Natural Foods Merchandiser

Proper Handling Puts the Perfect Peach Within Your Reach

Produce Perspectives

Summer is a time of opportunity for both retailers and consumers. It brings some of the best-tasting produce imaginable. But it can Also be a time of deep disappointment. One fruit in particular seems to hold the most promise for both pleasure and disappointment: the peach.

I can?t tell you how many times during the past several years produce managers and consumers, from California to Pennsylvania, have told me they just can?t get a good peach. Even the organic ones aren?t worth buying, they say. Maybe they?re just not available anymore, they wonder.

My experience tells me otherwise. Recently I was working in Duluth, Minn., at the Whole Foods Co-op and grabbed a beautiful-looking peach and, apprehensively, took a bite. Not only was the flavor fantastic, but the texture was perfect.

So I asked Michael Karsh, the produce manager, what his secret was. It started about three years ago, he said, when a father and son who were regular customers came in for ripe peaches. They picked some out, went outside, and minutes later, came back into the store, disappointed.

?You could tell by the looks on their faces that [the peaches] were inedible and mealy,? Karsh said. so he offered them each another peach, but the results were the same. Karsh knew that the problem went beyond this peach sale. He understood that you lose other fruit sales, too, if you carry lousy peaches.

Karsh began participating in a program in which the California Fruit Tree Agreement sent out View-Masters—yep, those childhood favorites—in boxes of fruit to illustrate correct soft-fruit handling. Karsh found out that what he thought was helping reduce loss in his peaches was actually causing the problem. He had been storing his peaches and other soft fruit in the refrigerator, which is the kiss of death. It can result in a type of injury called internal breakdown, which causes the fruit to become dry, mealy and flavorless.

From that moment on, the co-op began storing all its soft fruit out of the walk-in, and staggering its buying so the store could have ripe and ripening fruit at the same time. Next, the store put a big banner in the produce department, advertising that the peaches were ripe and ready to eat.

In this lakeside town, where customers want fruit that is ripe and ready all summer long, the results have been incredible. Not only have soft-fruit sales increased every year for the past three years, but so have all of Karsh?s other produce sales. ?If you do good soft fruit, you are perceived as doing everything well,? Karsh says.

Now Karsh sells peaches by the case as well as by the pound. It?s not uncommon for him to hear comments from customers like, ?This reminds me of my childhood,? or ?It?s like eating summer.? If you would like to have the same results in your store, follow Karsh?s lead. And if you happen to get too much soft fruit at one time, then sample, sample, sample! This will minimize loss and increase future sales.

Also, you may want to pass the following recommendations on to your customers, courtesy of the California Tree Fruit Agreement:

  • Once fruit is soft, or ripe, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more without hurting it.
  • To ripen fruit, place it in a paper bag, fold the top over loosely and keep it at room temperature for 1 to 3 days. Check the fruit daily. Never use a plastic bag; it may cause decay and can produce off flavors.
  • If you?re buying fruit to eat the same day, look for fruit that is soft, gives to gentle palm pressure and has a sweet aroma. The best indicator of high-quality fruit is color.

For more tips on handling soft fruit, contact the CTFA at 559.638.8260 or

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. Contact him at 707.939.8355 or

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 8/p. 26

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