(Jan. 6) All observers believe the best prospects for fresh-cut growth in Canada and the U.S. lie in fresh-cut fruit.

Scan data indicate that cut-fruit sales are only about one-tenth those of packaged salads — $200 million vs. $2 billion, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.

Carl Svangun, vice president and general manager of Sun Rich Fresh Foods Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, said the fresh-cut fruit category is on the verge of even more aggressive growth in Canada.

“There is strong motivation for the Canadian retailer to stock fresh-cut fruit, but to some degree they are lagging behind the U.S. in cold chain management and capital expenditures,” he said.

As infrastructure improves, fresh-cut fruit sales will rise rapidly, he said.

“What you are seeing is the Ready Pacs and Del Montes doing a better and better job, giving the produce more shelf life and more consistent quality, appearance and year-round availability — all the things that drive a category,” said Dick Spezzano, president of Spezzano Consulting Service Inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Spezzano said the next generation of fresh-cut fruit is appearing on store shelves, such as sliced strawberries mixed with kiwifruit and melons mixed with citrus segments.

John Loughridge, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., said the company believes there is tremendous upside in fresh-cut fruit and seeks to expand its business to $200 million to $300 million annually.

Loughridge declined to estimate current sales.

“As we figure out how to convey value to consumers, (fresh-cut fruit growth) will be like packaged salads,” he said.

Besides its network of processors in the U.S., Loughridge said Del Monte is considering how to enter the Canadian market in Toronto or Montreal.

“We see fantastic potential in Canada. They are waiting for a company like Del Monte to have a presence,” he said.