(Oct. 17) REEDLEY, Calif. — Ripe ‘N Ready, a new grower-shipper alliance, expects to become the largest tree fruit shipper in the industry.

The Ripe ’N Ready name, previously a brand and growing program, now represents a marketing and selling alliance of Kings Canyon Corrin, Reedley; HMC Group Marketing Inc., Kingsburg; SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier; and Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler.Two Chilean produce companies, Fruticola Viconto SA and Gesex SA, both of Santiago, also are part of the alliance.

Ripe ’N Ready’s alliance is developing an organizational structure that will ultimately take it from being an alliance to a new corporation, said Steve Kenfield, former president of Kings Canyon Corrin and now president of Ripe ’N Ready.

Kenfield said the alliance could take on a different name at some point.

The group expects to have annual production of peaches, nectarines and plums of about 12 million cartons, Kenfield said.

Other officers are yet to be named, Kenfield said. The six companies providing produce to Ripe ’N Ready will continue to operate on their own and maintain their existing names, he said.

Kenfield said Ripe ‘N Ready will have its own office, but the location has not yet been determined. “It will be between Visalia and Fresno,” he said.

Kenfield described the Ripe ’N Ready brand as a taste strategy. It is not just a pre-ripening program, he said. Some of the fruit goes through a pre-ripening process and some doesn’t, he said. Much depends on the variety of the fruit.

The goal is to provide fruit that has a sweet, tree-ripened flavor that consumers like. That means picking fruit at a high level of maturity, he said. The fruit is hand packed then monitored as it goes through the ripening process. It is shipped within days of being harvested.

As part of the program, Ripe ’N Ready uses technology like infrared sensors to determine the sugar content of fruit being packed.

Kings Canyon Corrin has been working on the Ripe ‘N Ready project for several years with HMC Group Marketing, SunWest and the Chilean producers. It added Fowler Packing to help reach a production level that the alliance feels is necessary to operate effectively in the national marketplace.

The addition also will help expand the customer base throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Randy Parnagian, co-owner of Fowler Packing Co., said his company would begin providing fruit to Ripe ’N Ready at the start of the 2003 summer fruit season.

Parnagian said he expects his overall fruit production to increase, but he said it is too early to estimate how much the Ripe ’N Ready deal will add to his production.

Ripe ‘N Ready has a Web site at www.ripenready.com.

The fruit will be packed at the packing sheds operated by the four California alliance companies as well as the Chilean operations. That will keep Ripe ’N Ready fruit flowing year-round.

Ripe ’N Ready has point-of-sale materials available for retailers. The product was promoted at the recent Produce Marketing Association exposition in New Orleans.

Each piece of Ripe ’N Ready fruit will be identified with a sticker that includes a Price Look-Upnumber and the Web address.

Ripe ’N Ready also has information available for retailers on category management of the product, Kenfield said.
The six companies in the alliance will continue to produce fruit that does not involve the Ripe ’N Ready process. But the percentage of fruit going to Ripe ’N Ready is expected to increase, Kenfield said.

With more consumers trying the product, the potential for growth is great, he said. “The organization is driven by the significant potential to increase consumption of tree fruit when a consistently good tasting piece of fruit is offered to the consumer,” Kenfield said.

The Ripe ‘N Ready group considers tree fruit an underdeveloped produce category, mainly because of consumers being turned off by poor tasting fruit. Kenfield notes that per capita consumption of tree fruit has remained steady over the past 10 years.

U.S. per capita consumption is about seven pounds of peaches, plums and nectarines annually, said Blair Richardson, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley. That is about the same as in 1970, he said.

However, consumption in California has been on the rise, Richardson said. It is the rest of the nation grower-shippers must concentrate on most, he said.

Richardson said it is important to try and satisfy consumer tastes through choosing the right varieties of tree fruit and using the right cultural practices to provide consistently good tasting fruit for the consumer.

If that happens, the whole industry will benefit, he said.