Stone fruits are notoriously difficult to process for fresh-cut products, and there have been few commercially marketable fresh-cut stone fruit items over the years. Researchers have looked at dips and processes to maintain quality and freshness, primarily in peaches and nectarines. But Fruit Dynamics, Fresno, Calif., has worked for the last five yearsto develop a full program for fresh-cut stone fruit, and it's finally ready for market.
Fruit Dynamics, operated by Kim and Eric Gaarde and founded in 2002, is an independent analysis and evaluation service focused on fruits. The company does everything from titrating acidity to conducting consumer taste panels for breeders, growers, packers, marketers and retailers. One of the products theGaardes have developed is FruitSpan, a database of peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, plum/cherry/apricot hybrids, grape, cherry, kiwi, apple and citrus cultivars. The database, extending back to 1993, includes varietal characteristics, lab analyses, storage and shelf life performance, varietal response to weather events, production volume and size distribution on over 2,400 commercial and unreleasedvarieties. The company also actively scouts 12 stone fruit breeding programs for unreleased, experimental fruit varieties.
All of that data led Kim Gaarde to start playing with difference processes on peaches and nectarines, as there were no fresh-cut stone fruits on the market.
Over the last five years, she's refined the process and narrowed it down to varieties that will work foryear-round production of fresh-cut items. Fruit Dynamics has developed a list of varieties, processing specifications and packaging materials for a final product. Gaarde said Fruit Dynamics wasn't looking to start up its own processing line, so the company would likely license the project to strategically selected processors or sell it outright. The lease or sale would include the intellectual propertiesassociated with the product as well as ongoing consulting and support.
There are more than 400 commercial varieties of peaches and nectarines grown in California alone, and they all have varietal differences and flavor profiles, so processing any old peach or nectarine won't result in a consistent product, Gaarde said.
"The varietal selection is very, very important, so having access to themand the data is the fundamental reason we've been successful," she said.
The flavor is the most important aspect to fresh-cut stone fruits, Gaarde said. Some varieties work better than others for cutting and storing, but if their flavor profile isn't acceptable, it's not a variety that should be used for fresh-cut.
"If it doesn't meet the optimum flavor profile, we don't even cut it," shesaid. "Obviously, as with everything, once you get a consumer to pick it up and try it, you have to get them to come back with a consistent flavor profile."
As with packaging any fresh-cut product, the package design is a key element in preserving quality and shelf life. Fruit Dynamics' core competencies are the evaluation and analysis of fruit varieties and post-harvest research anddevelopment. and testing and evaluation. The company hadn't worked with packaging, so that was a learning experience, Gaarde said.
"That kind of threw us for a loop because we had never done testing on packaging," she said.
Fruit Dynamics worked with Jeffrey Brandenburg of The JSB Group LLC in Greenfield, Mass., to create packaging options that would work for fresh-cut stone fruit. Gaarde saidBrandenburg, whose company serves as a worldwide technology resource for the flexible, produce and food packaging industries, was initially skeptical of the product at first because there were few successful fresh cut stone fruit products, but after working with the company for some time, he said the product is in the final stages and ready for market.
The packaging material is a Modified Atmosphere...