“A fundamental issue is that consumption over the last decade or so has been flat to declining,” he said. “But we have made progress on variety management.”
Wallace is pleased with all of the varieties of stone fruit that Fruit Patch now offers, “but there may be opportunities that are even better in some time slots,” he said.
To help find those opportunities, he said, Fruit Patch has retained Fruit Dynamics Inc., Fresno, a firm that has converted years of data into 13 measurable standards for stone fruit taste and consistency.
“The industry has made big gains, but we’re 90% to 95% of where we need to be,” Wallace said.
Improved taste and consistency will help to increase consumption, but the industry also needs to increase the average purchase from individual pieces of fruit to multiple pieces of fruit, he said. That could mean the use of new merchandising tools such as clamshells or mesh bags.
Another industry challenge, Wallace said, is convenience.
“Few people have the time these days to bake peach pies and cobblers,” he said. “The industry needs to develop quick and easy recipes.”
While stone fruit remains a strong player in the company’s inventory, Fruit Patch plans to continue to market other commodities, Wallace said. The sales staff is working on the fall persimmon, kiwifruit and Asian pear crops. In response to its growers, Fruit Patch also is marketing specialty citrus, mandarins and satsumas, he said.
For 2010, the company also plans to expand its table grape grower base.
“We want to partner with growers and to help grow their businesses,” he said. “Now we have to get that fruit into the mouths of consumers.”