Fruit choices increasing in value-added category

03/21/2009 12:00:00 AM
Don Schrack

(March 19, Fresh-Cut/Value-Added Produce Marketing Profile) When it comes to the number of commodities available to shoppers, fruits have lagged behind their vegetable relatives in the value-added category. But the fruits are trying harder, getting help from technological breakthroughs and guidance from consumers.

“When we introduced the sliced apples, we thought we’d do well with one-pound bags, but that there would be a huge market for smaller bags for lunches,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

Market forces had a different take on the value-added item. Parents discovered it took just seconds to transfer a handful of apple slices from a larger bag to a lunch box, which turned out to be more cost efficient for shoppers and for Stemilt.

“With the small bags, you’re in the plastics business more than you’re in the apple business,” Pepperl said. “There’s so much more value in larger bags.”

Stemilt got the message and has launched 2-pound, resealing bags of sliced apples, which, Pepperl said, have ended up being one of the company’s better packages.

“Retailers are getting a higher price ring at a lower price per ounce,” he said. “In some cases, we’re seeing retailers sell sliced apples at a cheaper price per pound than whole apples.”

The change has helped Stemilt drive down packaging costs and increase production on the packing lines, Pepperl said.

Technology’s role

Speed is irrelevant for the True Fruit line of items packaged by Oakland, Calif.-based Sundia Corp. Technology is the vital ingredient.

An oxygen-blocking film imbedded in the fruit cups results in shelf life of nine months to a year, said Dan Hoskins, chief operating officer and general manager.

The True Fruit line, launched in July 2007, has been so warmly received that Sundia added organic True Fruit cups Jan. 3.

“If given the option, many consumers will buy organic,” Hoskins said. “We’ve put two trends together – organic and convenience.”

Fresh-cut fruit products cannot achieve the long shelf life of the True Fruit cups, he said. And there’s the issue of food safety.

“I always hear that element with clamshells,” Hoskins said. “The cups are pasteurized, eliminating food safety concerns.”

Stemilt has added technology to its sliced apple packing lines, technology that improves quality and reduces food safety issues, Pepperl said.

“Our near-infrared detection equipment actually pulls out low pressure apples and as a result enhances the crispness experience,” he said. “We really feel that when shoppers buy sliced apples, their expectations are high.”


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