Industry can generate more consumer demand for blueberries through agritourism and health benefit awareness, UF report states
ALL-NATURAL. LOCALLY GROWN. ORGANIC. American taste buds and buying habits are changing as the demand for healthy, sustainable food sources increase. Items like kale and acai have seen their popularity skyrocket, as consumers consider the health benefits before they decide what to put in their mouths. But a recent University of Florida study shows there is opportunity to increase demand by educating consumers on the health benefits of one of the Sunshine State’s top superfoods — blueberries.
Researchers in the UF/IFAS Department of Agricultural Education and Communication and the Department of Food Resources and Economics partnered up with the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation to raise awareness and test consumer’s knowledge on the health benefits of blueberries. They found that while most consumers knew blueberries helped fight cancer and lower the risk of heart disease, they didn’t know about some of the fruits other attributes. “We were surprised they were not more aware of them improving eyesight, and helping with aging and improving memory,” says Joy Rumble, UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication. “I feel like those are the things the industry has been pushing in the news and in the media pretty regularly, but the awareness just wasn’t there.”
Researchers cite the high awareness of cancer and heart disease as opposed to consumers’ overall knowledge on the benefits of different fruits. “The fact that cancer and heart diseases are the leading causes of death in America may have led to more personal research related to preventing the diseases, leading to the respondents being exposed to these findings more than other benefits,” explains study leader Shuyang Qu, from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). And, while researchers did not find large differences in blueberry knowledge among those from different income statuses, they found a significant difference between different educational levels. “People with some college or more education were found to have higher levels of knowledge than those with high school or less education,” observes Qu.
Researchers were also surprised by how many people believed false statements added to the survey on the benefits of blueberries, such as the superfood improving hearing loss or helping with aching joints. “It just goes to show there’s opportunity to educate consumers about health benefits — which are true and which are not — so they can make informed choices,” says Rumble.
The importance of educating consumers is vital for farmers who can reap the rewards of the growing agritourism industry. The U.S. Census of Agriculture has been showing an increase in this leisure experience over the past decade. From the 2007 and 2012 censuses, 10,249 farms grossing $546 million in income increased to 13,334 farms grossing $674 million. Farms with gross farm receipts of $25,000 or more increased from 3,637 farms to 4,518, indicating that the rural United States is becoming a popular tourist destination. “I think that its valuable for the industry to communicate all of the health benefits so consumers can be aware of the value of blueberries,” adds Rumble. The researchers suggested tastings, u-picks, and any other means growers can use to attract consumers out to their farms to experience and learn about blueberries first hand.
The results of this study included respondents from more than 2,000 people in 31 states — mostly on the East Coast and in the Midwest — to learn more about their knowledge of health benefits of blueberries.
In addition, the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education recently published the results of a separate survey regarding consumers’ perception of Florida blueberries and how you can better market your crop. To read more about this separate survey, see the special insert in this edition of The Blueberry News.
article by BONNY JOHNSON