Garden to Table
June 28, 2007
You don’t have to look much further than the front of any supermarket to know that summer fruits are here, and with them the tangy, fragrant flavors that characterize the season. Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, the health benefits of summer fruits are undeniable. They have been linked to everything from preventing heart attacks to maintaining eye health.
Delicious in salads, sauces and salsas, or eaten straight from the tree, fresh summer fruit is a welcome addition to any meal or snack, and in recent years, to any dessert. At their freshest and most flavorful in the summer months, peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, berries and melons are peaking now, ready to be purchased and enjoyed.
With such an abundance of juicy choices, it’s hard to believe that annual fresh fruit eatings per capita have actually been declining. The CDC reports that fewer than a third of American adults eat the amount of fruits and vegetables the government recommends. According to the California Fruit Tree Agreement, the average American ate fruit about 130 times in a year in the late 90s. Today, the average is just under 122.
“Much of this decline is likely related to taste. Even if the product is picked and packed and shipped in perfect condition, if it’s not handled or displayed correctly, consumers will be dissatisfied with the results,” says Karen Caplan, President of Frieda’s, a specialty produce distributor out of Los Alamitos, California. “More and more, consumers are voting with their dollars.”
Per capita consumption of peaches has stayed relatively constant at about 4.5 peaches per consumer per year, but plums and nectarines have shown ongoing usage decline. The blueberry market, on the other hand, has experienced steady growth at an average of 10% per year in volume over the past six years. Caplan says blueberries have fared better due to the great marketing of blueberry health benefits and high anti-oxidant levels. Showcasing these properties in other fruits, she says, can help beef up fresh fruit profits nationwide in all categories.
Exotic, diverse offerings can also boost sales. Since Frieda’s founding in 1962, Caplan’s company has introduced a slew of exotic produce like kiwifruit, passion fruit and Donut Peaches – the flat, donut-shaped peaches Frieda’s is known for. Specialty melons also abound. Instead of the common cantaloupe, Frieda’s markets melons with alluring names like Camouflage, Sweetie, Cotton Candy, and the ever-romantic French Kiss. However, many of these treats are expensive to grow, so they can be pricy. Caplan admits that it can be tough to convince a supermarket to justify putting out a melon that costs six dollars a pound, when there are cheaper options.
“Price can be a factor, but we need to let customers make their own choices, and reawaken them to what’s out there. Let’s remind them why summer fruits are so desirable. If you don’t put out specialty melons, obviously a customer won’t choose them. But they may not choose a common melon either, due to a previous, tasteless experience.”
For families on a budget, fresh fruit may not be an option altogether, and many consumers are still unaware of the health benefits of both frozen and canned fruits. Luckily, a recent study from the University of California at Davis, funded by the Canned Food Alliance, suggests that canned, fresh and frozen fruits provide nutrients needed for a healthy diet – a finding that challenges the common perception that fresh is always best. In some cases, canned foods provide additional nutrients, like increased carotenoids – a source of antioxidants and vitamin A.
“This study shows us that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables in all forms are important to a healthy diet,” says Dr. Christine M. Bruhn, Consumer Food Marketing Specialist at the Department of Food Science and Technology, UC Davis.
To spruce up fresh sales, Caplan recommends exploring new ways to use summer fruits. Overall consumption may be on the decline, but Caplan says fruit desserts are actually experiencing resurgence. Offer customers cobbler and pie recipes, or show them the best ways to prepare fruit plain. Rather than simply sticking to the usual honeydew and cantaloupe mix, Caplan herself is a fan of serving wedges of specialty melons in an assorted batch.
“With the biggest buzz being our obesity crisis, we have an incredible opportunity to enjoy sweet, good tasting and good for you fruits for desserts and snacks. Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy the plentiful supply of peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots, and the rainbow of fresh melon varieties,” she adds. “Summer is my favorite fruit season.”
Full results of the UC Davis study can be found at www.mealtime.org.