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After a winter of produce shortages due to brutal weather, consumers and retailers are eagerly anticipating this year's South Carolina peach crop, according to Amy London of the South Carolina Peach Council.

With consumer demand and retail interest on the increase, "we all still have our fingers crossed and we're holding our breath -- but the outlook for the season so far looks better than it has in quite some time," Ms. London told The Produce News May 13. "With weather and people buying local and having local purchasing power it looks like it's going to be a good season for us -- we're anticipating a normal volume going into it barring any unforeseen event like hail. To date it looks like we're going to have a nice crop that's normal, it set well, and everyone is pleased with it so far."

While Georgia is known as the Peach State, South Carolina actually produces more peaches than its neighbor -- and grows a better-tasting product, Ms. London said.

"The taste is what makes it more appealing. It is sweeter than other peaches on the market and we attribute that to the alkalinity of our soil. Our soils are better for the taste of the peach," Ms. London said. "Our growers consistently produce a quality product that is ready to eat that consumers look for in the marketplace because there are always guaranteed that good taste -- it's a good experience for consumer when they have a South Carolina peach. They get the flavor they anticipate -- very sweet, very juicy, always fresh."

They also get an assurance of safety due to ever-increasing focus on food safety and traceability standards.

"With South Carolina fruit, you're lucky: You get the best of both worlds," Ms. London said. "You get the taste but you also have the grower commitment to food safety, traceability and market standards. Consumers get what they expect, retailers get what they want with a variety of boxing and packaging materials. With the South Carolina peach, you get all of it, the whole picture."

Consumers in the United States will not be the only ones enjoying South Carolina peaches this season. Ms. London said the council, in conjunction with Georgia peach growers, has introduced a pilot export program to Mexico to explore new markets.

The council has also developed reams of promotional materials for retailers, including a new peach ripening timeline that lists all varieties and the dates they are typically available.

There are also new recipe and consumer brochures joining a lineup that already features handling guidelines and merchandising ideas for retailers, point-of-purchase displays and other information that shows "how to handle that peach once it gets to the distribution center and the stores -- and also the best way to merchandise it for maximum sales and profit," Ms. London said.

The council also has a complete promotional package that includes some funding to help retailers working with the council promote South Carolina peaches.

"So there are lots of options available, and we're open to ideas and suggestions," Ms. London said. "We know what works with certain retailers well, but depending on the different corporate structures, we're willing to be flexible and work within their frameworks to augment their programs and make sure we sell as many peaches as we can."

(For more on Carolina produce, see the May 24, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)