The fresh pomegranate business is taking off as a value-added convenience item.

“The aril program is gaining momentum,” said Bill Purewal, president of Selma, Calif.-based PureFresh Sales Inc.

Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council, agrees that fresh arils are an important aspect of the pomegranate’s increasing popularity.

“We’re starting to see cups and tray packs available in retail. And not only that, but arils are gaining enormous popularity in foodservice,” Tjerandsen said.

Purewal said that if companies can provide retailers with the product year-round, they are more likely to carry it, which is beneficial to sales.

“We can see a lot of retailers that are willing to carry it with it being year-round,” he said. “Every year we get a few more customers to keep them on the shelf year-round.”

In terms of packaging, PureFresh has a few options, including a 4.3-ounce product, all the way up to an 8-ounce pack.

Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful also offers pomegranate arils under its Pom Poms line in 4.3- and 8-ounce serving sizes.

The 4.3-ounce option has 100 calories and comes with a spoon inside the container for snacking on the go.

“There’s no doubt that opening a pomegranate requires a bit of commitment for the consumers, so if we can provide a convenient way to get the benefits of pomegranates, there’s really a business opportunity there,” said Marc Seguin, vice president of marketing.

Seguin expects to see the company’s aril product sales to double in size this year and possibly double again next year.

“We sold everything we had last year. They’ve really started to sell more and more,” he said.

Premium price

The value-added item does carry a premium price because of the convenience aspect, although Purewal said consumers are still willing to buy the product.

“For someone who might not buy a pomegranate because of the hard work involved in taking the seeds out, arils are a great alternative to buying a whole pomegranate. And they can eat them year-round,” Purewal said.

Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Produce, Fresno, Calif., said he sees the aril market as a potential growing part of the industry, if companies can offer them at a good price.

“If the price point works, it could help increase exposure,” he said.

Tjerandsen said the premium price has to do with the time and labor involved in removing the arils from the fruit.

“Just as consumers would have substantial labor involved in extracting arils, marketers do as well,” he said.

In addition, Tjerandsen said the arils have a relatively short shelf life once extracted from the husks.

“It’s important to get them to the customers quickly,” he said.

Because the aril market is still relatively new, companies haven’t yet perfected their processes.

“Marketers of arils are still experimenting with technology to increase shelf life. There’s a learning curve involved and we expect to see substantial changes in the next few years,” Tjerandsen said.

Torosian agrees that companies need to look into efficient processing methods.

“It’s a big commitment and a huge financial investment, but any way to increase pomegranate sales is positive for the industry,” he said.

Having arils available doesn’t seem to affect the demand for fresh, whole pomegranates, although the aril business may slow down a bit, according to Purewal, who said a lot of consumers like to do the work themselves.

“The arils pick up steam in late January and February when the fresh are no longer on the shelf,” he said.

That demand tends to stay strong through the rest of the year.

“Even in summer, there is demand for arils,” Purewal said.

Since rebranding its aril product and changing the packaging to include two breathable, sealed servings of arils, DJ Forry, Reedley, Calif., has seen an increase in sales, vice president John Forry said.

The package has two 2.2-ounce servings of arils.

The company began its Sweet Bursts program in May with supply from Peru, which transitioned in Chile.

Beginning in October, the company plans to begin with domestic supplies from its California wonderful variety.

An increased overall demand for aril products is also affecting sales.

“It’s been a process to educate people on what pomegranates are, and the shelf life is critical, but they are starting to realize it holds its shelf life until the date printed on the package,” Forry said.

The response has been positive to the new packaging and rebranding.

“The response overall is positive,” said Ray England, vice president of marketing.

From the retail perspective, England said it’s still a fairly new idea for retailers to carry arils during the summer because of the freight issues and other incremental costs that come with using offshore products.

“Costs run higher in the summertime,” he said.

Still, England said retailers who do decide to provide arils year-round have seen good results.