Strawberry is an important fruit crop to the U.S. economy, and the United States is the largest producer of strawberry worldwide. During the past 10 years, U.S. strawberry production averaged 1.24 million metric tons and was worth $2.12 billion dollars annually. Most of the strawberries were consumed fresh (80.8%) and 19.2% were processed (USDA, 2015a). The top production states were California, Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, and Michigan (USDA, 2015b). The production and value of strawberries has steadily increased since 2001. In 2005, U.S. strawberry production was at 1.05 million metric tons valued at $1.39 billion dollars, whereas in 2014, production was at 1.37 million metric tons valued at $2.86 billion dollars, deflated as the 2005 value (USDA, 2015a). The per capita consumption of strawberries has also been increasing steadily. In 2005, the per capita consumption was 5.83 pounds, and in 2014, the per capita consumption was 7.96 pounds. The per capita consumption growth has stagnated since 2009 (USDA, 2015c). New cultivar development and commercialization are essential to promote the industry’s long-term economic viability. In fact, since 2006, 81 new strawberry cultivars have been released in the United States (U.S. Department of Commerce, Patent and Trademark Office, 2015).
Rosaceous fruit breeders have been breeding new strawberry cultivars for decades. Strawberries are herbaceous perennials, grown in many production regions as an annual crop, with a short reproductive cycle, which is different from other commercially produced rosaceous fruits (Qin et al., 2008). Previous studies have shown that the trait targets of strawberry breeding programs are highly influenced by geographical location and end market needs (Capocasa et al., 2008; Hancock et al., 2008; Khanizadeh et al., 1992; Whitaker et al., 2011). Although these studies provided insight into breeders’ trait prioritization decisions, a systematic investigation that includes consumers’ and producers’ values of strawberry traits would assist breeders to further improve the efficiency of breeding programs.
The following studies have investigated consumer preferences for strawberry attributes. Ford et al. (1996) and Safley et al. (1999) concluded that strawberry flavor, sweetness, juiciness, freshness, and firmness are the most important attributes compared with color and size for consumers. More recently, Colquhoun et al. (2012) found that consumers preferred strawberries that are sweet and with rich and complex flavors, and He et al. (2015) found that freshness and color of strawberries have significant impacts on WTP before consumers taste them, and flavor and texture become the dominant attributes after they taste them. Other than fruit quality attributes, Darby et al. (2008) found that consumers prefer strawberries that are locally produced, and this preference is independent of other attributes that are often naturally associated with locally produced foods, such as greater freshness. In addition to U.S. consumers, it was found that German consumers prefer strawberries with lower sugar content, and Uruguay consumers prefer sweeter and firmer strawberry cultivars (Keutgen and Pawelzik, 2007; Lado et al., 2010). Even fewer studies have focused on investigating strawberry producers’ preferences for strawberry traits. Yue et al. (2014) conducted audience surveys at several U.S. strawberry grower meetings and concluded that growers consider flavor, firmness, and shelf life at retail as the most important strawberry attributes compared with color and size. However, Yue et al. (2014) did not obtain growers’ values for these attributes.
To our knowledge, no study has compared producers’ and consumers’ values of strawberry traits and synthesized these values into a market equilibrium analysis. This study will fill this knowledge gap and assist strawberry breeders in setting attributes and breeding priorities to efficiently meet market needs.
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