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Asda hopes time is ripe for avocado 'traffic light' packaging

By Jane Joseph , 18-Jul-2012
Last updated on 18-Jul-2012 at 13:13 GMT

Asda hopes time is ripe for avocado 'traffic light' packaging

UK supermarket chain Asda hopes that its new 'traffic light' colour coded packaging system will ensure customers always pick avocadoes off retail shelves at the correct level of ripeness.

Avocadoes are notoriously difficult for food sellers to keep at the correct firmness, and ripeness of fruit is the number one customer complaint, Asda spokeswoman Vicki Rogerson told FoodProductionDaily.com.

Since the fruit does not ripen on the tree, it has to be 'triggered' in a ripening chamber. But unlike bananas, which when placed in ripening room will all ripen at the same rate, avocadoes mature at different times.

“You can have two fruits from the same tree that have grown next to each other that will still ripen at a different rate. This is down to the oil content and the dry matter of the individual fruit. On occasion, a fruit may never ripen,” Rogerson said.

"So to sell them in a 'ripe' state is actually far more difficult, and they have to go through a number of checks before being packed.”

Stripping out the guesswork...

Asda has therefore developed a new traffic light system which allows shoppers to see the different stages of ripeness, taking the guesswork out of judging the length of ripening time required.

Before the fruit is packed for sale, the supplier measures ripeness using a grading machine from Netherlands-based Aweta.

“The avocados are tapped, very lightly, four times as they pass through the machine and two sensors measure impact (the firmness of the fruit) and acoustics (the resonance within the fruit),” Rogerson said.

The avocadoes are then packed into colour-coded boxes by hand, she explained. An avocado in a green box indicates the fruit is ripe and ready to eat, orange means almost ripe and pink suggests the fruit needs more time.

Rogerson said the trial will give shoppers clarity, especially as avocadoes are an ‘occasion’ purchase. “If you fancy some guacamole tonight and you buy an unripe avocado your meal is basically ruined,” she said.

Asda also hopes the scheme will help reduce food waste in the country, as shoppers in the UK throw away 1m tonnes of fresh fruit each year, accounting for 13% of the country’s total food waste.

Less waste to landfill

The fact that the avocados are not sold in plastic wrapping also means less waste going to landfill, the retailer said.

The system is being trialed across 30 UK stores and Asda plans to roll the scheme out nationwide later this year.

Asda is not the only UK supermarket chain to tackle the problem of providing customers with avocadoes just at the point of ripeness.

Earlier this year, Tesco began trialing new packaging aimed at prolonging the freshness of avocadoes and tomatoes.

Using technology from UK-based company It’s Fresh, the supermarket began using packaging containing a strip of ethylene, the hormone that causes produce to ripen and go mouldy.   

Tesco claimed the packaging could potentially prevent the wastage of 1.6m tomatoes and 350,000 packs of avocados.