For many years pawpaw and persimmon were two fruit crops that were studied by the Northern Nut Growers Association. The Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri has been a leader in pawpaw research. This article discusses the pawpaw's potential for becoming a high value niche crop. At the 2017 NAFEX/NNGA Conference, Dr. Ron Powell, a leading pawpaw researcher and farmer from Ohio, will give two presentations: one on pawpaw insects and diseases, and another on pawpaw interspecies.
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the only temperate zone species in the tropical Custard Apple family (Annonaceae). Some of its southern cousins include the tropical fruits Cherimoya (Annona cherimola), Soursop (Annona muricata) and Custard Apple (Annona reticulata). Pawpaw is a common understory plant in hardwood forests of the Midwest and Mid-South eastward to the Mid-Atlantic States.
Pawpaw fruits have been consumed by Native Americans as a nutritious, seasonal food for millennia, and have also been used medicinally. American consumers are fascinated by pawpaws but have very little opportunity to purchase or taste them.
When grown as a grafted "cultivar" in full sunlight, it bears a large edible fruit with large seeds. The mature fruit is yellow or brown when ripe and has a bright yellow or orange custard-like creamy flesh. Its flavor is "tropical-like," described as a combination of banana, mango and pineapple and varies by cultivar.
Pawpaw are higher in protein than bananas, apples or oranges and are a good source of calcium, anti-oxidants, and vitamin C. Pawpaw protein
contains all essential amino acids. The fatty acid profile is preferable to that of banana with 68% as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Pawpaw is eaten fresh and can be processed into pulp and used fresh or frozen in products such as ice-cream, yogurt, beverages, muffins and pies. The downside to marketing pawpaw is that the fruit is highly perishable, with a short "perfect ripeness window" of only a couple of days at room temperature.
In Missouri and other regions of the Eastern USA, pawpaw has the potential to become a highvalue, specialty niche crop with multiple avenues
for commercialization. Limited data indicate that the market price trend of pawpaw is increasing. In 2015, pawpaw prices were reported to reach $4.50 per pound in Rhode Island, a 37 percent increase from 2009 ($3.28 per pound). Pawpaw orchards can be profitable at wholesale prices greater than $1.60 per pound. In terms of value-added products (VAPs), like pawpaw muffins, there appears to be good consumer acceptance.
However, prior to becoming a successful specialty niche crop, a large amount of information will be required to reduce producer risk. This includes detailed, long-term pawpaw production and yield information, economic returns, market opportunities and risks, and increased consumer familiarity and acceptance of pawpaw and pawpaw VAPs.
Research scientists with the MU Center for Agroforestry conducted a preliminary studies that collected pawpaw yield data and documented the potential of the Missouri pawpaw market. Their consumer survey results suggested consumer awareness about pawpaw was minimal with approximately 70 percent of the surveyed consumers never having purchased pawpaw before taking the survey. In contrast to their unfamiliarity with the pawpaw fruit, 93 percent of the consumers who sampled pawpaw indicated that they would buy pawpaw. These findings indicate the need for more detailed, up-to-date market information to provide sound marketing guidance for current and future Missouri pawpaw producers.
In 2017, the Center for Agroforestry conducted two nationwide surveys to examine the current and potential pawpaw market along with consumer preferences by surveying pawpaw market participants across the value chain and pawpaw consumers, respectively.
Results from the market participant survey indicate that the pawpaw industry has many small-scale market participants and the majority of the participants operate their business as hobbies. Challenges in the industry include lack of production knowledge and skills, short shelf life of fresh pawpaws, and lack of public awareness. Market participants indicated that the pawpaw industry has low levels of competition
and there are very few substitutes for pawpaws. Future market demand and product prices are expected to increase.
Results from the consumer survey indicate that consumers' knowledge of pawpaw nutrition does not affect their purchase preferences. Consumers who know that pawpaws are perishable are less likely to purchase pawpaws compared to consumers who lack this information. They prefer organic-certified and pesticide free production compared with pawpaws produced using chemical fertilizers, pesticides or
herbicides. Strong preferences were noted for locally produced pawpaw.
Average consumer willingness-to-pay price premiums for organic-certified, pesticide free-certified, and locally produced pawpaw are $1.72, $ 1.40 and $2.11 per pound (compared to non-certified, non-certified, and unknown origin), respectively. Findings also study suggest significant opportunity for future growth of the pawpaw industry. Information on pawpaw production skills and increased consumer education is needed for market growth.
* "Green Horizons," Spring 2017, Vol. 22, No. 2: 1, 9.
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