The baobab tree (Adansonia digitata
L.) is an important source of non-timber forest products in sub-Saharan Africa. Its fruits contain high amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and dietary fibre. In addition, other parts of the tree are traditionally used for human consumption, particularly during lean seasons. In line with the increasing demand for natural, healthy, and nutritious food products, the baobab has great potential to contribute to human nutrition and rural livelihoods. In Malawi, where demand for baobab has substantially increased within the last decade, baobab fruits are being processed into a variety of food and non-food products, such as fruit juice, ice-lollies, sweets, and cosmetics. Yet, information on the sociodemographic background and quality preferences of baobab consumers is scanty. The current study, therefore, aimed to (1) map the diversity of baobab products available in Malawi; (2) determine consumer segments and their preferences for the most common baobab food products; and (3) examine the contribution of major attributes of processed baobab food products on their price. We employed a mixed-methods approach including the analysis of 132 baobab products and a survey of 141 consumers in formal and informal retail outlets, adopting multistage and purposive sampling. Qualitative and quantitative data were analysed using cluster analysis, cross tabulation, and hedonic regression. Results pointed to two distinct consumer segments for baobab food products, largely following the formal–informal product divide currently existing in Malawi. Both segments clearly differed with regard to preferred product attributes. We also showed that extrinsic product attributes such as packaging quality, labelling, conformity with food standards, or health claims provided distinct differentiation potential for baobab food manufacturers. In addition to providing empirical evidence for the transition of baobab food products into higher-value market segments, our results can help food processing enterprises to improve the composition and marketing of their baobab products.
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