Good Fruit Grower

September 1

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24 SEPTEMBER 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER California company is one of the fi rst to bring fresh-cut pears and stone fruit to the retail market. by Melissa Hansen I f Kim Gaarde's fresh-sliced stone fruit and pear Woot Froot products follow the path of fresh-cut apples in creating new markets, fruit growers will owe her a fist-pumping "woot-woot!" show of thanks. Gaarde, president of Fresno, California-based Fresh Fruit Cuts, Inc., launched fresh sliced peaches and nectarines—fruit that had eluded the fresh-cut market— under the Woot Froot label in 2013 after seven years of research and development and trial and error. Fresh sliced pears were added last year as a way to make the business a year-round operation. Gaarde's Woot Froot brand is a name coined to express the fi st-pumping, exuberant culmination of a dream realized. "Five years ago, I thought it was kind of cool being a pioneer and the fi rst to bring stone fruit to the fresh-cut market," said Gaarde. "But it's extremely diffi cult being a pioneer. It's been a very time consuming and expensive road and the experience like a rollercoaster. But there's tremendous growth and opportunity in fresh-cut fruit." To put her business efforts in context, she explains that today's fresh-cut peaches, nectarines, and pears are where the apple industry was 15 years ago when apple slices made their debut. "The apple industry paved the way for the fresh-cut fruit industry," Gaarde said. Sliced apples are now part of McDonald's Happy Meals, are served on school lunch trays, and have pro- vided growers with an important market for small fruit. Fresh sliced apples have grown to be a $475 million industry, and it's been estimated that sliced apples use around ten percent of the nation's Gala, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith apple crops. Gaarde hopes to do the same for the stone fruit and pear industry. In their fi rst three years, Woot Froot peaches, nectar- ines, pears, and grapes have been sold in all states but Alaska and Hawaii. Woot Froot products have a 15-day or longer shelf life and come in modifi ed atmosphere packages for retail and food service that range from three ounces to three pounds. Walmart is a major buyer, along with membership stores like Sam's Club. The company of about 40 employees runs a single work shift fi ve to six days a week for about eight months of the year and runs double shifts from mid-May to mid-September during stone fruit season. Doug Field of Excel Food Brokerage in Yakima, Washington, has helped Gaarde source pears and Fresh-sliced Pears COURTESY WOOT FROOT Plums made their fi rst fresh-cut debut this season in a Woot Froot fruit salad blend of yellow-fl esh peach and nectarines, white-fl esh nectarines, and red-fl esh plums. A harvest blend product of pears, red and green grapes, and segmented mandarins was also launched this year. SUCCESS TJ MULLINAX/GOOD FRUIT GROWER Brittnie Hammack shows how the vertical bagging machine works. At top, pears on the top conveyor are ready for slicing; bottom fruit has been sliced and cores will be sorted out before fruit goes through an antioxidant bath. TJ MULLINAX/GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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