(Jan. 25) ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — As populations of ethnic residents increase on the East Coast, so do opportunities for marketing organic ethnic produce, said one researcher during a presentation at the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey’s annual meeting in Atlantic City.

“(Asian and Hispanic consumers) prefer organic,” said Bill Sciarappa, agriculture and resource management agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension & Research, Freehold, N.J.

Sciarappa said he and his colleagues from Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey are investigating consumer demand for organic ethnic produce to help East Coast growers and marketers develop a stable market.

On Jan. 16, Sciarappa presented research results from a survey of 1,084 randomly selected East Coast consumers of Chinese, Mexican, Asian-Indian or Puerto Rican origin.

Sciarappa said the four groups were selected based on U.S. Census data from 2000 showing that those were the largest ethnic groups on the East Coast, accounting for nearly 6 million residents. Puerto Ricans represent the largest group, with about 2.7 million residents on the East Coast.

The participants were selected from 16 Eastern states and Washington, D.C., and surveys were conducted in Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish or other languages, as needed.

Sciarappa said the results showed that those consumers are regularly spending money on ethnic produce. Indian consumers, for example, reported shopping on average about once a week and spending $32 on produce each time. On average, Chinese consumers shopped even more frequently — 7.5 times per month — and spent $23 on produce each time.

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they were willing to buy ethnic vegetables from an ethnic store, and 69% said they would buy ethnic produce from a local grower.

Just over half said they were willing to buy organically-grown produce.

In another Rutgers University study of 410 Chinese, Indian and Korean respondents who lived in the mid-Atlantic region, 59% said they preferred organic ethnic vegetables over conventional, Sciarappa said.

He said people often think that consumers of ethnic produce are not interested in buying organic items. However, some consumers, who are from countries where there are no environmental regulations protecting land from chemicals and other pollutants, or those who have worked in the produce industry, may really be more interested in organics, he said.

“They apparently have been sensitized to be aware of the use of pesticides in many cases,” Sciarappa said.

Twenty-eight of more than 100 ethnic crops were selected for inclusion in the study, based on the possibility of producing them on the East Coast, Sciarappa said. Researchers considered each crop’s climate requirements, growth cycle, availability of seed and competition.

[Editor’s Note: for a breakdown of the most popular organic produce purchases by specific ethnic consumer group, see the Jan. 29 print or digital edition of The Packer.]