Kiwifruit growers get on board with ripening programs for retail

09/21/2012 01:35:00 PM
Jim Offner

“Ready-to-eat” is playing a major role in the kiwifruit marketing lexicon.

Some companies, including Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Marketing — have a “retail-ready” ripening program, in which the company ripens fruit with ethylene, much the way the avocado shippers ripen their fruit. Sun Pacific markets Ripe & Easy kiwifruit.

In fact, Sun Pacific gets some help from an avocado shipper.

“They do some of their own ripening, as well, but we do ripen fruit for them,” said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., an Oxnard, Calif.-based avocado grower-shipper.

What Mission offers Sun Pacific is a network the former has established for its avocados, Wileman said.

“They don’t have forward distribution and ripening facilities across the U.S.,” he said.

It’s a good arrangement, said Dick Spezzano, a retail consultant and owner of Monrovia, Calif.-based Spezzano Consulting Service.

“If you say you want 7 pounds pressure, you’re going to get 6-8 pounds in every box, every pallet, every load,” he said.

Preconditioning, particularly early in the kiwifruit season, is almost a necessity in order to have fruit that is ready to eat when the consumer buys it, Spezzano said.

“In early season, it would have a lot of dry matter, so it would take forever to ripen (without preconditioning),” he said.

The process has helped the category grow, Spezzano said.

“I have seen a lot more (ripened fruit) packs in stores. They’re gaining some traction,” he said.

Some packs come with a “spife” — a spoon-knife combination utensil — that can be used to cut the fruit and then scoop out its contents.

“Those kinds of things really help kiwi sales,” Spezzano said.

Preripening is an effective marketing tool, said Jean Ashby, Sun Pacific’s marketing director and category manager.

“The consumer is responding very favorably to the packaging and being able to purchase ripe fruit,” she said.

It works for timing of promotions, she said.

She said Sun Pacific works with retailers to create promotional programs at certain times of the year, keeping supplies and competition from other products in mind.

Other growers pre-ripen fruit at certain times, and some let the fruit ripen on its own.

“It’s the same protocol with bananas and avocados,” said Doug Phillips, owner of Visalia, Calif.-based Phillips Farms Marketing, which pre-ripens early-season fruit to ensure its consistency.

Educating consumers on when a kiwifruit is ready to eat also is an important part of the ripening program, Phillips said.

“When it yields to pressure, it’s ripe, like an avocado,” he said.

Some prefer, overall, to let nature take its course.

“I like to wait for the late harvest so we get the high dry matter,” said David Posner, president and chief executive officer of Capitola, Calif.-based marketer Awe Sum Organics.

Posner said a later harvest can bring sweeter fruit, without necessarily sending it through a conditioning process.

“Leave it on the right amount of time until you get the proper amount of dry matter and then you know it’s time to harvest,” he said.

What results is a sweeter piece of fruit that leads to repeat sales, Posner said.

“That fruit stores better and longer,” he said.



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