(Feb. 25) CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. began initial shipments of its long-awaited fresh-cut citrus products in mid-February.
“After a long process, we finally got the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) approval to start processing at the Plant City (Fla.) facility seven to 10 days ago,” John Loughridge, Del Monte’s vice president of marketing, said Feb. 19. “We had our first couple of test orders just this week.
“There are still some bugs to figure out. It’s difficult to take a small, lab-type process that’s producing pounds and turn that into tons, but we’ve made tremendous strides.”
Initial customers working with Del Monte as it begins its testing phase of the fresh-cut citrus program include two retailers — one a national account with stores in the Southeast and the other a regional chain in the area, Loughridge said.
The products include ruby red grapefruit, white grapefruit, valencia oranges and mixtures of that fruit, he said. Exact package sizes and price points will be determined as production ramps up and consumer preferences are identified, he added.
“We know we need an individual size,” Loughridge said, noting a likely pack will be in the 5-ounce to 8-ounce range. Another pack size, to serve more than one person, could be in the 16-ounce to 20-ounce range.
Foodservice packs may come in 2½-pound or 5-pound containers, he said.
Providing fresh-cut citrus to foodservice buyers, in fact, could be where Del Monte makes much of its early headway on the program.
“I think it’s going to be a simple calculation for a foodservice operator,” Loughridge said, referring to portion control and plate costs. “That’s a business decision that can be made quickly. With retail, you’re talking about changing shopping patterns. It’s like with bagged salads when they first came out. You have to have a good product and good value.”
Fresh Del Monte first inked a deal with the Lakeland-based Florida Department of Citrus in October 2001 for long-term rights to proprietary peeling technology. The department expects to recover the $1 million it spent developing the technology by charging Del Monte royalties over the course of its five-year contract, which contains a five-year renewal if Del Monte meets performance thresholds, according to the department.
Del Monte has spent more than a year converting the department’s prototype machinery into an industrial application capable of churning out heavy volume, Loughridge said.