Diversification and Niche Marketing

If you have ever visited China during the summer and been to a market to buy peaches, you will note that they rarely resemble what we produce here in the U.S.  In fact, most Chinese cultivars have a greenish background color with white melting flesh and a very sweet or low-acid taste.  Asians, in general, and Chinese, in particular, are very fond of these often called “honey” peaches.

As noted in a previous column, peaches are native to China where they have been cultivated for four millennia.  Today, China produces more than one-third of the world’s peaches and more than 80% are white, melting fleshed types.

The Asian consumer here in the U.S. provides a market niche for American grown white peaches and nectarines that can help to add diversity and profit to your operation.  In addition, many non-Asians, including Hispanics and others, are increasingly buying white-fleshed peaches and nectarines.

A pivotal event in the development of the U.S. peach industry was the 1850 introduction of Chinese Cling from near Shanghai by Charles Downing.  Two open pollinated seedlings of Chinese Cling, Belle of Georgia (aka Georgia Belle, about 1875) and Elberta (1889), were introduced by Samuel H. Rumph of Marshallville, GA.  Interestingly, Georgia Belle was a white-fleshed peach like Chinese Cling, while Elberta was a yellow-fleshed peach, indicating Chinese Cling also carried the recessive gene for yellow flesh.

Although older white-fleshed cultivars such as Georgia Belle and later Nectar (1935) continue to be popular today, they have been limited to local markets because they are highly perishable and bruise easily.  On the other hand, Elberta was less subject to bruising than Georgia Belle and it was not as perishable.

By the late 1800s to the early 1900s, numerous technological advancements such as refrigerated rail cars enabled shipping Elberta and other cultivars to distant markets.  Most of the hundreds of yellow-fleshed cultivars were developed in the last hundred years, and most of our U.S. peach industry is based on a very narrow genetic base that traces back to Elberta as a progenitor.

New And Improved

In the last two decades, numerous breeding programs from around the world have developed many new white-fleshed peaches and nectarines to expand the opportunities for U.S. growers.  These include whites that range from high to low acidity, as well as melting, non-melting, and crisp textures, which may appeal to different groups.  One of these new-generation whites is Sugar Giant, noted for its excellent size, color, firmness, and eating quality.  Sugar Giant typifies a series out of the Zaiger Genetics program (Modesto, CA) noted for their low-acid taste and crisp flesh.  White peaches bred in the eastern U.S. are still mostly normal acidity.

In our peach evaluation program at Clemson University, we are evaluating more than 70 different white peaches, nectarines, and peen taos (Chinese for “flat peach”) at four locations in South Carolina.  These include fruits developed in China, Italy, France, California, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Carolina. To date, the most promising varieties for the southeastern U.S. are as follows:  Sugar May, Scarletpearl, Snowbrite, Southern Pearl, White Lady, Sugar Lady, Summer Sweet, Sugar Giant, Stark’s Summer Pearl, Snow King, and Snow Giant.  To see digital photos and performance data of these and other varieties in South Carolina, please visit my peach Web site (Web address noted in the footnote); go to the section titled “Peach Information” and choose the link for “Variety Evaluations.”

Whether you are selling fruit at the local roadside stand or farmer’s market, or you are shipping by tractor-trailer to a distant market, there are many white-fleshed cultivars available now to establish a niche and maintain production through most of the growing season.  In a recent trip to my local grocery chain store, I noted that southeastern yellow-fleshed peaches were being sold for 69¢ per pound compared to white-fleshed peaches and nectarines that were being sold for $2.99 per pound.  Some consumers are obviously willing to pay a premium price for this niche product.

This column by Dr. Desmond R. Layne, “Diversification and Niche Marketing”, appeared in the August 2006 issue of The American Fruit Growermagazine on page 36.