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Honeycrisp apples from the Pacific Northwest continue to gain in popularity with American consumers. They have a dense cell structure and sweet, tangy flavor profile. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Marketing International)

Fresh fruit from the Pacific Northwest is best characterized by its consistent quality, according to Pete Carcione, president of Carcione's Fresh Produce Co. Inc.

The company, which operates out of the Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco, works with small stores, mid-sized chains, ethnic stores and restaurants, moving a wide range of commodities and specialty items on a daily basis.

Apples and pears from the region are volume sellers for the company at this time of year. "The Northwest does a great job of bring in quality fruit. Apples and pears are wonderful. The big thing we're getting out of the Northwest is consistent quality and consistent supply," he told The Produce News on Nov. 10.

Mr. Carcione credits advances with controlled-atmosphere storage as the critical factor in delivering fruit of consistent volume and high quality. "In the old days, someone packed 100 boxes [of apples] a day," he said by way of contrast. "Today, the product arrives in good condition and under proper refrigeration."

He said that customers know the difference between quality and inferior produce, and there is no room for selling marginal commodities.

"The apples we're receiving were picked in September and October," Mr. Carcione stated. "The cold nights [in the Pacific Northwest] have made all the difference." He said that apples have colored well and the eating quality is outstanding.

At the current time, Carcione's Fresh Produce is receiving Red Delicious, Braeburn, Pink Lady and Honeycrisp from the Pacific Northwest. "Pink Lady and Honeycrisp are really catching on," he stated. "They're giving the Fuji some competition."

Honeycrisp, with its tight cell structure and sweet, tangy taste, has become an industry darling. "There's not enough acreage planted in Honeycrisp," Mr. Carcione said, "so prices are high."

With the approaching holiday season, the Rome apple is highly sought by consumers who enjoy baked apples. Mr. Carcione said Honeycrisp is giving the variety a run for its money, however. "Baked apples are a simple but wonderful dessert," he commented.

Fujis always sell well at Carcione's Fresh Produce. "The Fuji is really good," Mr. Carcione commented. "They keep well." He said that Fujis are another excellent choice for baked-apple recipes.

Mr. Carcione is also receiving Green Anjou pears harvested in the Pacific Northwest. He said that the variety has truly benefited from preconditioning programs, which have become more popular in recent years. "It's become a different pear because of it," he observed. "Anjous really needed preconditioning because they were chalky before."

As for personal preference, Mr. Carcione said, "My favorite pear is the Comice. It's juicy and sweet." The variety is popular during the holiday season, and Mr. Carcione said that it is excellent when used as a dessert.

Movement for apples and pears is strong during the holiday season. "We have deliveries coming in almost every day," Mr. Carcione said. "This is the time of year when quality is available. This is also the time of year when there's not a lot to compete with them."

Although the holiday season is known for its epicurean excesses, Mr. Carcione said that this doesn't mean consumers can't avail themselves of fruit that contributes to health and wellness. "We know that apples and pears have high levels of pectin," he said. "Pectin dissolves cholesterol. As they say, 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’"