[NAFEX] fruit varieties unnamed
iwgarden at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 25 11:54:24 EDT 2010
Thanks for the good article by David Karp. He wrote an excellent one on
blueberries and one on peaches too.
From: nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Betty Mayfield
Sent: Thursday, June 24, 2010 4:43 PM
To: North American Fruit Explorers
Subject: [NAFEX] fruit varieties unnamed
To the list,
I saw this story today in the online Los Angeles
Times and agree with it completely. Several years
ago I bought tomatoes at a farmers' market from a
man who directed me to a variety with a flavor I
wanted. Later I went to another market and asked
what their tomato varieties were, and they said,
"whatever was ripe this morning." Needless to
say, I didn't buy any. But I always buy
strawberries from anyone with a Shuksan sign.
Fruit varietals: Identity crisis in the produce aisle
The names help consumers know what produce will
taste like and whether to buy it. But the era in
which shoppers could look for favorites is passing.
By David Karp, Special to the Los Angeles Times
There are 230 varieties of peaches grown in
California, freestone and clingstone, heirloom
and newly developed, flavorful and bland, but
when you go to the grocery store and even many
farmers markets, they're usually sold just as "peaches."
The identification of a fruit's variety is the
single most important piece of information
consumers have in deciding what it will taste
like and whether to buy, but the era in which
consumers could look for distinctive varieties by
name - Fantasia nectarine, O'Henry peach, Santa Rosa plum - is rapidly
Aside from apples and pears, most fruits are
typically not identified by variety at markets,
and have not been for years. This is a problem
not just for fruit connoisseurs but also for all
consumers. To give just one example, buyers often
have no way to distinguish between yellow peaches
with a traditional balance of sweetness and
acidity and the low-acid varieties; the latter
may be preferred by some for eating out of hand,
but they are virtually useless for cooking.
Until 2006, the California Tree Fruit Agreement,
the organization that sets standards for the
state's shippers of peaches, nectarines and
plums, required the specific variety to be
identified on the carton. But some growers and
shippers found that they could not readily market
certain varieties perceived by buyers as
inferior, and so the CTFA now allows fruit to be
shipped under generic designations such as
"yellow peach." Dale Janzen, the organization's
director of industry relations, estimates that
only 30% of shipments today name the variety on the carton.
There was a time when many of the stone fruit
varieties grown around the nation had long lives
and distinctive identities. In recent decades,
however, the interval between stone fruit variety
generations has contracted to just 20 years, or
even 10, after which growers replace their trees
with newer varieties. Plus, supermarket produce
managers, who now mostly have little in-depth
knowledge of fruit, don't want to be bothered segregating batches by name.
Variety names could easily be printed on produce
stickers, which instead have recently been filled
with bar codes; this may be convenient for
self-checkout, but it gives a creepy industrial feel to the product.
For many fruit varieties, the true cultivar name,
such as Cripps Pink apple, has been overshadowed
by the same variety's marketing name, the Pink
Lady. Part of the reason is that patent
protection of fruit varieties extends for only 17
to 20 years, but names used for marketing are
protected indefinitely under trademark law.
Moreover, large growers and marketers are
increasingly moving to a system that subsumes
individual varieties in a series of cultivars
that are marketed under the same name. For
example, Sun World has a line of plums of
different varieties that all share purple-black
skin and red flesh and are all marketed as Black Diamonds, from May to
This commercial nomenclature is convenient for
marketers, but something has also been lost - the
feedback mechanism that allows consumers to
identify varieties that they like, and ask for them by name.
Both philosophically and practically, it's
crucial to capitalism that good products be
rewarded with increased demand and higher prices,
and inferior ones fall by the wayside. When a
named variety delights consumers, they buy more,
even if they have to wait until the following
year; the produce manager orders more from the
wholesaler, who increases his order from the
grower, who buys more trees from the nursery, who
pays greater royalties to the breeder for
devising the variety to begin with and is
encouraged to come up with more such superior fruit.
Conversely, when inferior varieties are marketed
generically, producers of inferior varieties
piggyback on producers of better varieties. In a
pomological version of Gresham's law, bad fruit drives out good.
So why don't marketers sell by variety? All too
often today, new varieties are bred to appeal to
the lowest common denominator, to be inoffensive
to the greatest number of people, so it suits the
industrial distribution system when fruit is
marketed anonymously. When fruit quality is
homogenized, variety is less significant; in
turn, anonymity deprives consumers of their main
weapon to resist homogenization.
It doesn't have to be so. The European Community
requires that grapes, oranges, apples and pears
be identified by variety at the point of sale,
and the practice is common there for other fruits
too. There's no reason why American retailers
should not respect consumers by empowering them to select by variety.
There is a downside to varietal transparency,
however: When shoppers become smitten with a
superior variety, such as the Tulameen raspberry,
they may demand it to the exclusion of others,
even early or late in its season, when other
varieties would actually taste better, notes Chad
Finn, a berry breeder with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. It can be difficult for consumers to
make a fully informed decision, juggling the
typical season for a variety, the geographical
area where a batch is grown, the earliness or lateness of crops that year,
Growers and marketers don't want consumers to get
too attached to a variety by name, particularly
for stone fruit varieties, which are often in
season for just a week or two, before a new
variety takes its place. Similarly, they want to
be free to replace obsolete varieties in the
orchard and store, without consumers saying, "Oh,
you don't have Fantasia nectarines anymore, phooey on you."
You'd think that farmers markets, celebrated for
keeping alive unusual produce varieties, would
offer a different dynamic, but all too often when
vendors are asked for the name of the fruit
they're displaying, they just say something like
"white peach." Duh! Occasionally, the farmer may
not know the variety of an item because the trees
were unnamed when he bought the farm, but more
often the vendor is an employee who is uninvolved
in farming or who can't be bothered to list varieties.
Fitzgerald Kelly, a highly regarded vendor at the
Santa Monica farmers market, takes an
idiosyncratic approach to stone fruit
nomenclature, bestowing his own whimsical
monikers on series of similar varieties, such as
Carmen Miranda for low-acid yellow-fleshed
nectarines. In some cases, he offers experimental
selections from breeders and doesn't want to tip
off competitors to what he's growing; for all
except old-fashioned high-acid varieties,
customers don't care to know the specific name, he says.
Another high-quality grower, John Hurley, has
sometimes sold intensely flavorful, hard-to-grow
Snow Queen white nectarines (in season now) as
generic white nectarines, which is like mixing
Ferraris and Yugos. When I pointed this out, he
said, "Oh, you're right, but I'm so exhausted by
harvest and driving down here that I often lose track of the varieties."
The culture is much different at upscale markets
in the Bay Area, such as the Ferry Plaza and
Berkeley markets, where most vendors make a point
of identifying varieties - not because
regulations require them to do so, but because it
is seen as a shrewd marketing move.
Varietal identification is also indispensable to
farmers market integrity. A small but increasing
minority of vendors are obtaining certified
production certificates that state the number of
trees they're growing but without naming specific
varieties, making it much easier for those who
are dishonest to buy or supplement their
offerings with little fear of being caught.
What can be done to reverse the trend to
anonymity, to return to a model in which fruits
have names and people know and care about them? Here are three proposals.
Consumers can ask store managers and farmers
market vendors to name produce varieties. You
don't have to boycott anonymous fruit, just favor
vendors who do identify varieties.
Growers, packers and shippers should retract the
veil of anonymity. In the long term, it's to
their economic advantage if consumers are
informed and have a choice. The cost is nugatory,
and a satisfied customer is likely to buy more.
Finally, fruit industry leaders, regulators and
politicians can pass and enforce regulations that
require produce to be identified by variety at
markets. That's not so far-fetched, since a
similar law went into effect last year requiring
stores to identify the country where produce was grown.
Then we can finally let the best fruit win, and
when it does, we'll know how to ask for it.
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