Fijian-Australian red papaya research targets consumer preferences
Wednesday, 07 May 2014 13:56
The preferred size, shape, flavour and other characteristics of Fiji’s and Australia’s most promising red papaya varieties will be investigated in the coming months thanks to a unique agribusiness research and consumer profiling project underway as part of the Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (*PARDI), funded by Australia’s Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Through the new project, Fijian and Australian researchers will investigate the scope of consumer demand and preferences for specific red papaya varieties and pinpoint how best to raise the fruit’s retail and export performance. Their goal is to help industry overcome obstacles to expansion and significantly increase exports to New Zealand and other markets (i.e. Hong Kong and the USA).

Red papaya is renowned for its sweet flavour and papaya is incredibly healthy (the fruit is loaded with vitamins C, A and E and folate). And yet global consumption and sale of papaya is not as high as other tropical fruit such as banana and pineapple. Fiji for example has significant scope to increase exports of its branded ‘Fiji Red’ papaya and the Australian industry would benefit considerably from a modernised profile and the development of overseas markets.
 

Obstacles to industry expansion in Fiji are linked to frequent natural disasters, airfreight capacity constraints and post harvest losses in the wet season. The Australian industry, despite its relative sophistication, has not achieved strong brand awareness due to the numerous, varied quality varieties on the market.

According to project representative, Nature’s Way Cooperative (Fiji Ltd) research and extension manager, Kyle Stice, the papaya project follows the philosophy ‘consumer is king’.

“PARDI and Nature’s Way Cooperative envision that if industry can better respond to the preferences and demands of consumers, this will lead to increases in papaya consumption and sustainable economic benefits for all industry stakeholders,” said Mr Stice.

“Our researchers will conduct a range of studies to understand consumer preferences related to packaging, fruit size, appearance, taste, certification and branding and identify what a consumer is really looking for when they buy a papaya.” 

Consumer sensory preferences will also be studied as part of the project. This will be carried out by a specialist sensory analysis team from Queensland, Australia, who will survey Australian and New Zealand consumers and identify their tastes (in terms of flavour, texture and other sensory characteristics) and buying behaviour. The ‘Fiji Red’ papaya and a range of red and yellow varieties from Australia will be profiled.

PARDI leader, University of Queensland Associate Professor Steven Underhill, believes taste and sensory research will provide significant marketing benefits for industry.

“Up until now, Fijian and Australian papaya have not benefited from consumer research, whereas other industries, i.e. banana and pineapple, have considerably improved their profiles by targeting consumer needs,” said Assoc Prof Underhill.
 

“The PARDI project aims to bolster the popularity of papaya and help improve livelihoods in the South Pacific.”

Mr Stice believes the PARDI papaya project will lay a foundation for a more concerted marketing effort for ‘Fiji Red’ papaya.
 

“Our growers and exporters are far removed from the consumers who buy ‘Fiji Red’ papaya in overseas markets and there is a real need to bridge this information gap so that our industry can produce what the market really wants,” said Mr Stice. 

“Through the local industry’s dedication, and through support from organisations like ACIAR, we have been able to solve many major production constraints, including establishing a certified seed production scheme and developing systems for organic papaya production. 

“Despite a recent spate of natural disasters, the Fiji industry is in a position of oversupply which now allows us to concentrate on delivering what the market really wants.” 

The PARDI papaya project is a partnership involving Nature’s Way Cooperative Fiji Ltd, Fijian and Australian papaya farmers’ groups, the Queensland Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), Queensland’s peak export and investment facilitation agency, Trade and Investment Queensland (TIQ) and Horticulture Australia Ltd. Research outcomes will be made available to Fiji farmers, exporters and other stakeholders through Nature’s Way Cooperative which will also assist industry in some of the necessary interventions identified to improve quality and expand markets.

Research findings will be presented to the Australian industry courtesy of PARDI and DAFF representatives through seminars, scientific papers and news articles.

Ultimately joint Fijian-Australian industry efforts are a win-win for papaya industries and consumers in the region and abroad. South Pacific climate and landscapes lend themselves to papaya production and consumers can only benefit from ready access to top quality, flavoursome papaya.

For more information:

PARDI communications
Julie Lloyd, M: +0415 799 890

Contacts:
PARDI project leader
Assoc Prof Steven J R Underhill, M: +0412 140 032

Fiji project representative
Kyle Stice, M: +679-930-6645

*About PARDI
PARDI — ‘Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative’ — commenced in February 2010. The project is coordinated by The University of Queensland and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).  PARDI seeks to create sustainable livelihood development outcomes for the South Pacific forestry, fisheries and crop-based sectors. Scientists undertake supply-chain and market-driven research to identify constraints that impede local economic development. Research is aimed at achieving tangible solutions, such as new skills for locals, new technologies and product options.

PARDI is a partnership that involves The University of Queensland under the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), The University of the South Pacific, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, University of Adelaide, James Cook University, The University of the Sunshine Coast, the Queensland Government’s Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and Southern Cross University.

Links for further information:
PARDI: www.spc.int/lrd (go to ‘Focus Areas)
ACIAR: www.aciar.gov.au
Koko Siga Pacific: www.kokosiga.com
DAFF:  www.daff.gov.au
Fiji papaya project: www.fijipapayaproject.com
Horticulture Australia: www.horticulture.com.au

Photograph caption: Red papaya is not only incredibly healthy, it tastes great. New research into Fijian and Australian papaya will pinpoint consumer preferences and potentially increase papaya consumption.

“The PARDI project aims to bolster the popularity of papaya and help improve livelihoods in the South Pacific.” – Assoc Prof Steven Underhill.

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