterogeneity. Cembalo et al. (2009) used a choice experiment to study German consumers’ attitudes toward the country of origin for peaches traded in the European Union. They identified three segments differentiated by preferences for the country of origin and price sensitivity. Each of the three segments preferred peaches from Italy, Spain, and Turkey and demonstrated an increasing sensitivity to price. Campbell et al. (2013) conducted a national survey of Canadian consumers about their preferences for Ontario-grown peaches, and they grouped the consumers into six clusters based on similarity of preferences. The six clusters were primarily driven by low price, labels of one or more specific regions in Canada, red external color, large size, and firm peaches. The study further described each cluster by factors such as consumers’ gender, age, education, income, living areas, shopping places and knowledge of local produce.
These previous studies have contributed to the understanding of foreign or region-specific U.S. consumers’ preferences for fresh market peach. Yet, preference heterogeneity among U.S. consumers at a national level is still largely unknown. In this study, we aimed to explore U.S. consumer preferences for fresh market peaches, identify possible segments within this market, quantify the characteristics of these consumer segments, and draw marketing implications based on the segmentation results.
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