After years of testing, negotiations, and much effort, EARTH has produced and shipped its first batch of dried fruit to the Colorado Rocky Mountains area.
1,520 boxes, with more than 22,000 units of dried banana, mango, and pineapple (plus a “tropical mix” of the three kinds) will be distributed in 35 Whole Food supermarkets in the region.
According to Roger Ruiz, general manager of the commercial sector of the university, the idea of entering this market was first conceived by Will Paradise, a Whole Foods former president for the Rocky Mountain region, who, when visiting EARTH, thought he saw business potential and suggested the opportunity. “From there we started the project planning, first by developing the product, conducting taste tests, and finally with the marketing,” said Ruiz.
Over seven years, food processing professor Yanine Chan perfected the project with help from staff and students who also participated in tastings and focus groups to ensure product quality.
According to Chan, the processing and marketing of food products are not complete until they undergo three processes:
1. Sensory analysis in order to determine if people liked it. In this analysis we evaluated internally (in EARTH). Other than the three fruits that they liked most and we ended up using, they also tried papaya, starfruit, and others.
2. The second stage is how to handle the product economically—how much the product will cost, plant design, and other factors.
3. Determining shelf life
The process was arduous and difficult, as it must take into account aspects such as temperature, drying time, cutting, degrees of ripeness, etc. “There have been many studies with students, without students, in La Flor, in Guacimo, and with commercial support. We harvested the fruit sometimes in Guacimo, and in the case of mango for example, we had to evaluate what the right mango looks like by taking pictures and making color scales. If the dehydrated product is just slightly too ripe, it is no longer useful, and you also have to take into account the five different varieties of mango. Then we had to do the same process with banana and pineapple.”
The shipment took about six weeks to arrive at the Pearl Street Whole Foods location in Boulder, Colorado. “This is another example of the high commitment we have to our relationship with Whole Foods and the products we develop together,” said Ruiz.
The EARTH dried fruits join our line of other exported products including our fresh bananas and a line of more than 20 agricultural products (including the ECO HUM) sold in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama mainly.
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