(July 10) REEDLEY, Calif. — Blair Richardson, California Tree Fruit Agreement president, voices optimism about the future of tree fruit and is happy to be president of the agreement.

Richardson, whose background includes market and sales development in the food and cotton businesses, became president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement March 28. Although his background was not directly connected with fresh fruit, he is excited about the fruit season and opportunities that lie ahead.

Richardson said he is pleased that fruit quality is very good this summer and, with new varieties and improved and more efficient growing techniques, eating fruit should be satisfying every summer.

“Quality is important,” Richardson said. “The consumer should get a great fruit. And most varieties are eating good this year.”

Richardson described peaches, plums and nectarines as fabulous products with much opportunity for improved sales.

But the challenge of consistently providing consumers with a good eating experience must be met, he said. Once consumer satisfaction is met, demand for tree fruit will increase, Richardson said.

PICKED TOO EARLY

Part of the problem, he said, is fruit that is picked too soon or does not have the sweet taste consumers are looking for. Ripe fruit must be put in front of the consumer, Richardson said.

“The end result and our goal is taste,” he said.

The fresh fruit industry is now looking at consumers as the focal point, Richardson said, but the California Tree Fruit Agreement knows that retailers also must be a part of the promotion effort.

“The California Tree Fruit Agreement has refocused on how to reach the retailer,” Richardson said. “They need to know how to organize ad schedules and when the peaks will come. You don’t want to put fruit on ad in front of a dip in production.”

Ads need to be run at key points in the production season, Richardson said.

RETAIL RELATIONSHIP

Richardson said that in his experience working with nonperishable food products, time was not as much of a factor in moving product.

“But with fruit, it can’t sit on the shelf for months on end,” Richardson said.

That is where ad sales, just before peak production times, come in. It is important to keep fresh fruit selling and being replaced on the store shelf, Richardson said.

In its effort to work closer with retailers, the California Tree Fruit Agreement knew it might be accused of telling retailers how to do their business. But the agreement made it clear it simply wanted to provide more information about peaks in production.

“The CTFA has an unbiased relationship with retailers,” Richardson said. “It is a good relationship.

“We are there to offer them advice, data and analysis.”

The agreement calls its program, in which retailers are kept abreast of tree fruit supplies and promotional opportunities, “Hot Ads.”

“We stay in contact with packers and if we have an oversupply situation, we go out to key retailers and let them know this is coming,” Richardson said.

The agreement also subsidizes some ads and promotion programs for retailers, he said.

Fruit must be moved faster than it has been, especially when supplies are great, Richardson said.

“There is too much fruit in warehouses,” he said.

Richardson said it is important to keep plenty of tree fruit on store shelves.

“Between 6% and 8% of total produce department space is the ideal range,” he said. “That provides the maximum volume and return.”

Although big supplies can be a problem, Richardson said it is better to have a large supply of fruit than not have enough fruit to promote.

“That’s as long as it’s high quality product,” he added.

Richardson said that besides having plenty of good quality fruit this season, California growers have more interspecific fruit available. That includes pluots and apriums, which are crosses between plums and apricots.

“The effort is to continuously improve stone fruit and make it seen as a good thing,” Richardson said.