There were so many failures during the first three years of testing that Kim seriously considered abandoning the project, she said. But four years into the testing, the trio had identified a limited number of varietal candidates.
“Several planets had to line up perfectly,” Kim Gaarde said. “Candidates had to meet strict flavor profile parameters, had to withstand the process, did not oxidize when cut and could deliver shelf life exceeding 15 days.”
The next ingredient in the formula had to be the proper packaging material. The company sought the services of Brandenburg.
At first, Brandenburg was more than skeptical, but after learning about the process he changed his mind.
“I believe they’ve developed a marketable, pretty exciting product,” he said.
Brandenburg brought in London-based Bunzl PLC to develop the packaging materials.
Test marketing of fresh-cut peaches and nectarines could be in the marketplace within months, Kim said.
“It can be a very agile operation,” she said. “The equipment is readily available, we’ve identified the varieties that work, the process works even on organic fruit and the packaging materials have been developed.”
In addition to the convenience, Brandenburg said the fruits’ high sugar content will make the sliced peaches and nectarines more attractive snacks for children than vegetables.
“If you can get convenience without sacrificing quality, then that’s huge,” he said. “And that’s really what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
Fresh-cut stone fruit could be a new revenue stream for the industry. In 2005, fast food giant McDonald’s Corp. purchased 104 million pounds of apples, which represented 2.5% of the domestic fresh apple volume, Eric Gaarde said.
If the percentage is applied to the 2005 California peach and nectarine crops, it would translate to 970,000 pounds of fruit, he said.
“I can see growers planting trees specifically for fresh cut,” Eric Gaarde said.
An advantage, he said, is that smaller pieces of fruit are best for fresh-cut, not the 40s, 42s and 48s the retailers desire.
The potential for the fresh-cut fruit also is evidenced by the carrot industry, Brandenburg said.
“There are more carrots grown today specifically for fresh-cut than for whole carrots,” he said.