Growers of Florida blueberries are fortunate to begin their marketing efforts during a unique window, from March to May, when Florida blueberries are the first and only domestically grown blueberries available to U.S. consumers. In order for Florida growers to receive the benefits of this unique marketing window, consumers must first specifically demand Florida blueberries when they make purchases during this season.
As part of a Specialty Crop Block Grant funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education (PIE) in Agriculture and Natural Resources conducted an online survey of consumers in 31 states to determine the demand and knowledge that exists for Florida blueberries.
Consumers reported they would prefer to buy blueberries from Florida more than they would prefer to buy from any other of the Top 10 blueberry-producing states, including Georgia and California. However, almost all of the consumers reported wanting to buy blueberries during the summer months when Florida blueberries are no longer available. When consumers were asked to identify the Florida blueberry season, only 16% believed they could do so correctly. Of this 16%, most did not know to begin looking for Florida blueberries in March. Half of that very small group knew Florida blueberries are available in April and March.
Eighty-six percent of the surveyed consumers were unsure of the season overall. These consumers also were unsure if they had ever seen Florida blueberries in stores and many people reported not looking for Florida blueberries at all when making purchasing decisions.
Gain Leverage With Labels
This research also asked consumers about their preferences surrounding blueberry packaging. Most consumers preferred a one-pint package size, with the two-pint package size being the next preferred size. Very few people preferred the six-ounce package. As for labels, the overwhelming majority said they would choose the package displaying the Fresh from Florida label over any other label that displayed the growing location of the berries, even if that location was in Florida.
All of this information shows that, while consumers want to buy their blueberries from Florida, they do not know when to look for them. They also do not actively seek out information about where their blueberries are grown. In order to generate demand for Florida blueberries, consumers need to be made more aware of the season so they can begin asking for them in their local stores and seeking them out in farmers’ markets when the season begins. Better labeling of the growing location, along with the Fresh from Florida label, will make it easier for consumers to identify Florida blueberries in stores. More consumer outreach through blueberry organizations in the state will aid in educating consumers about the Florida blueberry season, with the intent of encouraging consumers to specifically seek out Florida blueberries.
A Healthy Perspective
The study also looked at the knowledge that consumers have about the health benefits of blueberries overall. Most people know blueberries can help ward off heart disease and cancer, but are less aware about benefits like blueberries helping to revert the aging process, improving memory, and strengthening eyesight. This shows that, along with educating consumers about the Florida season, demand for blueberries overall may be increased by educating consumers on the many benefits they receive by eating blueberries.
Consumers are eager to buy Florida blueberries. Through better education about the Florida blueberry season, making Florida products more visible in stores, and increasing consumer knowledge about blueberry health benefits, consumer demand for Florida blueberries should increase.
This research is part of a larger project that will culminate in a marketing plan for the Florida blueberry season. The marketing plan will address the challenges mentioned in this article and will serve to help producers and marketers reach more consumers with their Florida blueberries.
The marketing plan is scheduled to be presented at the Florida Blueberry Growers Association Fall Meeting.
For more information about this research and other Florida blueberry-related research, visit PieCenter.com.