Suppliers test fresh-cut oranges, grapefruit

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

Various packaging methods will be tried, too. Last season, Del Monte tested 5-, 9- and 16-ounce retail packs.

Sunkist isn’t as specific about what it has in the works. Verloop says products will be examined based on technology, consumer demand and marketability.

Retailers seem cautiously optimistic about the potential of fresh-cut citrus.

Mike Maguire, director of produce operations for Market Basket Supermarkets Inc., a chain of 58 stores based in Tewksbury, Mass., says he wouldn’t be surprised to see fresh-cut citrus parallel the success of fresh-cut salads and melons.

“As the technology improves and they find better, safer ways to pack merchandise, I expect it to be a viable item,” he says.

The key is profitability. Consumers must take the product home, try it, be happy with it two or three days later and then come back for more to make the product successful.

“I’m not at the point where we are looking to jump into (fresh-cut citrus), but our eyes are always open,” he says.

DECIDING FACTORS

Flavor is the key factor that David Corsi, vice president of produce and floral operations for the 65-store Wegman’s Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., would take into account, followed by cost.

“Customers are willing to pay for the convenience, but there is a threshold,” he says.

Wegman’s already offers a mixed fruit product, and offering value-added fresh citrus would be a way to expand the line. Corsi would like to see fresh-cut versions of all varieties of navel oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.

Not everyone is sold on fresh-cut citrus yet.

“It doesn’t sound to me like it would be something the customer is looking for,” says Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for the 100-store Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis.

But jarred fruit performs well in Schnuck’s produce departments, he says, so he would be willing to give fresh-cut citrus a try. Flavor, shelf life and pricing are key factors he would consider before stocking it.

Fresh-cut might be a good way to boost consumption of citrus, too, especially grapefruit, says Edith Garrett, president of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association, Alexandria, Va. Grapefruit sales, especially among younger consumers, remain stagnant.

“It needs to be more convenient in order to get more out there on the breakfast plate and dinner plate,” she says.

And although some fresh-cut products can be prepared in-store, citrus is not one of them.



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