With its temperate and humid climates, South Florida is the perfect place to grow many tropical fruits that are adapted to these warm climates and cannot be grown elsewhere in the United States.
As the demand for such products increases, food and resource economists such as Dr. Trent Blare, assistant professor at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research & Education Center (TREC), are exploring consumer preferences for potential new products as well as ways to get those new products into the market.
“The diet of U.S. citizens is changing, and if you look at fruit consumption, variation of fruits like apples and pears and bananas are going down,” Blare said. “But you have fruits like mango where consumption is going way up, avocado consumption is through the roof.”
Two such current projects include work looking at passionfruit and finger limes.
Passion fruit is a perennial vine that, depending on the species, produces a round, tropical-tasting fruit which can vary in color from dark purple to yellow.
Recently, Blare and his colleagues published a cost estimate for producing purple passionfruit in South Florida, which showed that, with input costs considered, the estimated net return of an established purple passionfruit plantation in South Florida is approximately $2,562 per acre of farmland.
Now, they are looking at what the market in Florida is for passion fruit and how much interest consumers have in specifically buying passionfruit that is grown locally.
“Fruit, especially passion fruit, is one of these crops that is difficult to transport long distances because it’s so delicate,” said Nick Haley, a Food and Resource Economics Ph.D. student. “So, there’s a really great market opportunity for local growers to start producing fresh passion fruit.”
As part of his work with Dr. Blare, Haley is distributing a survey to see if consumers are interested in passionfruit, which will include a choice experiment to determine the prices they are willing to pay for locally grown passionfruit.
Finger limes are a small citrus fruit originally from Australia that grow on shrubs found in subtropical rainforest climates. In Florida, they are a relatively new crop, but one that is especially promising due to its natural resistance to the citrus greening disease that has plagued the Florida citrus industry.
Fredy Ballen, a Data Management Analyst II at TREC, and a Ph.D. student in the School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, is currently studying consumer perception of this new fruit under the guidance of Drs. Blare, Damian Adams, and Zhifeng Gao.
Through survey research, he is looking at identifying the different groups of consumers to see who would potentially be early adopters and willing to try an unfamiliar product such as finger limes. These early adopters could then serve to influence its growth in popularity in the U.S. market.
“Those are the ones that post to social media, the ones that are spreading the word of that new product,” Ballen said.
In addition to the survey work by Haley and Ballen to determine consumer interest, the team at TREC will also be investigating potential avenues for selling these products, as well as obstacles to overcome in market penetration through funding received by SEEDIT grants from UF/IFAS Research.
“We have a new grant that’s looking at how we develop the supply chains,” Blare said. “…We’re doing research both on how we get finger limes into the market and how we get passion fruit to the market.”