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“Pear Shape” Takes on New Meaning
Friday, 23 June 2017 22:16
Urbana, Illinois (University of Illinois), June 2017— At $8 each, is buying a Buddha-shaped pear foolish or fun? Your age may predict your answer.

Square watermelons, star- and heart-shaped cucumbers, and those Buddha-shaped pears can be found today in the produce bins of some grocery stores. Who buys them? And why? A recent University of Illinois study found younger consumers with an eye for adventure are more likely to purchase these avant-garde fruits.
Growing a pear shaped like a Buddha is not an easy task. There is a lot of physical labor involved. A clear plastic mold must be placed over each new pear fruit as it begins to grow, and then removed when the fruit is large enough to fill the mold. The harvest time is critical for shipping. It’s no wonder they retail for $8 to $9 per piece.

“Before we started researching this, we had no idea that there were so many different novelty-shaped fruits and vegetables on the market,” says U of I agricultural communications professor Lulu Rodriquez, who led the study. “We were curious. How do growers find buyers for such unique food products?”

Rodriguez says she and her team started with the theory of reasoned action to help explain why people might purchase something like this. The theory is based on the assumption that human beings usually behave in a sensible manner. Their intention to perform an action, the theory says, is influenced by their attitude toward the behavior and their subjective norms, particularly whether they sense that those who are important to them agree with and support that action.

“At first glance, buying a Buddha-shaped pear seems like an irrational purchase. So we thought there must be a hedonic, consumer motivation for wanting to own such an unusual item—that is, just for the sheer pleasure of owning it. The undergrads we talked to said at $8 a piece, they’d buy one Buddha pear, take a picture of themselves holding it, and post it on Facebook. It was something to brag about,” she says. “They’re obviously not purchasing the pear for its nutrition. So we included a novelty-seeking component by adding a few questions to the survey and then correlating the answers to see a path of influence.”

For the study, 336 people participated. Respondents first read a news article about the novel pears, then completed a questionnaire that included questions about their attitudes toward the pears, what they think their friends and family think about the idea of buying these products, their novelty-seeking tendencies, whether or not they would buy them, and how much they’d pay for them. The survey also collected demographic information—including gender, age, nationality, education level, religious affiliation, and household income.

The results show that younger consumers with lower incomes are more inclined to purchase the uniquely shaped pears, not older consumers who may have more disposable income to splurge on them.

Rodriguez says the novelty-shaped pears are grown in China in an orchard that is no different than any other, and it’s likely only a small portion of the trees are relegated to growing the novelty-shaped fruit. The unconventional shapes mean big profit for the growers—about 1,000 percent greater return for their investment and labor.

“I doubt that American farmers would try this as a value-added product. It’s just so funky,” Rodriquez says. “It caters to a very niche market. Putting molds on the fruit, monitoring the growth, and harvesting them takes a lot of labor. In China, labor is abundant. It’s easier there for a grower to do that.” 
 
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