The U.S. is famously a melting pot of cultures from around the world, some of which have cuisines that can differ sharply with the U.S.’ traditional European-based cuisine.
It’s a market with great opportunities for smart growers — if they understand their communities’ demographics and which vegetables they are willing to pay more for.
Enter a study conducted by a 10-person research team, headed up by six from Rutgers University. The University of Florida and The University of Massachusetts also participated. The research was published in The Journal of Extension.
The team’s goal was to identify the ethnic crops with the most potential for East Coast growers. To that end, the study selected the two main ethnic groups along the East Coast, Asians and Hispanics, and chose the two largest cultures in the U.S. among those groups to focus on — Chinese and Indians for Asians, and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans for Hispanics.
“These groups were chosen based on the size of their market potential and their continued growth expectations,” the team says in its peer-reviewed journal article.
The researchers then learned which vegetables these four groups are most likely to buy, along with who within the groups were spending more money for locally grown ethnic vegetables.
Before jumping into the results, let’s take a quick look at the how the study worked.
How Test Vegetables Were Selected
The team started with 100 ethnic produce items commonly sold in local markets, the journal reports. From there, they eliminated:
- All fruit
- Crops unlikely to grow in the region, such as tropical true yams.
- Over-exposed crops that are already being grown in large quantities, like dry beans.
- Crops that failed previous efforts at production, such as fava beans.
After that process, 10 vegetables per group (with two more for Chinese) were included in the questionnaire, making for a total of 42 crops.
Once the initial phase of the study was completed, the listed was narrowed to 22 total crops:
“Of the 42 crops included in the survey, a final list of 22 crops was selected for field production trials using the multiple criteria to gain base-line production, marketable harvest, and quality of produce and to identify any potential problems associated with these new crops, such as insect and disease pressures.”
Who Participated In The Study?
More than a thousand surveys were gathered, completed by those identified as the chief grocery shopper for their family. The distribution among the four groups was decided based on the 2000 Census proportions per state involved. There were an additional 271 surveys taken (beyond the 1,084 of proportion-controlled ones) that were not restricted by state or ethnic group.
All participants lived on the East Coast. Specifically, that includes any state on the Atlantic from Main to Florida, plus Vermont and Pennsylvania, for a total of 16 states.
Which Vegetables Came Out On Top
If you have large communities of Chinese, Indians, Mexicans, or Puerto Ricans in your area, here’s the list of vegetables the team identified as having the most potential sales for growers:
- Baby Pak Choy
- Oriental Eggplant
- Smooth Luffa
- Bottle Gourd
- Indian Eggplant
- Bitter Melon
- Chili Jalapeno
- Aji Dulce
- Pepinillo/Bitter gourd
Make sure to read at the full study to see more details about the vegetables considered and the demographic data that had an impact on likelihood to buy locally grown ethnic produce.