(Feb. 1, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) Armed with the right information, consumers respond positively to Mexican-grown produce.

The Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas conducted a study in late 2007 to determine the effect of education on consumers’ perception of Mexican produce.

The study, which cost about $20,000 and was funded through the FPAA’s promotions budget, was conducted across all demographics with about 1,000 participants nationwide, said Allison Moore, FPAA communications manager.

It was developed along with the FPAA’s marketing agency, Nogales-based Viva Marketing Strategies and Ridgefield, Conn.-based Ridgefield Marketing Group.

Moore said consumers typically aren’t aware of what they have been eating all along.

“People are pleasantly surprised they’ve been eating Mexican produce for more than 100 years,” she said. “They’ve been buying it all along, especially this time of year. Once you tell them that, they’re generally very accepting of the product.”

Moore said FPAA merchandisers are using the results to develop education programs and help retailers decide when and how to implement them.

“This is really for us to work with retailers to say this is what we can do when we educate the consumer,” Moore said.

That message is expected to be important when country-of-origin labeling laws take effect, which could be as early as September.

“(Country-of-origin labeling) is not going to be a huge change in the way consumers react to Mexican produce,” Moore said. “When customers do have the information, it generally increases their acceptance.”

Some notable findings from the study included:

  • Eighty-four percent of respondents purchased more or the same amount of produce form Mexico in 2007 vs. 2006;

  • Ninety-five percent intend to buy the same or more Mexican produce this season;

  • After reviewing FPAA information, positive perception of Mexican produce increased 17% by those who already reported a favorable response;

  • Positive perception rose 14% by respondents who had non-favorable perceptions; and

  • Three of the top five Mexican produce items consumers intend to buy are tomatoes, grapes and cucumbers.