Asian-Americans living on the East Coast want more of their native vegetables, and eastern states are well-suited to growing these specialty crops, according to a new study.
The study, led by Ramu Govindasamy, professor and chairman of the Rutgers University Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, involved 17 researchers from four universities, including Gene McAvoy and Shouan Zhang from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
"The rapid expansion of Asian populations in the United States provides significant opportunities and challenges for the produce sector to take advantage of their close proximity to densely populated areas," Zhang said in a UF/IFAS press release.
Researchers surveyed Asian Americans' preferences in Asian vegetables, then tested the crops in various Eastern states to see how well they would grow, hoping to help growers focus on crops with the best potential.
In the UF/IFAS release, McAvoy said that Asians buy 2½ to 3 times as many vegetables as Caucasians, so it is only natural that researchers determine the most popular vegetables for Asian-Americans and the feasibility of growing those products.
The potential opportunity is not lost on Florida growers like Roland Yee, of Yee Farms, whose family has been growing Asian vegetables in the U.S. for more than 70 years.
Yee Farms moved from New Jersey to Florida several years ago to take advantage of the longer growing season. The company now manages 800 acres, growing 14 Asian products, including bok choy and napa cabbage.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, Yee has definitely seen the demand increase, but that has come with its own set of challenges.
As this niche has become more "mainstream" and demand has increased, Yee notes that competition has become tougher - especially from foreign markets like Mexico.
"This used to be a domestic market," he said. "Now it is international."
In order to maintain a competitive edge, Yee Farms is focused on consistency and quality as a way to increase yield.
"With all the product available to buyers, they can be quick to reject poor quality," he said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Asian-Americans jumped by 32% from 2000 to 2011. Asians are expected to make up about 40 million Americans by 2030. The study found that on the East Coast alone, there were 5.8 million Asian Americans in 2014, according to the release.
Though the study focused on Asian-American consumers in Florida and the eastern U.S., researchers visited Asian grocery stores, farmers' markets and chain supermarkets. They found other ethnic groups such as white Americans and Latin Americans buying and consuming "plenty of Asian vegetables."
The study was published in HortScience, the journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.