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Three restaurant taste panels and an online consumer survey were conducted during 2012-2013 to assess whether Gulf consumers would be willing to pay a premium for place-name specific (i.e., “branded”) Gulf oysters over typical “generic” Gulf oysters, and whether consumers in other U.S. markets would be willing to pay for branded Gulf oysters compared to other U.S. branded oysters. Panelists in the two Gulf Coast taste panels had strong preferences for local oyster varieties when they were aware of oyster variety names and harvest locations (i.e., during labeled rounds). In the absence this information (i.e., during blind rounds), panelists had no such preferences, and in the case of the Houston taste panel, actually had a significant distaste for the local Galveston Bay variety. Panelists in the Chicago taste panel had strong preferences for the Island Creek oyster, in both the blinded and labeled rounds, although during the labeled rounds, the Point aux Pins oysters fared equally well (statistically) to the Island Creeks. Additionally, during the labeled rounds, the Apalachicola Bay and Point aux Pins oysters were statistically more likely to be chosen over the San Antonio Bay oysters. Respondents to the online survey tended to have higher perceptions of quality and seafood safety regarding their own regionally-produced oysters relative to oysters from other regions. There was limited variation in perceptions from one Gulf Coast variety to another, with the exception of the Apalachicola Bay variety being rated higher in several cases, and the more general “Gulf of Mexico” category being rated lower. Online survey results indicate that, consumers living in eastern Gulf states such as Georgia and Florida may be willing to pay a premium for branded Gulf oysters, particularly oysters from Florida and Louisiana. Gulf consumers living in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, however, did not show any strong preferences for branded oysters relative to cheaper generic ones. Among non-Gulf consumers, survey results indicate that while a price discount may be needed to sell branded Gulf oysters relative to local oysters (i.e., relative to, say, East Coast oysters in East Coast markets), that Gulf oysters generally fared no worse than other non-local oysters (i.e., West Coast oysters in East Coast markets). Of the Gulf oysters tested, Atlantic Coast respondents appear to prefer Louisiana oysters. Pacific Coast respondents appear to be indifferent between most Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast varieties. Also, it appears that relatively few respondents were concerned about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when answering questions about oysters, although these concerns did affect preferences for Gulf Coast oysters negatively in some cases. Less than 1% of all respondents indicated any concern regarding Vibrio vulnificus, bacteria, or similar. However, such concerns, though not cited explicitly, may yet be latent in the reported perceptions of oysters from various Gulf Coast locations. These results would indicate that there is some room for opportunity for branded Gulf Coast oysters along these other two coasts in places where other non-local oysters are marketed successfully. The major challenge appears to be whether the price discount necessary to entice consumers in these other markets to buy Gulf Coast oysters relative to local varieties is yet sufficiently high as to remain a profitable enterprise for Gulf Coast producers. The price discounts estimated here in the range of $5-$10 per half-dozen sounds like a steep discount, but given the large differential in retail prices in Atlantic and Pacific markets - where oysters retail anywhere from $15 to $25 per half-dozen-- compared to Gulf Coast markets – where they retail in the neighborhood of $7 to $10 -- it is possible that even with the discounts, the prices received in these alternative markets may remain profitable.


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