Food Technology and Nutrition Mimeo Report 61-1
PERISHABLE PRODUCE AFTER PRODUCTION
R. K. Showalter
Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations
Address of the Chairman
American Society for Horticultural Science Section
Association of Southern Agricultural Workers
Jackson, Mississippi, February 7, 1961
PERISHABLE PRODUCE AFTER PRODUCTION
R. K. Showalter
While you digest some of the previously perishable produce
provided by our hosts at this banquet I would like to discuss
some of the problems, and possible solutions, involved in moving
flavor-packed fruits and vegetables from the farm to the con-
sumer. Lest we underestimate the importance of these horti-
cultural crops, it should be noted that 35% of our food consum-
ption last year was fruits and vegetables. Our stomachs are
limited in size and the average American consumes about 1500
Ibs. of food each year. However, during the last three decades
there have been significant changes in the content of this total
food supply. Calories have been reduced from 3500 to 3200,
great improvements in quality and nutrition of the diet have
been made, and individual commodities have shown great changes
Rapid changes have occurred in the location of food produc-
tion in the United States. Before World War I about 33% of our
food was produced at the home farm or garden. By 1955 house-
holds produced only 8% of their food. Thus foods are travel-
ing farther to market. Among the nine top ranking states in
the nation in vegetable production for fresh markets, five are
in the South. Florida, ranking second, had a vegetable crop
last year worth $170 million and a citrus crop worth $275
million. In 1959, California and Florida shipped 63,000
carlots of fresh fruits and vegetables into New York City
compared with only 24,000 carlots shipped from New York
Since the greater proportion of Southern produce is con-
sumed at considerable distances from the producer, the extent
of waste and quality deterioration has increased. It has been
estimated that out of every 5 acres of perishable food produced,
the production of 1 acre is not consumed because of spoilage
or waste. Fresh fruits and vegetables are alive and remain
alive during their entire period of marketability. Life after
harvest continues at various rates depending upon the crop and
its environment. Since the chemical constituents and physical
properties which influence eating qualities are subject to
constant change, all handling operations should be directed
at maintaining life, but minimizing the rate of the living
processes. Length of storage life is governed chiefly by
respiration, transpiration, and microorganisms.
In order for us to have many fruits and vegetables avail-
able almost everywhere at any time many technological advances
have been required. Increasing quantities of some fruits and
vegetables are being processed. In 1956, 38% of our fruit and
vegetable consumption had been canned, frozen or dehydrated.
Home-makers are demanding high standards of quality, nutrition,
and convenience with a minimum of time and labor required in
the kitchen. Over 100 different kinds of fresh produce are
offered for sale in a modern supermarket during the year, as
well as many partially prepared and processed fruits and
Among the advancements in handling perishables one might
1. Mechanical harvesters for potatoes, radishes, tomatoes
2. Mobile packinghouses for sweet corn, celery and lettuce.
3. Bulk handling in trucks and pallet bins to the packing-
house or processing plant.
4. Automatic grading of lemons and tomatoes for color.
5. Wet-strength fiberboard shipping containers.
6. Automatic filling and closing machines for shipping
7. Automatic packaging machine forms, fills and seals
plastic bags of radishes.
8. Consumer packages made of shrinkable film and plastic
9. Vacuum cooling
10. Controlled atmosphere storage.
Transportation provides the pipe lines that insure the
flow of perishable produce from producer to consumer. In
1959, 1 million 20 thousand carlot equivalents of fresh fruits
and vegetables, 39% by rail and 61% by truck, were unloaded in
39 U. S. cities according to the U.S.D.A.
Among the recent changes in transportation facilities one
1. Rapid increase in truck transit with faster deliveries
and mixed loads for smaller markets.
2. Mechanically refrigerated or heated thermostatically
controlled temperatures for truck and rail.
3. Controlled temperatures and continuous air circulation
for ice bunkered rail cars.
4. Liquid nitrogen at -320oF sprayed into trucks for rapid
precooling and transporting frozen foods.
Rapidly gaining in popularity is the piggyback combination
of truck trailers on rail flat cars. Southern railroads are
now delivering truck loads of produce to northern markets on
passenger train schedules instead of 3rd or 4th morning deliv-
eries. Trucking is also taking to the seas where fishyback
loads of citrus, tomatoes, frozen foods, and other perishables
in trailers are transported by ship without interrupting the
operation of refrigeration units on the trailers.
For really fast transportation, over 16,000 tons of
agricultural products took to the airways in 1959, and the
tonnage for 1960 is expected to be 20% higher. The cost per
100 lbs. of strawberries from Miami to New York by air was
about $7.00 compared with $3.00 by land. However, rates may
be cut in half this year when new model jet-prop planes are
put into operation with a capacity of 72,000 lbs., controlled
temperatures, and end-loading thru the tail.
Let us now change our perspective to some advances in
marketing procedures. The products of the grower meet the con-
sumer in the retail store. Growers and shippers must think
and plan in terms of retail merchandising, since food marketing
has developed rapidly toward dominance by the retailer. The
supermarkets, increasingly controlled by large chains and
cooperative groups, sold about 72% of all the food purchased
in retail stores in 1958. Todays large retailers no longer
accept the produce available in terminal markets from day to
day. During the 1950's chain stores moved rapidly into direct
buying of fresh produce from the production areas. Produce
buyers want large quantities of uniform, high quality items.
The modern supermarket is like an assembly line which operates
best when each unit is just like every other unit.
In the past hundreds of retailers, and many wholesalers
and jobbers in a city had to estimate their produce needs
and obtain their supplies individually. Today, six or eight
firms may buy and sell most of the food needed by a city, and
the services of the traditional wholesalers have declined.
The gross sales of the three largest food chains amounted to
5, 2.4, and 1.9 billion dollars each in 1959. According to
John Carew of Michigan State University in his recent report
of studies with the Kroger chain, produce sales amount to
about 8 1/2% of total sales or 160 million dollars per year.
He states "Chainstore produce buyers are the most important
influential men in the fruit and vegetable industry. Their
buying decisions--where, when, from whom, and at what price--
affect the economic lives of all growers."
What we are seeing develop is a marketing system which
ties together our mass production and distribution facilities.
This is sometimes referred to as vertical integration. Mass
retailers are integrating more of their activities with growers
and processors to meet their needs for large quantities and
standardized quality. Many different forms of direct and
indirect integration have developed among growers, suppliers,
shippers, and retailers. It is estimated that 90% of the
vegetables produced for canning and freezing are grown under
contract to processors. For fresh-market produce the most
common form of integration combines the functions of growing,
packing and shipping point selling. A few terminal market
operators have become grower-shippers, and some of the retail
chains have established packing operations in the production
Produce marketing procedures have indeed been revolutionized
during the last 30 years. Among the many transitions have
been: the shift from the small corner grocery store to the
huge supermarket, from local grower purchasing to long distance
shipping, much increase in services, handling and processing
between grower and consumer, and increases in mass merchandising
and selling at low margins with rapid turnover. With the growth
of chain stores has come the concentration in buying power.
The increase in costs of marketing have reduced the growers'
share of the consumers' dollar from 51 cents in 1948 to
39 cents in 1959.
Recent studies of chainstore buying practices by Carew,
1. Chainstore buyers' decisions are strongly influenced
by personal preference and past experience for valid
or biased reasons.
2. Produce buyers are flexible and almost as susceptible
to merchandising practices as the customers in their
3. The claim that chain stores are ruining the fruit and
vegetable industry may be argued pro and con. Many
large growers and cooperatives are thriving on chain-
store business. Many small growers who cannot or will
not meet chain store supply requirements have fallen
by the wayside.
Growers must advance their knowledge and participation in
marketing activities. Their job is not finished at harvest.
We have heard the statement many times that "production has
been licked but we can't sell the stuff." Many growers fail
to realize that their low financial returns are caused more
frequently by their inability to supply uniformly high-quality
produce than to their failure to locate a market. As produce
buyers decrease in number and increase their buying power,
fruit and vegetable growers will find it increasingly difficult
to dispose of small lots of odd size, grade, and color.
Growers should no longer strive only for high yields, since
they are not always compatible with good quality.
Organized groups of growers reach buyers not available
to individuals. Cooperatives provide service to large buyers
by pulling together the produce of several growers for sorting,
grading and packing into uniform lots. Growers should maintain
an interest in their produce beyond the farm gate.
So far I have pointed out many changes in technology and
methodology of marketing perishable produce. In 1927 the
President of A.S.A.W., Dr. Soule of Georgia, spoke on the
subject of "Economic Waste through Lack of Coordination of
Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry." Several others presented
papers on the problems of getting research results accepted.
In the Horticulture Section, Dr. Corbett stated "The problem
today is not production, but to find a profitable means of
disposing of what we are already producing." Many authorities
are currently urging that we place major emphasis on marketing
research in 1961. Some might claim that little advancement had
been made in solving our problems during these 33 years.
The least we could say is that innumerable research reports
have been published during the intervening years. However we
must not confuse publication of results with their acceptance
by the trade. Production research is usually performed in
production areas, and the results are readily inspected and
accepted by the growers if they appear advantageous to them.
A well organized Extension Service is available at the county
and state level for taking agricultural and homemaking infor-
mation to the people. Problems in produce after production
extend across many state lines and an extension program
comparable to that for production problems does not exist.
I believe there is a great need for more exchange of
information and research findings between members of the
produce industry and state and federal research workers.
Those responsible for produce procurement at our markets have
often not availed themselves of the information in our technical
Just to illustrate: A produce buyer in Baltimore asked
me if a stericooler really "sterilized" produce with ultraviolet
light. Another buyer asked me to confirm his idea that sweet
corn was precooled to change the sugar to starch.
You may ask, "what means are available for diseminating
marketing information?" In addition to publications, conferences,
demonstrations, short courses, clinics and workshops are all
valuable. Better personal acquaintance of the businessmen who
buy and sell our horticultural crops and the personnel who
conduct the marketing research would assist the exchange of
One example of the desired close relationship between indus-
try and research might be cited. In one area of Florida the
growers meet with the Experiment Station research staff one
morning a month for coffee and doughnuts and an informal
discussion of any problems.
Another example--Dr. Carew spent six weeks last summer with
the buyers of a large chain store to study the decision making
processes behind procurement, handling, and merchandising.
Those responsible for growing, buying, and retailing
need to actually meet and see each others problems at first
hand. In Michigan, two recent meetings between growers and
produce buyers were highly beneficial. Vegetable growers from
Delaware recently made on-the-spot studies of the Philadelphia
and New York markets to see produce from all areas and learn
how their own market position could be improved. In Georgia
a few weeks ago, the marketing situation concerning fruits and
vegetables was discussed by farmers, market managers, extension
and research workers, and chain store buyers. Many other
examples could be cited for ways of improving the liaison
between producers and receivers.
Finally we must remember that perishable produce needs
promotion and merchandising at the consumer level. This
involves attractive and informative packaging, advertising
and educational programs. Modern housewives are not the cooks
their mothers and grandmothers were and they need recipes and
other cooking aids to make fresh produce easier to prepare.
We all know the impact of advertising on the consumer. If we
brag about our produce often enough and have the quality to
back us up, people will believe it and buy it. The Florida
Citrus Commission, and other such organizations, have found
public relations no longer a luxury but a basic part of their
business, and they spend about $4 million a year on consumer
Our 1959 Florida Legislature appropriated $200,000 for
promoting agricultural products. Much of the success of this
venture was achieved through publicity in more than 200 publi-
cations with a combined circulation of more than a hundred
million. Full color ads picturing fresh vegetables appeared
in two magazines sold in grocery stores with a guaranteed
monthly circulation of 9,350,000.
Other methods of merchandising from the growers point of
1. Placing a growers' representative in receiving markets
to report back on quality factors and suggestions for
2. Issuing a weekly newsletter to keep the trade informed
on availability and quality of produce ready for harvest.
3. Using packages with built-in advertising and labels
designating usage or quality level. Wisconsin sells
"kitchen tested" potatoes under 3 labels for different
cooking purposes after the lots are laboratory tested
for cooking qualities.
In conclusion, I believe that marketing can be removed from
the category of the weakest link in agriculture. There are no
obstacles that can't be overcome with imagination, determination,
dedication, and perspiration. Since growers expect the market
to buy their produce and consumers expect the market to antici-
pate their desires, we must maKe a cooperative effort to market
the right produce, at the right place, at the right time, in
the right quantities and at the right price. Our produce must
not perish after production.