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How many shoppers do you think feel comfortable selecting a ripe cantaloupe for immediate consumption? How about a ripe avocado or papaya? You might be surprised at the answer.

The Packer polled more than 1,000 people for its annual Fresh Trends survey, and the results indicate a widespread lack of knowledge about how to select certain fruits. Only 38% said they felt comfortable picking a ripe cantaloupe; 39% expressed confidence about picking a ripe avocado; and 17% said they were comfortable picking a ripe papaya.

Breaking down the responses by household income, age, region and ethnicity reveals additional insights.

Shoppers in the highest income bracket ($100,000-plus) expressed a much higher comfort level with selecting an avocado (53%) than even those in the next-highest income bracket ($50,000-$100,000).

More than half of consumers in the West were confident in picking the fruit, but that wasn’t the case for shoppers in the Midwest (34%), South (35%) and Northeast (31%).

There wasn’t as much variation in comfort level by age, but Hispanic consumers tended to be more confident (55%) than Caucasians (41%), Asians (42%), African Americans (22%) and other ethnicities (43%).

Higher-income shoppers (46% and 42%) were the most comfortable selecting cantaloupe, and lower-income shoppers were less so (32% and 33%).

The data didn’t reveal major regional differences, but age appears to be a major factor in confidence level, with 56% of people 59 and older saying they could select the fruit well, but lower numbers for those 50-58 (44%), 40-49 (30%) and 18-39 (26%).

Papayas stymied shoppers more than any other fruit discussed on the survey question. Twenty-eight percent of shoppers in the top income bracket reported being comfortable selecting the fruit, and that number was 16% or lower for the other income groups. Confidence level didn’t vary as significantly by region or age, but ethnicity played a role. Asians (30%) and Hispanics (19%) were more comfortable choosing a ripe papaya than African Americans and Caucasians (both 14%).

The Fresh Trends data shows that many people don’t know even the most basic information about many produce items that ripen, so you can bet that many are also unaware of nutritional details and other interesting attributes of items.

With back-to-school time approaching, consider taking your shoppers back to school as well – produce school. Here are some selection tips and fun facts to get you started.

Cantaloupe

melons
Photo courtesy Pacific Trellis-Dulcinea

“Shoppers should look for an evenly-round and well-netted cantaloupe, free from raised or scarred surfaces,” said Jose Rossignoli, director of global sourcing for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh. “Eastern cantaloupes will have a creamy to light green cast with a sweet aroma smell.”

Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing for Brawley, Calif.-based Five Crowns Marketing, noted that Origami variety is a full slip melon, which means that the fruit was picked mature. A clean slip, or the absence of the stem, means the cantaloupe is ripe.

Cantaloupe Fun Facts

  • Once cut, cantaloupe lasts longer if refrigerated in glass containers rather than plastic, Rossignoli said.
  • Cantaloupe is a low-calorie food with high water content, which means its consumption helps prevent dehydration.
  • The cantaloupes that are most popular in the U.S. originate from the muskmelon and are also related to squash, cucumbers and pumpkins, said Letty Flores, marketing executive for Fresno, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit-Dulcinea Farms.
  • A cup of cantaloupe has the recommended daily dose of Vitamin A, more than the half the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C, plus electrolytes and minerals.

Avocado

avocado
File Photo

“Because color is not always an indication of ripeness, we suggest giving your avocados a light press near the neck to feel for yield,” said Jennifer Anazawa, category manager for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce. “If it yields easily to gentle pressure, it’s ripe and ready to eat. You can always speed ripening at home by enclosing avocados in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana and leaving on the counter for a day or two. Once ripe, refrigerate to keep ripe for several more days.”

Shoppers looking to eat the fruit later in the week should select a hard, brighter green avocado that will continue to ripen, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

“We also encourage consumers to avoid fruit with dark blemishes or over-soft fruit,” Christou said.

Avocado Fun Facts

  • Avocado toast and avocado-based salad dressings are just a few uses of the fruit that go beyond guacamole. Del Monte even has a recipe for Chocolate and Avocado Protein Balls.
  • There are more than 1,000 varieties of avocado, but hass is the most common one eaten in the U.S.
  • Avocados have more potassium that a banana. “Next time you get a cramp, reach for an avocado,” Anazawa said.

Papaya

papaya
Photo courtesy HLB Specialties

“Whether buying the small Brazilian golden variety or the large formosa papaya variety, shoppers should choose fruits with about 1-2 stripes of color and let them ripen at room temperature,” said Melissa Hartmann de Barros, director of communications for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based HLB Specialties. “The fruit will be ready to eat with 2-3 stripes of color.”

Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals, notes that putting a papaya in a paper bag with an apple or banana will make it ripen more quickly.

Papaya Fun Facts

  • “Most papayas available on mainland U.S. are non-GMO, which is something not many shoppers know,” Hartmann de Barros said. “Lots of consumers stay away from papayas because they are told that papayas are genetically modified … It’s a myth we’ve been trying to dispel for two decades now. Papayas from Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala are never genetically modified or irradiated.”
  • Papain is an extract from the papaya that is used as a meat tenderizer, said Jessie Capote, executive vice president and co-owner of Miami-based J&C Tropicals.
  • “Papayas are grown on a plant that has a skinny column,” Ostlund said. “At the top is an umbrella of long soft branches with big leaves on their ends. The fruit grows around the column in a spiral ending near the top, just under the branches. As the spiral of fruit advances up the growing taller papaya plant, the lowest branch with its big leaf will fall making room for more fruit.”
  • “They are also a great digestive aid, thanks to an enzyme that helps break down protein,” Hartmann de Barros said. “So next time you have a heavy meal or a big piece of steak, have some papaya afterwards and you will thank the papaya gods!”

 

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