APAL’s Head of Group Quality and Innovation Andrew Mandemaker argues there is much to be gained by pre-conditioning pears, but we need to learn from experience.
Most consumers want to bite into a soft pear, anticipating that a soft pear will be juicier, sweeter and fuller of flavour than its firmer counterpart.
Concerningly, research by APAL and others tells us that all too often this pleasant anticipation goes unfulfilled. “I can’t remember the last time that I bit into a good pear,” one participant in APAL’s 2018 consumer testing reported. “They’re either too ripe, or not ripe enough.”
This is the absolute crux of the problem with pears – getting a good pear is at best infrequent. As a result, consumers are being pushed away from pears to find more ‘reliable’ fruits to consume.
Why pre-condition pears?
Pre-conditioning offers a means of addressing inconsistency by providing consumers with what they want: pears that are at, or very close to, the ripeness stage that they prefer, and consistently so.
Using temperature and ethylene gas under controlled conditions, the early ripening stage can be hastened and controlled. Fruit is then rapidly cooled to hold at the desired ripeness stage, slightly firmer than fully ripe, allowing it to complete the ripening process in the store or at home after purchase.
By controlling the ripening process, fruit will also ripen more evenly, allowing softness and colour to develop ahead of storage rots.
When consumers place the near ripe fruit in their fruit bowl at room temperature, the fruit will ripen within one or two days.
Bananas, avocados, mangoes and kiwifruit are already routinely pre-conditioned. Retailers both in Australia and internationally report sales increase significantly when consumers are able to purchase fruit that is either ripe or will ripen reliably shortly after purchase.
Internationally pre-conditioned pear sales outperform standard pears by about 20 to 50 per cent.
By providing consumers the pears they want, we can increase consumption.
Building on prior learnings
Early forays into pear ripening in Australia a decade ago had mixed results, with some inconsistency at retail level. A subsequent apple and pear levy-funded project by Dr Jason Johnston, of Plant & Food Research, New Zealand, concluded a lack of consistency in ripening procedures used had likely contributed to the inconsistency at retail level.
Pre-conditioning of avocados, mangoes, kiwifruit and bananas is currently completed by specialist ripening service providers, prior to dispatch to retailer distribution centres (DCs). This ensures an expert ripener is engaged, following a ripening protocol, using purpose-built facilities and there is minimum transportation after pre-conditioning.
Airtight rooms are used with forced air warming, cooling and venting capacity, an ethylene source and close monitoring of ethylene, carbon dioxide and humidity.
The ‘Ripe & Ready’ sticker
Making a claim that a fruit is ripe when it is not quickly destroys consumer trust. As the fruit will not be fully ripe when first on display, it is strongly recommended that growers do not place stickers or make claims product is ripe.
The fruit will simply be improved, with better eating quality and more consistent performance at home.
As with avocados and kiwifruit, only the loose offer should be pre-conditioned. Pre-packs should remain as currently supplied. This will keep costs low and maintain the value of the pre-pack offer, increase the tiering between the loose and pre-pack offers, allow a wider range and longer pre-pack ripening times for the multiple fruits within the pack, and prevent bruising of fruit within the pack.
This work is about investing in increasing long term consumption rather than about adding short term value. The primary motivation for pre-conditioning is to improve the eating experience for consumers and boost consumption. There will be no consumer messaging or labelling for pre-conditioned fruit and there is no expectation of an immediate increase in value over pears that are not pre-conditioned.
Listen to Andrew’s interview about pear pre-conditioning on South Australian Country Hour (begins at 15:40)
To find out more contact Andrew Mandemaker on email@example.com