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Industry Viewpoint: Sorting through organic and natural

Never have there been so many choices in the produce aisle. New pack sizes, new varieties and fresh cuts have multiplied. With many available in both conventional and organic labels, it’s a good time to sort through what “organic” and “natural” mean, and their continuing marketing implications.

I’ve represented firms marketing both conventional and certified organic produce and, in the process, have helped develop many lines of packaging and in-store merchandising. In this article, I’ll define three categories — organic, natural and certified naturally grown; I’ll then draw some general marketing conclusions around those terms.

Let’s start with organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service has guidelines on food that can be sold as “organic” and carry the USDA Organic seal. For produce, this involves the documentation of all production (and any packing or even processing) as being certified organic.

The USDA maintains a national list of all the inputs that can be used in organic production along with guidelines for certified-organic handling.

What about natural? The USDA’s website tells us that “there are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat and eggs.” That opens up the term “natural” for a wide range of labeling uses.

“Certified Naturally Grown” is a designation that, as far as I can tell, is often used by smaller fresh produce growers selling at local farmers markets. This certification, not regulated by USDA, involves a review of the producer’s records and production practices by other growers.

I’ve been very careful not to venture into a discussion of the intrinsic value of these labels, or what a label really means. I’m more interested in the consumer perception, and it turns out that, in the last 10 years, agricultural economists have conducted many “willingness to pay” experiments that evaluate consumer willingness to pay. I asked a researcher to help me overview that literature.

We found the studies support what many in the produce industry know or suspect. In short, there remains consumer confusion over what “organic” means, as well as the meaning of the USDA organic seal. Furthermore, other words or traits, such as production region or origin, may be more important than organic or natural in the consumer mind.

Finally — most obviously — different kinds of consumers value “organic” and “natural” differently. I know this simply by comparing the produce sections in my local Walmart and Whole Foods.

I think that, in this consumer confusion, there remains opportunity for grower shippers and merchandisers to help our customers sort out what organic and natural mean. Consumers remain more and more interested in the story behind their food, especially new products.

Crafting a compelling marketing message that explains what any label means — in ways that capture the customer’s interest and willingness to pay — will still lead to more opportunities in produce, whether labeled organic or otherwise.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Tomra Sorting solutions showcased at Potato Europe

Tomra Sorting solutions showcased at Potato Europe

The company will demonstrate its Field Potato Sorter (FPS) and display its Halo optical sorter at Potato Europe, the premier international trade fair for the industry across the continent. The event takes place on September 11 and 12 at Emmeloord, in the Netherlands, and the TOMRA systems can be seen at stand C 370.    

Representing TOMRA’s entry into the unwashed potato market, the FPS uses unique near infra-red (NIR) technology to remove soil clods, stones and rotten potatoes. It also removes the foreign material commonly found in European fields, such as golf balls, plastics and wood.  The FPS offers significant reductions in labor and storage costs, alongside improved yields, quality and operational efficiency.

TOMRA says the Halo system’s benefits include: significant labor cost reductions, averaging 80 per cent; yield increases of up to four per cent; low operational costs; and fast return on investment.  

Fresh pack Halo applications include: salad, small, main crop, large, sweet and russet potatoes; carrots; parsnips; onions; tomatoes; pickles; cucumbers; and gherkins. Processor applications include: peeled and unpeeled potatoes; carrots; peach and pear halves; tomatoes; green beans, onions; apricots; and citrus fruits, such as oranges and mandarins.

TOMRA Sorting Solutions creates sensor-based technologies for sorting, peeling and process analytics. The company unites four strong brands under one roof: TITECH for recycling, TOMRA Sorting Mining for mining, ODENBERG for food and BEST for food and specialty products.

The alliance provides many benefits and synergies including 15 test centers worldwide, access to a vast array of technologies and a large research and development department. TOMRA Sorting Solutions’ global reach also allows it to deliver an enhanced service offering, with a shared service network ensuring the company is always close to its customers. For more information visit:

For more information:
Hannah Preston
Tel: 0113 394 4582
Mobile: 07432 655440
Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 9/9/2013

Northern Fruit start up new UNITEC cherry sorting technologies

Northern Fruit start up new UNITEC cherry sorting technologies

Northern Fruit, one of Washington State’s most recognized cherry packers, started up 12 new lanes for red cherry cutting, sorting, quality selection and packing in Wenatchee. The new line processes about 9 tons/hour.

This innovative technology has been entirely designed and manufactured by UNITEC, an international group that provides state-of-the-art technologies in cherry grading and packing with 90 years of experience in the fruit and vegetable industry.

“The line started production on May,” said Northern Fruit owner Doug Pauly, talking about the new installation, “And this follows our 6 lane machine installed in 2012. Now every cherry packed at Northern is with UNITEC technology.”

The Northern Fruit cherry installation is comprised of an innovative UNITEC cluster cutter and a total of 18 lanes for sizing, color and defect selection.

“We are delighted with UNITEC’s sizing capability and control. The color separation allows us to deliver much higher consistency with checkerboard lots,” Doug Pauly continues, “The electronic defect removal is a significant help for staying in grade on high damage lots. The same is true with softness detection features.”

The new electronic cherry sorting system at Northern Fruit is equipped with CHERRY_VISION©, the innovative system that offers non-destructive detection of the external and internal quality of cherries. CHERRY_VISION© has changed the way cherries are graded thanks to automatic detection removing cullets, debris and undersize defects with high precision and reliability.

“When packing high damage lots the ability to remove a % of defects electronically has been a huge help,” Pauly adds, “We also believe the system’s softer transfers reduces line damage.”

“Both packing lines were designed, built and delivered on time. UNITEC’s experienced installation team had the lines fully ready to run when our first cherries arrived.  They are competent, efficient and good people to work with. UNITEC’s sales and design teams were extremely helpful in creating layouts to fit their machinery within our existing packing rooms,” Pauly comments.

He continues, “In my opinion UNITEC is the global leader in electronic cherry packing systems. Their team is making continual improvements to the technology. As reliable and appreciated partners for Northern Fruit, I highly recommend them.”

The success of UNITEC technologies is confirmed by more than 700 lanes already sold in over 23 countries worldwide (485 equipped with CHERRY_VISION©). 157 of these have been sold in US. 156 lanes, in the US, are equipped with CHERRY_VISION©.

A remarkable achievement reflective of the company’s experience, professionalism and reliability.

UNITEC has recently established the new subsidiary UNITEC USA with headquarter in STOCKTON (CA), to be closer to its American Customers and help them with its technologies and professionalism.

UNITEC USA is fully operational with after-sales service staff and a spare parts warehouse.

For further information:
Raffaele Benedetti
Tel: +39 0545 288884
Fax: +39 0545 288709
Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 7/16/2013