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Pink Lady is put to the test

Quality Management

Fresh fruit is a competitive marketplace – you want to ensure you are providing consumers with the highest quality product possible if you want them to come back time and time again. 

This is the rationale behind the APAL-commissioned quality assessment currently underway. Dr Klieber and Quality Associates (QA) have already begun the rigorous testing of Pink Lady apples, and will then move on to Gala apples and William pears. 

“Pink Lady is an important apple, and also displays different quality issues at different times of year,” Dr Klieber said.  

Comparing internal data from Distribution Centres (DC) with independent data from QA’s in-store produce testing, Dr Klieber worked with a comprehensive data set to give a fuller picture of how actions in the orchard and along the supply chain impact the fruit that consumers purchase.  

Firm and steady

In spite of complex supply chains and challenges with harvest labour last year, Pink Lady ultimately performed well in firmness tests. The Pink Lady apples generally performed above the 5.5kgf minimum for consumer stage, with 4 per cent below a good pressure of 6.5kgf. Prepacked apples were more firm overall, which may be related to their smaller size. 

It is possible that the application of Harvista™ and similar products, as well as a well-managed storage system, were contributing factors – but it requires further testing later in the season and in future years before conclusions can be made. 

“If there are any issues with pressure, we’d expect they might come up in the next stage of late-season testing,” Dr Klieber said. 

Less than sweet results

Brix was below standard for many of the early season apples. 

“All the way through the season, we’ve seen issues with low sugar levels,” Dr Klieber said. “Early in the season, this can make for a bland, low-tasting fruit. We found that as the acidity dropped over time, the apples did develop a sweeter taste. So it’s less of an issue at this current stage in the season, but was early on.” 

According to Dr Klieber, while the ‘balance’ of acidity is sought-after in Pink Lady apples in the European market, Australian consumers preferred a sweeter tasting apple overall. 

“Earlier work with table grapes also showed the potential sales increase if growers could achieve good, consistent, sweet fruit,” Dr Klieber said. “The problem is if someone has a bad eating experience in that early season, there will be a 4-6 week average gap between that and their next purchase.” 

Unexpected variability

While the results for firmness, starch and brix averaged out to an acceptable or good level, there was an unexpected variability between individual apples and batches. This was found across the major retailers. 

The Brix results in particular – with 22 per cent of batches below 14 Brix – coupled with low colour fruit and bruising, suggests there was a large pool of apples that could have performed better from the consumer point of view.  

“It’s all impacted by how you grow, when you harvest, and then what you do during storage,” Dr Klieber said. “For example, an individual orchard’s thinning practices, the stage at which the apples were harvested (which also locks in the potential for higher sugar levels), the storage in air and CA environments, how long it takes to pack from those storage rooms once they are opened and how that impacts quality, knowing what the potential is for that fruit when you take it out of storage, and how it will continue to ripen.” 

“It comes down to the grower and storer actually understanding the variability and how it relates to all of these practices and the starch indices. It highlights that the industry needs to consistently keep implementing best practices as far as growing and harvest practices are concerned.”

What next?

Dr Klieber and QA will test the later season Pink Lady apples taken from storage. 

“Using the DC data and comparing it with what we found in store has given us a fairly rigorous view,” Dr Klieber said. “Overall, it seems CA storage worked well, and the use of chemicals to slow maturation may have had some impact on Brix, but it’s very much a baseline and starting point for future years, where there will be more data to compare it to.” 

“As this coincided with a year of the pandemic, we will have to see what practices carry over into future years, for example, whether growers continue to aim for a single harvest, because it is easier. It would be interesting to see whether the Brix levels can be corrected in future.” 

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