Suppliers test fresh-cut oranges, grapefruit

12/09/2003 12:00:00 AM
Tom Burfield

(Dec. 8) A stroll down the fresh-cut aisle already reveals products from broccoli to watermelon, but two major suppliers are poised to launch yet another weapon for your fresh-cut arsenal.

Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., and Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., are working on individual fresh-cut citrus products, and neither knows how soon research and development efforts will bear fruit.

Del Monte appears to be the front-runner. The company test-marketed some fresh-cut items in the Southeast early this year and planned to resume testing this fall as Florida citrus becomes available.

While some bugs remain to be worked out, John Loughridge, vice president of marketing, does not rule out the possibility that Del Monte will launch additional fresh-cut citrus products this season for wider distribution.

At Sunkist, Robert Verloop, vice president of marketing and promotion, says the company is conducting research and has done some product testing.

“We continue to go through the process to make sure the product meets our standards and our needs — both for Sunkist and for our retailers, foodservice operators and consumers,” he says.
There’s little doubt that there’s a place for fresh-cut citrus on produce department shelves.

“Based on research with consumers, retailers and foodservice operators, there is definite interest in a high-quality, premium product that is fresh-cut,” Verloop says.

Judging from fresh-cut’s explosive growth in the past 10 years, Eric Boomhower, public affairs manager for the Florida Department of Citrus in Lakeland, calls the category “a huge area of opportunity.”

“Everything points to convenience,” he says, citing the success of cored and cut pineapples and cut melons, not to mention the phenomenal success of fresh-cut salad mixes.

BARRIER BUSTER

For consumers, the biggest barrier to whole citrus is the peel, which explains why citrus is not easily eaten as a snack.

The Florida Department of Citrus has come up with its own peeling technology and announced a licensing agreement with Del Monte, which is adapting the technology to meet the needs of commercial production.

But there are other challenges.

Loughridge doesn’t think consumers are inclined to buy containers of plain, sectioned oranges or grapefruit. That’s why the company also has tested combinations of ruby red grapefruit, white grapefruit and valencia oranges. Cottage cheese, dips or citrus salads could be in the future.


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