(July 22) Consumers will have to wait a little longer for fresh-cut citrus.

A deal that would have allowed Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., to market fresh-cut citrus using citrus-peeling equipment owned by the Florida Department of Citrus has been terminated because of project costs.

The decision to void the contract came after Del Monte determined more money would be needed to modify the machinery to meet production needs.

“We had a meeting in June and decided this technology was not something we should go forward with,” said John Loughridge, vice president of marketing for Del Monte. “There are alternative types of technology we’re actively looking at.”

Loughridge said Del Monte still hopes to eventually launch its fresh-peeled operation.

“We’re actively looking at alternative types of technology,” Loughridge said. “Our intent is to offer fresh-cut citrus to consumers in a cost-effective way.”

Once the new technology is developed, Jim Naff, deputy director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said the possibility is good for another alliance between the department and Del Monte.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “We have a very good relationship with Del Monte, and Del Monte is still very interested in fresh-cut citrus. They’re going to pursue some way to make it commercially possible.”

Naff predicted a short time frame.

“There will be fresh-cut citrus in the marketplace soon,” he said. “Probably in the next couple of years you’ll see some commercially produced product out there.”

In October 2001, Del Monte partnered with the Department of Citrus in an effort to position fresh-cut oranges and grapefruit as a grab-and-go snack choice.

Del Monte’s experience in fresh-cut, as well as its expertise in brands and marketing, was a good fit with the department’s efforts to increase consumption of fresh grapefruit and oranges, Naff said.

Del Monte established a partnership for proprietary peeling technology developed by the department in conjunction with Heinzen Manufacturing International of Gilroy, Calif.

After obtaining a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the department spent $500,000 to purchase and install the citrus-peeling machinery in its Plant City, Fla., facility and gave Del Monte $250,000 to market the proposed program.

The department planned to recover the amount through royalties that Del Monte would pay the department.

Naff said a prototype developed by the department worked well but an expanded version designed to handle the anticipated market demand was plagued with mechanical problems.