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Del Monte looks to revolutionize banana industry with new technology

by John Groh | October 07, 2009
ANAHEIM, CA -- Looking to inject some innovation into a category that has been devoid of any significant advancements for years, Del Monte Fresh Produce unveiled a new technology that it believes will improve banana consumption and sales.

Del Monte officials held a press conference Oct. 3 prior to the opening of the 2009 Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit exposition to announce the launch of its proprietary Controlled Ripening Technology, or CRT.

CRT, which has been under development since 2002, controls the exchange of gases, resulting in a more brightly colored banana with extended shelf life and better flavor, according to Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, FL-based Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc., who addressed members of the media during the press conference.

Del Monte Fresh will be offering CRT bananas in both a 40-pound box (with a separate option of a 40-pound quad pack containing four 10-pound bags) and a 10-pound display-ready case with 24 individually wrapped fingers. While the former is designed primarily for retail operations, the latter has a number of different possible applications, from foodservice to catering to institutional outlets such as schools to its newly launched vending machine line.

The development of CRT will enable Del Monte Fresh to offer retailers several advantages when marketing its bananas.

The first significant advantage is that the technology extends shelf life of bananas by up to three days, which will minimize shrink and reduce the frequency of deliveries, thus bringing a better return on the product. It also helps meet consumer demand for a nice-looking piece of fruit that is sweeter, he said.

The individually wrapped fingers remain at optimal quality for up to five days, are consistent in size and weight, and contain a nutritional panel on the package, said Mr. Christou.

"This is a unique opportunity to reach consumers with on-the-go healthy snacks that have consistent quality," he said.

He added that CRT "has allowed us to enter the vending machine line, which has brought incredible response since its launch two weeks ago. We have received inquiries from school systems, government institutions and others."

"CRT technology works by modifying the atmosphere, which is nothing new to fresh fruit, but we have been able to balance the gases," said Thomas Young, vice president of research, development and agriculture services for Del Monte Fresh. "We had to figure out how to allow ethylene to enter the package and other gases to get out. We have seen differences in sugars, which have resulted in an improvement in flavor. Starch is changed into sugar in a subtly different way. As a result, [the bananas] have higher moisture, different mouth feel, better appearance, and they do not develop sugar spots until a much later stage."

"Bananas are an impulse buy at retail, and there is nothing worse than having a retail display that is all green," added Emanuel Lazopoulos, senior vice president of North American sales and product management. "Retailers always want to err on the conservative side, so they typically ship their bananas green. This allows retailers to ship a higher-color stage 4 fruit, so when it hits retail, it will be all yellow and it should retain that color for two or three days. And this [technology] allows us to expand the venue of the fruit into more channels than retail."

Mr. Christou said that the proprietary technology has a patent pending and could be applied to other commodities, but he declined to state what those other commodities might be.