Produce Expenditures By Ethnic Consumers

By Ramu Govindasamy, Associate Professor Of Agricultural, Food And Resource Economics At Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station

Americans generally eat fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended by the Federal Food Guide Pyramid. According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, only 38 percent of Americans consume the recommended number of servings of vegetables, while only 23 percent consume the recommended number of servings of fruit.

A survey conducted by Rutgers University examined the expenditure on fruits and vegetables among ethnic consumers. In particular, this survey was conducted among Chinese, Asian Indians, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. An outsourced firm specializing in telephone interviews was contracted to complete 1,084 questionnaires representing 271 respondents from each of the four ethnic groups. Bilingual telephone interviews were conducted and the responses were gathered from the principal grocery shopper of the household.

The survey collected three types of ethnic consumer expenditures: total produce expenditure; ethnic produce expenditure; and expenditures on specific ethnic produce items. Expenditures on specific produce items varied by each ethnic group. All three expenditure types were based on estimates of average purchases during specified periods of time, over the course of the past 12 months.

Average Expenditures By Ethnic Group

Comparisons between average produce expenditures for each ethnic group and national averages for fresh produce expenditures for the corresponding race or origin were conducted. That is, surveyed Chinese and Asian Indian data were compared to national benchmarks for Asians and surveyed Mexican and Puerto Rican data were compared to national benchmarks for consumers of Hispanic/Latino origin. In general, the average annual fresh fruit and vegetable expenditures by the Asian and Hispanic groups, both national and survey sample data, were higher than the overall national average (i.e. $357 for the entire population, irrespective of ethnicity).

Not accounting for demographic characteristics other than ethnicity, the comparisons of sample data to national benchmarks revealed that the average expenditures by ethnic consumers surveyed were as much as two to three-and-a-half times the respective national averages, depending on the ethnicity (See Figures 1 and 2). In the absence of a suitable national benchmark for ethnic consumers by demographic characteristic, an in-depth analysis of the survey data suggests that the average expenditures for ethnic consumers tend to exceed the respective national ethnic benchmarks by many folds.

A Unique Target Market

The substantial disparity between the survey sample and national data can be partially attributed to the inconsistent definitions of ethnicity, due to lack of data availability by ethnic sub-group at a national level. Prior research suggests that the average fresh produce expenditure by all Asians is lower than that of the Chinese and Asian Indian sub-groups. A related ethnic produce study of the three primary Asian sub-groups showed that the average fresh produce expenditures by each of the Chinese and Asian Indians sub-groups exceeded the corresponding Korean average. It is plausible that the same logic applies to Hispanics, relative to the Mexican and Puerto Rican sub-groups, where a similar disparity in expenditures would be justified.

Another reason for relatively high survey expenditures is that the national expenditure averages may include consumers with no expenditures, whereas the survey data only includes responses of non-zero expenditures. Also, the survey data only includes responses from ethnic consumers who purchase ethnic produce, and prior studies have shown that these consumers tend to have higher fresh produce expenditures in general (ethnic and American combined) than their ethnic consumer counterparts who do not purchase fresh ethnic produce.

A more detailed analysis suggests that expenditure differences are also attributable to the different demographic profiles for each target (niche) ethnic market, relative to the profiles of the larger ethnic populations. The analysis showed that, on the basis of average national expenditures by region, education level, and/or household size, the demographic profiles of surveyed consumers for this study would result in even higher expenditures than the respective Asian and Hispanic national averages ($526 and $429, respectively). The exact magnitude of this expectation is not quantifiable, as the relevant cross-tabulations of demographics by ethnicity are not available as a national benchmark. Consequently, comparisons of national and survey data should be interpreted as relative (directional) information, as opposed to absolute data.