“Ready-to-eat” is playing a major role in the kiwifruit marketing lexicon.
Some companies, including Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Marketing — have a “retail-ready” ripening program, in which the company ripens fruit with ethylene, much the way the avocado shippers ripen their fruit. Sun Pacific markets Ripe & Easy kiwifruit.
In fact, Sun Pacific gets some help from an avocado shipper.
“They do some of their own ripening, as well, but we do ripen fruit for them,” said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., an Oxnard, Calif.-based avocado grower-shipper.
What Mission offers Sun Pacific is a network the former has established for its avocados, Wileman said.
“They don’t have forward distribution and ripening facilities across the U.S.,” he said.
It’s a good arrangement, said Dick Spezzano, a retail consultant and owner of Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Service.
“If you say you want 7 pounds pressure, you’re going to get 6-8 pounds in every box, every pallet, every load,” he said.
Preconditioning, particularly early in the kiwifruit season, is almost a necessity in order to have fruit that is ready to eat when the consumer buys it, Spezzano said.
“In early season, it would have a lot of dry matter, so it would take forever to ripen (without preconditioning),” he said.
The process has helped the category grow, Spezzano said.
“I have seen a lot more (ripened fruit) packs in stores. They’re gaining some traction,” he said.
Some packs come with a “spife” — a spoon-knife combination utensil — that can be used to cut the fruit and then scoop out its contents.
“Those kinds of things really help kiwi sales,” Spezzano said.
Preripening is an effective marketing tool, said Jean Ashby, Sun Pacific’s marketing director and category manager.
“The consumer is responding very favorably to the packaging and being able to purchase ripe fruit,” she said.
It works for timing of promotions, she said.
She said Sun Pacific works with retailers to create promotional programs at certain times of the year, keeping supplies and competition from other products in mind.
Other growers pre-ripen fruit at certain times, and some let the fruit ripen on its own.
“It’s the same protocol with bananas and avocados,” said Doug Phillips, owner of Visalia, Calif.-based Phillips Farms Marketing, which pre-ripens early-season fruit to ensure its consistency.