According to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (2018), world pecan (C. illinoinensis) production has increased by 28% over the past decade. An estimated 92% of pecans are produced in North America, with the United States having 51% of that production. In 2017, there were 19,008 farms producing 223,903 ha of pecans with 83% of the hectarage of nut-bearing age [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)–National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), 2019b]. Although U.S. production volume has increased by 45% during the past decade, U.S. pecan production for the 2018–19 marketing season (October–September) was 221.2 million pounds which was a decline of 27% from the previous year [USDA–Economic Research Service (ERS), 2018; USDA–NASS, 2019a]. Production in 2018–19 was the lowest level in a decade. The biggest losses were in major pecan-producing states like Georgia and Texas, but the fall in production reflects a decline in all the top four pecan-producing states (USDA–ERS, 2019). Hurricane Michael caused declining production in Georgia, whereas alternate bearing habits within pecan trees may be the reason for a decreased decline in Texas (Haire, 2018; Nesbitt et al., 2010).
American pecan growers have been largely feeding the export market, which absorbed up to 84% of pecans used in production in the 2017–18 marketing season (USDA–ERS, 2018). Meanwhile, domestic demand has increased over the past decade while stagnating during the latter part of the decade. Per capita demand for pecans has ranged from 0.16 kg to 0.24 kg over the past 10 years with the most recent estimates in 2017–18 being 0.20 kg (USDA–ERS, 2018). In comparison, almonds (Prunus dulcis) per capita demand reached the all high level of 1.03 kg in 2017–18 season (USDA–ERS, 2018). Further complicating pecan demand is the current trade dispute with China. As the trade dispute with China remains in effect, there was a sharp decline in the cumulative volume of shelled and in-shell pecan exports during the first 3 months of 2018–19 (USDA–ERS, 2019).
Currently, pecan producers and retailers are looking for ways to drive consumer demand given stagnating domestic demand, lower export demand, and increased production levels compared with a decade earlier. As such, producers and retailers have looked to refine factors that drive pecan demand, including varying varieties, sizes, grades, packaging, origin labeling, and use in value-added products. In terms of variety, each of the top four states grow a large amount of “improved” pecan varieties that have been bred and selected for their improved attributes, such as increased yield. However, Oklahoma relies predominately (74% of hectarage) on “native/seedling” varieties compared with the other top states. With respect to consumer preference for pecan varieties, Palma et al. (2015) examined consumer preference for fresh (non–value-added) pecans. They found consumer preference for native varieties, even though no evidence exists showing native varieties have any additional benefits over improved varieties.
Other studies have examined a myriad of issues associated with pecan consumption to provide pecan growers with knowledge of which attributes are preferred by consumers. Lombardini et al. (2008) and Lillywhite et al. (2014) identified differences in pecan consumers and nonconsumers as well as differences in nutritional knowledge levels. Gold et al. (2004) examined consumer preference for chestnuts (Castanea spp.), walnuts (Juglans spp.), and pecans. Florkowski and Park (2001) examined marketing strategies to enhance sales of raw, unprocessed pecans and evaluated how familiarity of marketing outlets affected consumer purchases of pecans. Moore et al. (2009) found $0.35 in additional sales for every dollar invested in the promotion of pecans via the Texas Pecan Checkoff Program. Nelson et al. (2005) found three segments within the Haitian population for honey-roasted pecans. Hinds et al. (2003) compared Haitian consumer views on taste and appearance for Haitian vs. U.S.-produced honey-roasted peanuts.
However, little research has focused on consumer preferences for varying types of value-added pecan products, product origin, or specific farm labeling. Therefore, the main objectives of this experiment were to understand what importance consumers place on various types of value-added pecans (i.e., cinnamon sugar, pralines, salted and roasted, chocolate-covered, and plain roasted), their origins (i.e., Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Mexico, and United States), and unique label messaging (i.e., local farm grown, Native American Grown, and no label) when making a purchasing decision. This was done using a conjoint experiment across two package sizes (1.5 oz and 8 oz), overall consumer preferences were identified as well as consumer preferences across varying market segments. In addition, demographic and purchasing behaviors were developed for the market segments for the two product sizes examined.
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