Putting the squeeze on quality

09 Aug, 2015 02:00 AM
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The avocado industry is grappling with the issue of fruit bruising caused by keen shoppers searching and squeezing for the best fruit.
The avocado industry is grappling with the issue of fruit bruising caused by keen shoppers searching and squeezing for the best fruit.

THE avocado industry is in a bit of a squeeze - a literal squeeze, that is.

While industry efforts have increased average consumption to more than 3.1kg per person in recent years, higher interest in buying avocados is also affecting fruit quality.

The tradition of feeling an avocado for "give" and therefore indicating its ripeness is leaving some supermarket displays with higher than usual bruising.

And it seems it's an issue out of the industry's control.

It was a topic that came up at a Qualicado workshop in the avocado growing region of Childers, Queensland yesterday.

Qualicado is an industry program aimed at improving fruit quality and the end consumer’s experience.

About 60 growers and industry representatives attended the workshop. Similar days have been held right across Australia.

Avocados Australia CEO John Tyas began the information session by providing consumer research details.

He said the industry is fortunate that avocado buyers will tolerate about 10pc bruising within a fruit, however a poor eating experience will put them off further purchases.

"Quality at retail level is critical in building consumer demand," Mr Tyas said.

One of the major problems is that a considerable amount of bruising happens at the retail end of the supply chain.

On one hand, consumer feedback shows diners want avocados that are ripe and ready to eat immediately or the next day.

But with customers physically "feeling their way" across displays, remaining fruit begins to show the signs of being manhandled.

This is something of a frustration for growers who have gone to increased measures to carefully handle fruit with minimal bruising.

"What the research shows is that at this point, we've got Buckley's of trying to change that behaviour," Mr Tyas said.

"Until we can deliver a reliable product every time to the stage of ripeness that they want, people are just going to keep on squeezing them."

He said research has shown that packaging avocados can cause some consumer resistance as well meaning there is no simple solution.

Part of the Qualicado program is retail education where retailers are given feedback on their avocado displays and provided material to help push more fruit through.

Mr Tyas presented figures showing bruising levels and the general reduction of such over the past decade.

He said he was stumped by 2013 figures however that showed even with a shortage of fruit and higher prices, bruising levels spiked in the later months of the year.

Drilling into the details of the data, he found due to consumers paying around $5 per avocado, they were more inclined to feel for the "perfect fruit" and therefore more avocados were being bruised at the point of purchase.

While not discussed at the Qualicado workshop, possible solutions may include some technological developments.

Two Mexican have been working on a smart phone app which measures fruit ripeness by taking a photo with a flash.

The flash illuminates the fruit directly, then analyses the amount of red, green and blue light detected on the skin, giving the user an indication of whether the fruit is ready to eat today, or to in 24, 48 or 72 hours.

However the app did not test well on harder skin fruits, including Hass avocados.

Other possibilities include the use of ethylene sensor patches on packaging.

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Good Fruit & Vegetables

Ashley Walmsley

is the editor of Good Fruit and Vegetables.
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

morrgo
10/08/2015 6:56:32 AM

Fruit bruising by customers is one factor, but variety is another. The industry is pushing Hass, an inferior variety that browns easily, has unsightly dark strings and has a very narrow window of edibility between hard and spoiled. Green-skinned varieties tend to be superior on all these counts and often have better taste too.
David Harrison
10/09/2015 1:03:42 PM

I haven't had a decent avocado for years, ever since I worked on an orchard. The grower was very particular about the handling and quality of his produce. The rubbish that is to be found in the shops today is appalling. The stuff that is foisted onto the consumer today would not have made it into the seconds bin on his orchard.

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