If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the California citrus industry should feel complimented that counterparts in Australia have borrowed its new citrus maturity standards.
Known as the BrimA standard down under, it is a voluntary brix-acid ratio that stems from widespread consumer surveys and tastings of oranges and mandarins, said Andrew Harty, market development manager, and Nathan Hancock, manager of market information and quality, both of Citrus Australia Ltd., Queensland.
“Maturity standards are not regulated in Australia (as they are in California), but we are now seeing widespread acceptance and monitoring of our standards throughout our supply chain, from growers and packers through to wholesalers and retailers,” they wrote in an e-mail. “And although the Australian Citrus Quality Standards program is initially targeted at our domestic market, it will inevitably have positive spinoffs for our export sector.”
They said several packers have already bought into the program.
“We are already seeing a far greater focus on maturity testing in our orchards and packing sheds, and several packers have installed NIR brix grading equipment,” Harty and Hancock said. “Our industry bodies are actively discussing research projects, which can back the taste quality message, and we hope to see these implemented soon.”
The consumer surveys were coordinated by Citrus Australia in conjunction with Fruit West — a Western Australia fruit producers’ committee — and Curtin University, Perth.
They involved more than 1,300 panelists in Perth and Melbourne from a wide range of cultures and ethnicities. Participants were asked their preferences after tasting fruit with different levels of brix-to-acid ratios.
In the end, most of the panelists preferred fruit with a higher BrimA, which also was almost identical to the California Standard that is now mandatory in that state, Harty and Hancock said.
That standard uses a new formula to calculate minimum maturity that more closely relates to flavor than the old soluble solids content/titratable acidity ratio of 8:1. Much like Australia’s program, the California program was based on years of consumer and expert taste panel evaluations.
“This again backs up our assumption that the new standards we have adopted will have global acceptance,” they said in reference to California’s success.
Hancock said the minimum quality standards were introduced on a voluntary basis two years ago to support greater consistency in flavor and encourage repeat purchases.
He also visited California last year, where the California Standard was shown to be a better indicator of consumer preferences than the standard brix-acid ratio.
Because export and domestic fruit shipments are from the same fruit loads, Hancock said they were subject to the same maturity testing. That means that the taste of Australian citrus will continue to improve.
“Whether our consumer is here in Australia or in another country, we believe flavor is what drives consumption,” Harty and Hancock said.