Titan Farms Stone Fruit

Last year, Fresh Cut featured the research done by Fruit Dynamics to develop a fresh-cut peach and nectarine program. Since then, South Carolina’s Titan Farms has launched a test-market for a line of fresh-cut stone fruit.

Titan Farms

Ridge Spring, S.C.-based Titan Farms is situated in The Ridge area of South Carolina, the largest peach-growing region in the state. The company has been a fresh market grower and packer for the last 13 years, since its founding in 1999 by Chalmers Carr and his wife, Lori Anne. They leased land for the first two years, then in 2001 purchased 1,500 acres for peach production. Since that time, Carr has grown the business to 5,000 acres of peaches, 400 acres of bell peppers and 270 acres of broccoli, plus an additional 35 acres of watermelon and cantaloupe that are sold in-state. The farm now grows 56 varieties of peaches and nectarines, has its own packinghouse and is one the largest users of H2A visa workers in the country.

Titan Farms has grown to be one of the largest shippers in the country, but Carr has continued to look for new business opportunities.

“Any business starts evaluating bottom lines, value-added, how to increase margins,” Carr said.

He first looked at waste management in the growing operation. The fresh packing facility throws away thousands of pounds of peaches and nectarines each season that aren’t suitable for the fresh market. He looked at using them in biofuels, but that wasn’t feasible so he began looking for other ways to use the seconds. Enter Kim and Eric Gaarde of Fruit Dynamics. Carr had worked with the Gaardes previously to evaluate the varieties in his orchards to stay ahead of what consumers want.

“A progressive company always needs to be looking at what’s going on,” he said.

The Gaardes had developed a fresh-cut stone fruit product (featured previously in the September 2010 issue of Fresh Cut), and they were looking for processors to commercialize the product. Carr took it on as a two-fold research and development project – the first goal was to test the peach and nectarine varieties grown in the Southeast, and the second was beta testing for a commercial line of fresh-cut stone fruit.

The Gaardes and Carr struck an agreement in February of this year, and Carr began buying equipment to put together a clean processing room. By August, Titan Farms was cutting and packaging peaches and nectarines for test marketing with two retailers – Rouse’s Supermarkets in Louisiana and Harris Teeter in North Carolina. The retailers were outstanding to work with, Carr said, and they gave the products space. They’re looking for new items to add to the category, to supplement snack items like fresh-cut apple slices. The produce managers at stores stocking the fresh-cut items have been receptive, and Carr said they’re looking to turn the fresh-cut snack section into a destination place in the produce department.

Fresh-Cut Products

The fresh-cut stone fruit items come in 2-ounce and 10-ounce packages of white peaches, yellow peaches, a mix of the two, white nectarines, yellow nectarines or a mix of both colors. Shelf life is 14 days

The test marketing was to run for eight weeks in August and September, and more than halfway through Carr said response from consumers was positive on the product. The packaging, which is similar to that used in fresh-cut apples, needs some work, Carr said, to work with the inherent challenges of packaging soft fruit.

The fresh-cut operation has been a learning experience for the fresh pack company, Carr said. Although the learning curve was steep, his employees handled it well. Buying equipment and setting up a clean room was one thing, but learning the ins and outs of the rules and regulations surrounding a ready-to-eat product was a whole different experience. Fortunately, Titan Farms has had an emphasis on food safety for some time, with traceability and quality control systems in place for the packinghouse, so that translated over to the fresh-cut operation.

“Food safety is something my company does really well,” Carr said.

The processing line at Titan Farms is a standard one, he said, with a modified apple coring machine that removes the pits, then a slicer to cut the product. The slices run through a santizer wash and then on to the packing line. The bags are packed by hand, since the product sticks to the surface of autfillers and weighers.

“The nature of stone fruit is the product will stick to anything,” Carr said.

As Carr looks at expanding and commercializing the fresh-cut products, a lot of time will be invested in automating the bagging process, and there may be processes from fresh-cut cantaloupe or other soft fruits that could be used in peaches and nectarines.

Future of Fresh-Cut Stone Fruit

Carr said he sees an opportunity in the market for fresh-cut stone fruit, and he would be surprised if Titan Farms or some other processor doesn’t have a product on the market next year. Although peaches and nectarines don’t lend themselves to a year-round program, Carr said they could be available for two seasons – nine months out of the year – if a retailer wanted it.

Within two to four years, Carr believes fresh-cut soft fruit like peaches and nectarines will be found in most produce departments. There are production issues to be worked out, but with companies like his commercializing the process, those will be figured out. He said he’s following in the footsteps of the fresh-cut apple processors, and they’ve done a great job of developing a market out of industry seconds that the stone fruit industry can learn from.

He also believes the product could be a great seasonal inclusion in foodservice. Fresh-cut peaches or nectarines in a fast food kids’ meal could provide a large market boost for the fresh-cut product segment, as well as open kids’ up to new flavor profiles.

Being the first to market has benefits but there are challenges along the way. Carr credits his employees and the relationships he has built with companies like Fruit Dynamics. He said he was glad to be partnered with the research company, to take their baby and bring it to supermarkets.


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