(Sept.30) ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Figuring out how to expand on the success of cut melons throughout the fruit category was one of the central themes of the “Drawing Board to Cutting Board” annual fall seminar, sponsored by the International Fresh-cut Produce Association Sept. 19-20.

The event, drawing 116 attendees, included 20 presentations on topics relating to fresh-cut fruit. The speakers represented a gamut of organizations, from the Food and Drug Administration to private industry, and addressed issues including sourcing of raw product, packing technology, shelf life research, consumer perceptions and food safety.

Edith Garrett, president of IFPA, Alexandria, said the event did a good job of presenting new information on a variety of approaches that will help the fresh-cut industry meet some of the challenges of bringing more fresh-cut fruit to the market. Garrett said suppliers must not overlook taste when they provide convenience.

FOCUS ON FLAVOR

“The quality and the flavor are so much more important in fruit because the eating experience is more like a snack food,” she said. While vegetables can use dips to dress up their taste, she said, cut fruit must stand on its own.

Bob Swartwout, fresh-cut division manager for Standard Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc., Dallas, said melons are to the cut fruit category what iceberg lettuce is to the salad category.

He noted that in 1987, lettuce in bins for processing was an insignificant volume. Today, he said, lettuce in bins accounts for between 35% and 40% of lettuce grown.

Some of the same refinements that have occurred in the lettuce trade — contract growing, specialized varieties, bin shipments, and advances in processing technology — must occur in melons and other fruit.

“What we need is a Manhattan project in variety development,” he said.

Swartwout recommended that grower-shippers partner with seed companies for variety development, in addition to providing year-round supply, by creating alliances with growers in other regions. Food safety and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point programs should be applied in all growing, packing and shipping operations, he said.

MELONS AS EXAMPLE

Garrett said melons may provide an example of what can be done with other fruit.

“Once the melons are figured out, we can apply the same general approach to the other fruit,” she said, noting vast potential for citrus and tropical fruits.

One speaker outlined the opportunities for fresh-cut apples.

Tony Freytag, national marketing director for Dovex Marketing Co. and director of Crunch Pak LLC, both of Wenatchee, Wash., said the synergy between convenience and packing technology points to good things in the marketplace.

The inspiration to create packages of sliced apples came partially from the observation of the premium paid for lettuce and the success of the baby carrot business.

The initial challenge for Crunch Pak was finding a method to prevent browning. The solution is NatureSeal coating technology and modified-atmosphere packaging that he said allows Crunch Pak apples to enjoy as much as a 30-day shelf life. Overall, he said, Crunch Pak cuts about 200,000 pounds to 500,0000 pounds of apples per week, up from about 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per week a year ago.

Crunch Pak markets to more than 5,000 retail stores, and in August the company signed a two-year agreement to market the product to Safeway stores in the U.S. and Canada.