(Oct. 15) CORAL GABLES, Fla. — In an effort to meet an increasing demand by health-conscious consumers, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. has developed a pineapple variety com-pany officials say combines great taste with a longer shelf life.

The Del Monte Honey Gold pineapple is the result of five years of research and is expected to be available in 2006. Company officials anticipate patent approval in early 2004.

According to Fresh Del Monte, the new pineapple has a smoother than normal, bright yel-low exterior, a slightly sweet taste and a strong aroma.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” said John Loughridge, vice president of marketing. “It’s a very distinctive looking pineapple with a unique, refreshing taste. It’s another extension in our pineapple family.”

The Honey Gold pineapple follows in the footsteps of Fresh Del Monte’s flagship pineapple, the Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet, which was introduced in 1996 and is considered the world’s sweetest pineapple.

Del Monte controls about 70% of the fresh, whole pineapple business, Loughridge said, which is valued at more than $1 billion per year.

Pineapples accounted for 65% of the company’s gross profit in 1998, the last year Del Monte broke out the numbers, reported The Wall Street Journal in early October. Of its $2 billion in revenue last year, $440 million came from pineapples, the paper reported.

Loughridge said the Honey Gold has a more yellowish color of flesh instead of gold and would be introduced as a complimentary product in the company’s gold line.

“It may replace some of our MB2 (gold) varieties, but it depends on consumer demand,” he said. “The intent is to expand the pie. We’re trying to find a niche and bring in a whole new group of consumers.”

Loughridge said the new product is also important from another standpoint.

“It lets people in the industry know we are still the pineapple leaders, and we’re not sitting on our laurels,” he said.