Now that pomegranate growers and shippers have figured out how to extract arils and package them in a way that protects the juicy seeds and offers a 14- to 18-day shelf life, the sky’s the limit for the category, sources say.
“Arils are a fantastic market, and if you take the edible portion out of the fruit and put it in a cup there’s huge value created for the consumer,” said Brad Paris, vice president and general manager of Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful.
After working with the challenging fruit for close to a decade and offering arils in limited distribution, Paris said Pom Wonderful has overcome its production hurdles with new technology and equipment. It now ships arils as far as the Northeastern U.S. and into the far eastern reaches of Canada.
“For food safety, we try and eliminate hands from the process,” he said. “Our aril production facility is so clean, in some ways it looks like a hospital operating room.”
Pom Wonderful packs arils in a rigid 4.3-ounce cup with a spoon for snacking and an 8-ounce family pack.
Paris expects aril production to continue until at least February.
“We’ll see how much fruit we have and how well it holds up in storage,” he said.
The arils business tripled last year for Ruby Fresh Pomegranates from Oro Loma Ranch, based in Firebaugh, Calif.
David Anthony, who handles domestic and Canadian sales, said Ruby Fresh is poised for more growth this year thanks to its high-tech equipment, 18-day shelf life and the fact it now offers arils 365 days a year.
“Arils are one of the fastest growing segments of the fresh pomegranate industry and we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Anthony said.
“Many grocery stores still don’t offer them.”
David White, president of Fresno, Calif.-based Trinity Fruit Sales Co., said he isn’t worried about arils overtaking the fresh pomegranate business.
“You’re seeing a lot more cups in the retail section, yet all those fruits are available in the produce section,” White said.
“Arils are a unique niche in the cut-fruit section,” he said. “It goes along with the trend of finding a different way to introduce the product to the consumer.”
Sales and import manager Chris Kragie sees plenty of room for Madera, Calif.-based broker Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., to grow its aril business.
“We’re going to be at PMA discussing with major chain stores what they want and how we can increase arils and also keep shrink down,” Kragie said.
“We still doing studies on our own whether it’s better to do it in Chile, but I believe it’s better to import the whole fruit — keeping the fruit in the form where it lasts longer — and removing the arils here,” he said.
Reedley, Calif.-based Youngstown Grape Distributors Inc., which grows in the San Joaquin Valley and imports pomegranates, uses a breathable film to keep its Three Bells and Red Robin punnets of arils fresh for shipment across North America.
President Mike Forrest, who starts his day sprinkling arils over raisin bran, said the biggest challenge now is to educate retailers and consumers and let more people know convenient arils exist.
To help promote demand, Youngstown has created a website — www.fresharils.com — and the company is active on Twitter and Facebook.
In the supermarket, Forrest said arils work best merchandised with fresh-cut fruit or with blueberries, but it’s important to keep them at 34 degrees to maximize shelf life.
Paris has also seen arils displayed next to salads and premium juices.
“They can work anywhere there’s refrigeration,” he said.