Growers advise buyers to be picky

Apple buyers should be more discriminating and not just choose local fruit because the sign says it’s from B.C.

Apple buyers should be more discriminating and not just choose local fruit because the sign says it’s from B.C.

For top quality fruit, look for the BC Brand leaf sticker, meaning it’s been washed, waxed, sorted and shipped by the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative and its marketing company, B.C. Tree Fruits.

That’s the advice of growers like Glenn Cross and Joe Sardinha, who explain that fruit without that label doesn’t have to meet the same high standards set by the valley’s mainstream packinghouse co-operative.

“Independent growers are supplying some stores with orchard run fruit, which is unwashed, not waxed for protection and which contains fruit with rot and defects. There are no standards,” explains Sardinha, who is also president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

Otherwise, that fruit hasn’t been handled with such high standards of food safety, and it’s often much inferior, he says.

Independents don’t have the same burden for food safety and traceability that the mainstream industry packinghouse has.

He questions why retailers would want to purchase such low quality fruit, and he says he’s asked the OTFC why they aren’t asking their customers why they would offer such fruit to consumers instead of the high quality fruit shipped from the OTFC.

“I think we need to take a harder stand,” said  Sardinha. “Our growers see more cullage and lose money, yet we’re being undercut by independent packers who are circumventing the system.

“They’re not held to the same standard as the B.C. Brand. Retailers demand food safety standards be followed by the mainstream industry, yet the independent sellers are supplying inferior fruit.”

Cross agrees, noting that stores demand perfect fruit from the packinghouse, fruit that hasn’t the smallest blemish, yet they hold the mainstream industry to a higher standard.

“They’ll reject an entire truckload of fruit if there are some that aren’t perfect,” he said.

“We can’t pick, pack and ship apples and never get a blemish on any of them, yet there’s nothing wrong with the fruit,” he said.

He also feels that consumers shouldn’t expect fruit to be cosmetically perfect. For instance, he pointed out that colour is no indication of the maturity of an apple.

If a particular variety is red with a green background and there’s more green on an apple, that doesn’t mean it’s not ripe. It simply means it didn’t colour up as much due to tree position or weather prior to harvest.

He’d like to the playing field evened between what retailers and consumers expect from the mainstream packinghouse co-opoerative and from independent packers.

In the meantime, both would like to see consumers electing to choose the B.C. Brand at the store, and support the local industry.