PRECUT FRUIT INDUSTRY IS FACING OBSTACLES

CHICAGO -- The initial enthusiasm over precut fruit is withering under the sobering light of poor temperature control and problematic supplies, according to an executive in the fresh-cut industry."Fruit is going to be much more difficult for us to do [than prepackaged salads]," said Mark Drever, president of Fresh Express Farms in Salinas, Calif., speaking at the Food Marketing Institute's annual

CHICAGO -- The initial enthusiasm over precut fruit is withering under the sobering light of poor temperature control and problematic supplies, according to an executive in the fresh-cut industry.

"Fruit is going to be much more difficult for us to do [than prepackaged salads]," said Mark Drever, president of Fresh Express Farms in Salinas, Calif., speaking at the Food Marketing Institute's annual convention here.

"Our belief is that maintenance of the cold chain at retail needs to be improved," he said. "Temperature management has to be much better." It's also more difficult to obtain supplies of fruit for processing, according to Drever. Like several other processors, Fresh Express is located in the so-called "salad bowl" of America. As recently as last year, processors were sounding extremely optimistic about the possibilities of precut fruit. Many now seem more aware of the difficult challenges, he said. Drever added that over the last six months he has detected the enthusiasm over precut fruit being toned down in the trade press.

The quieting of the rhetoric does not mean the fruit side of the business will not make its mark, however. Drever said precut fruit will find its place in the produce department.

"It will happen eventually," he said. "We have the technology today to do many types of fruit, and we are testing fruit," he said. Still, current technology only allows for several days of shelf-life.