The new facilities of Vicente Peris for the processing of fruit into fresh cut include a giant 2,500 square metre cold store equipped with ISO 7-8 and purified water. All the chambers where the fruit is stored, washed, cut and packed are at temperatures ranging between 1 and 6 degrees Celsius. The entire enclosure is completely sealed with positive pressure and the premises are always sanitised when switching from one fruit to another, working with higher food safety standards than those required by legislation.
"We have been marketing melons, watermelons, spring onions and white celery through El Corte Inglés for 40 years. One day, the retail chain asked us to deliver melon halves to be able to meet current consumer trends," explains Alberto Montaña, CEO of Vicente Peris, in an interview granted to FreshPlaza, which visited its facilities.
"Although there are already seed houses that are developing increasingly smaller varieties, the melons that are available in the market are large and family units are consuming less and less. That is why many supermarkets sell melon and watermelon halves, cut at the points of sale with inadequate hygiene conditions in the absence of legislation in this regard. Coming to terms with this, we developed an attractive controlled atmosphere container with thermo-sealing for melon halves, ensuring the highest food safety standards, as well as the product's freshness."
Vending also offers many opportunities, although perhaps it is still soon for fresh cut fruit to be sold like that in Spain. "Recently, a European regulation was introduced which requires vending machines to contain some healthy products. For now, in Spain we see that there are more opportunities for whole pieces than for cut fruit, taking into account the cold chain management for fresh cut products during transport, loading and unloading, as well as their short shelf life."
The fact is that both the transport time and preventing the cold chain from being broken during the logistics process until the product is put on sale are the biggest challenges for this type of products. "Normally, the product takes an average of about 2 days to reach the shelf of the supermarket or greengrocer, while the shelf life can reach up to 7 days, depending on the product. We supply mainly Spanish supermarkets, including El Corte Inglés under the Peris brand, and Carrefour and Alcampo under the FrutiFresh brand."
According to Alberto Montaña, the fresh cut product segment is growing all over the world and will potentially continue this trend in the coming generations, as the popularity of convenience products grows more and more. Although supermarkets in Spain are expanding their range of fresh cut products, there is still plenty of room for growth in the case of fresh fruit.
"I think there is still a long way to go as far as fresh cut products are concerned in Spain. It is good news that Mercadona, the leading supermarket chain in Spain, is starting to take an interest in these products. In a study, it was revealed that people consume around 40% more fruit if it is already peeled and cut, since it can be consumed at any time of the day. With this type of formats, we will contribute to promoting healthier diets. We believe that within 20 years, many consumers will eat only cut and peeled fruit."
"In order for this trend to continue, we must make a great effort to ensure good customer satisfaction, with high Brix levels and optimum maturity at the time of consumption. We are experts in these products and that's why we know how to work with them in the fresh cut market. We cannot just focus on the shelf life of the product if we want the consumer to come back for more."
Pineapples and melons, the most popular; pomegranates, the most difficult
"The most popular products are pineapples, apples, melons and watermelons. We always work with products that allow us to set a fixed price throughout the year. In the case of melons, for example, we have two prices per year: one for the Spanish season and another for the off-season, when the fruit comes from Brazil."
Pomegranates are the most difficult to turn into fresh cut products, according to Alberto Montaña, since there is still no machinery available to remove the arils efficiently without damaging the fruit. For this reason, it is still done manually. It requires a lot of work and the yields are low. We use special varieties of table pomegranates for the arils. From September to December, we get them in Spain, and in the off-season we import them from India or South Africa.
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