Product Spotlight: Taking peaches upscale

The glass jar brings freshness, nostalgia and cachet to Del Monte Orchard Select Sliced Cling Peaches

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Call it the Peach Paradox. If you eat a fresh peach in the U.S., most likely you are eating a Freestone, the variety associated with Georgia. So our experience of fresh peach flavor, aroma, and texture is driven by Freestone peaches. Yet almost all canned peaches are the Cling variety, and 100% of the U.S. Cling peach crop is produced in California.

With the drivers of healthiness and eating occasions beyond snacking, Del Monte Foods Co., San Francisco, set out to produce a good-tasting product that could provide a fresh fruit experience with a longer shelf life for convenience. The fruit of their labor is Del Monte Orchard Select Sliced Cling Peaches.

With Freestone peaches being the gold standard of fresh peach taste, aroma and texture, how close can Del Monte get to this in a peach that is processed?

The intention of packaged produce , like Orchard Select as well as Del Monte's SunFresh tropical fruit products , is to provide premium quality fruit with year-round consistency and convenience for consumers, while extending Del Monte's reach beyond the "center store." The Orchard Select brand is a line of hand-sorted, premium cut fruit packed in glass and marketed in the chilled produce section. Orchard Select packaging and labels are designed to remind consumers of the days of home canning and the Del Monte heritage of top quality.

Craveability with a halo

Fruit is one of the most highly craved foods, fitting in between cheesecake and steak. It can be more craveable than ice cream or chocolate. Its craveablity is driven by both product attributes and emotional attributes. It is a very emotional food. The key attributes for fresh fruit, in order, are: taste, product appearance, thirst, aroma, season, texture and mood.

Consumers are looking for "fresh fruit ripe and in season and premium quality ... the best," according to our consumer panel, who sampled this product. The sensory aspects and the emotional ties to stress reduction and relaxation are key drivers for fresh fruit. Fresh fruit is consumed at mid-afternoon, mid-morning, breakfast and late evening right before bed.

The key trends are convenience, flavor, healthfulness and nostalgia.

* Convenience: Manufacturers are responding to consumers' hectic lifestyles by creating packaging that assists convenience. Fruit is available in cans (traditional cans or with the pop top lid), plastic cups and glass jars (what was old, is new again). Competitor Dole, by the way, uses a plastic jar.

* Flavors: Interestingly, the packaging can drive the consumer's perceptions of fruit. Canned fruit can create the Cool Whip effect. While Cool Whip is not dairy whipped cream, so many people have eaten it they think it is the way whipped cream should taste. So many people have eaten canned fruit they do not expect this longer shelf-life fruit to taste like really fresh fruit.

* Healthfulness: Fruit has a healthy halo. The makers of processed fruit have tried to make it healthier by changing the liquid it is packed in (syrup to juice). They also are moving toward "all natural" products with no preservatives. Peaches contain Vitamin C (an antioxidant) and may also contain naturally occurring phenolics, believed to possess antioxidant properties that prevent lipid oxidation in the human body. The presence of the phenolics, similar to the lycopene found in tomatoes, is believed to prevent heart disease, atherosclerosis and some forms of cancer.

* Nostalgia: Fruit was something your mom put in your lunch as a kid. You had to be told to eat it, but it was in many ways the emotional armor your mother gave you to get through your tough day at school. Putting fruit in glass Mason jars takes many people back to a place that is nostalgic and reminds them of mom, comfort and calming memories.

The experience

Del Monte Orchard Select Peaches are available in 24 oz glass jars at a price point of $3.99 and sold in the chilled fruit section (near the fresh fruit). The jar has a vacuum-packed seal with the satisfying whoosh when you open it. The label is welcoming with green and red colors and a nostalgic graphic of the peaches and flowers. It looks like home.

Words like "Premium Produce" and "specially selected produce" are all over the jar and lid. The jar itself has a large enough mouth that is easy to remove the fruit.

Aroma, flavor and texture are critical to the perception of quality and freshness of fruit. This product surprised all of the tasters. It has a fresh peach aroma that begins when you open the jar and lasts all the way to the mouth. This aroma does not appear when you sniff the jar of competing products in cans, cups or plastic jars.

The flavor is very peachy and the texture is crunchy at the outer edge and softer towards the middle of the fruit. It was unexpectedly similar to the eating experience one would expect from fresh peeled peaches.

Does it deliver?

This product delivers a fresh experience of premium fruit. Premium ripe fruit. Not the taste of hard peaches picked too soon and then allowed to soften on the way to the store. This a type of peach that is actually very hard to purchase in many large grocery stores even when peaches are in season.

Furthermore, Orchard Select Sliced Cling Peaches enables that experience to be had year round and with a longer shelf life than fresh fruit. Take the peaches out, drain the liquid and you could fool people into believing this was fresh fruit that you had found at a special grove stand and had taken the time to prepare.

Making it bigger

While it gives the fresh fruit experience, the packaging could be more on-the-go. Del Monte has taken care of this in the Fruit Natural line of plastic cups, although these are slightly different products (chunks of fruit).

Changing the liquid to natural juice would cultivate an even healthier halo -- and a drop in calories per serving. We wonder if the company could maintain the fresh peach quality with this more healthful liquid.

This product also moves Del Monte from the center of the store to the produce section with longer shelf-life fruit , a key business accomplishment.

One issue is the price. At $3.99, this is not an inexpensive product. Even the glass jar may keep some consumers from trying the product. Whether consumers believe jarred fruit is really as healthy as fresh, they probably will prefer it on that basis over a canned product.

The experience of this truly good-tasting product is not well understood until you taste it. This is a big hurdle for the consumer in terms of trial. Repeat with this product will be driven by the trade-off of price (which is high) versus the experience and convenience of the product.

Rating: Del Monte Orchard Select Peaches does deliver on all the promises. This is a comforting choreography of taste, aroma, texture and convenience. It delivers a fresh fruit experience with a longer shelf life. Getting consumer believability, trial and pull is the biggest challenge.

Market Potential: Good, for the line and good for the category.

Hollis Ashman (hollis@theuandigroup.com) is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley (jackie@theuandigroup.com) is president of the the Understanding & Insight Group. The U&I Group is a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using a variety of both quantitative and qualitative in-context approaches to understand the brand promise and the actual experience the product delivers. More about them can be found at www.theuandigroup.com. Crave It!, Drink It!, Healthy You! and other foundational studies are availabe through It! Ventures and on the web at www.consumerunderstanding.net.

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