(March 20) More than three of four consumers would pay a premium for apples labeled “USA Grown” compared to apples with no country-of-origin label, research by the University of Florida indicates.

The study, published last year by the International Agricultural Trade and Policy Center at the University of Florida, also said that 66% of consumers surveyed in Michigan, Georgia and Florida would pay a price premium for “USA Grown“ fresh tomatoes compared with tomatoes without country-of-origin labeling.

Authored by Arthur Mabiso, James Sterns, John VanSickle and Allen Wysocki, the paper said consumers would pay an average premium of 48 cents for a pound of apples labeled “USA Grown” over an identical pound of apples without a country-of-origin label.

James Sterns, economist at the University of Florida, cautioned March 14 that the study was not as definitive as researchers had hoped it could be because it was limited by time and budget constraints to three states instead of a broader sampling of six states originally targeted. That resulted in a demographic mix that may not exactly match the U.S. population, he said. He said that the results were “indicative rather than definitive” and point to the need for further research.

The study used an experimental auction type approach to test consumer willingness to pay a premium for labeled produce.

The study found consumers would pay an average premium of 44 cents for a pound of tomatoes labeled “USA Grown” over an identical pound of unlabeled tomatoes.

The study found the 4 cents per pound difference between apples and tomatoes was statistically insignificant.

“Consumers who were more concerned about food quality were found to be willing to pay more for produce labeled ‘USA Grown,’ implying that they view U.S. fresh produce as having better quality than foreign fresh produce,” the study said.

Older consumers were found less willing to pay a price premium for U.S.-labeled produce.

MORE IN FLORIDA

The study also showed different levels of willingness to pay a premium based on consumer location, said Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, Fla.

The Florida paper said consumers in Michigan were willing to pay a considerably lower price premium than consumers in Georgia or Florida.

In addition, consumers in Georgia were willing to pay more for country-of-origin labeling of fresh apples than for tomatoes.

In Florida, consumers were more willing to pay a higher premium for U.S.-labeled tomatoes than U.S.-labeled apples.

Specifically, the study found that consumers in Gainesville, Fla., were willing to pay a premium of 40 cents for a pound of apples and 68 cents for a pound of tomatoes that were “USA Grown,” compared with non-labeled commodities.

In Lansing, Mich., consumers were willing to pay a premium of 18 cents for apples and 19 cents for a pound of tomatoes.

In Atlanta, Ga., the premium was 63 cents for apples and 38 cents for tomatoes.