FRESH PRODUCE TRENDS: <br />Sweetbay Peachy Keen on New Florida Stone Fruit

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FRESH PRODUCE TRENDS: <br />Sweetbay Peachy Keen on New Florida Stone Fruit

Sweetbay Supermarkets is aiming to once again hit the sweet spot with consumers this spring with a new Florida peach that will enable consumers to enjoy fresh domestic peaches nearly three months ahead of the traditional start of the U.S. summer peach crop.

After 45 years in the making, the new peach varieties – branded with catchy names like “Florida Prince,” “Tropic Beauty,” “UF Sun” and “Flordago” – were specifically cultivated to prosper in the Sunshine State’s subtropical climate. Developed by the University of Florida researchers in cooperation from Florida’s growers, the peaches are specifically bred to prosper in the warmer climates of Florida and result in a juicy, tasty early-season peach.

The Tampa, Fla.-based division of The Delhaize Group reported considerable consumer acceptance of the new arrival after showcasing a display of “Florida Sweet” peaches last spring. “We see the value of working with our local growers on this commodity,” said Steve Williams, director of produce for Sweetbay Supermarkets.  “There is a lot of potential in the coming years.”

Early results show good market potential for the new peach, with positive feedback from consumers, according to research conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in conjunction with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Consumer data from a two-year project is being used to help determine market entry strategies for peach production in Florida.

Currently there are about 70 acres of peaches being grown in the state, mostly in Central Florida.  Producers reported success with the first year’s crop and expect to increase future production.

“We were happy with our first year of production and hope to double it next year,” said Ron Wilson of Dade City, Fla.-based JON Peach Farms. “The developing relationships with our retailers present endless opportunities for this product.”

Georgia and South Carolina are the Southeast’s regional peach production centers; California is the dominant producer in the West, and accounts for about 75 percent of all U.S. peach production. Currently domestic peaches reach the market in early June with the imported peach deliveries ending in March, which leaves a three-month window when peaches are scarce.

Florida peaches begin their season in April, just as Chile exits the market, and ends in June, just before California and Georgia enter. Climate has been the main barrier to commercial success for Florida peach producers. Traditionally, peach production requires 600 or more “chill hours” for trees to produce a marketable product.  A chill hour is time at or below 45 degrees F and is required for fruit propagation.  The newly developed Florida varieties require only 150 to 300 chill hours.

“Commercial producers will now have the opportunity to employ subtropical cultivars with a market window favorable to higher net returns,” relays Florida Cooperative Extension agent Les Harrison. “The improved revenue stream will economically strengthen growers and Florida agriculture over time.”