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Quality expectations for produce drive demand for testing supplies
Virginia-based Catalytic Generators specializes in ethylene application for fruit ripening and has been around for more than 40 years. Because its customers continued asking for testing supplies for fresh produce, a sister-compan,y QA Supplies, was born in 1995.
Huge uptick in quality-testing
Over the years QA Supplies has built a niche. “We offer all the testing supplies for produce that are needed throughout the cold chain, from growers to consumers,” says Russ Holt with QA Supplies. This includes temperature monitoring as well as quality-testing. “We still do a ton of temperature monitoring, but have noticed a huge uptick in quality-testing instruments because of the important role quality plays these days,” shared Holt. Past food safety outbreaks also had a big influence on the demand for QA Supplies’ products. “Everybody wants their products to be safe and today, more than ever, almost every company has a plan in place to make sure of that. In the past, our customers might have seen an FDA representative once every few years, but now it’s commonplace for self-imposed or third-party audits to be done at least once or twice a year. There has been big shift towards documenting everything safety related.”
From left to right and top to bottom: peach is being checked for firmness with QA's FT327 Penetrometer, orange is checked for Brix with the ATC Refractometer and the General Purpose Caliper checks the size of a bell pepper. The QA Waterproof Digital Thermometer measures the internal pulp temperature of produce.
Quality drives repeat purchases
Quality has also become more important in generating repeat purchases. “Consumers have many more purchase options when it comes to buying fresh produce and the ability to hold a customer from one visit to the next, relies heavily on the product’s quality,” mentioned Holt. More than ever before, produce should look and feel good and have the best taste possible. Quality standards need to be met and must stay consistent in order to keep customers coming back.
There are a few factors that weigh heavily in measuring the quality and maturity of fresh produce:
- Firmness levels, which can be tested using a penetrometer.
- Brix levels, ordinarily referred to as sugar %, are shown with the help of a refractometer.
- Physical characteristics such Color, Size and Weight will vary in importance depending on the produce variety and are measured via Colorimeters, Calipers and Scales. Color means more to banana, tomato and mango growers, while sizing is more prevalent with avocados, citrus and melons.
UC Davis helped create the maturity thresholds and ripeness indicators for most commodities and each variety will have its own set of standard values. Produce that is often tested for ripeness includes avocados, berries, mangos, bananas, stone fruit, apples, pears, melons and citrus.
Move into broader food industry
About five years ago, QA Supplies expanded outside the produce world, to accommodate all segments of the food industry. “There is so much cross-over in our product lines, that we decided to move into fresh seafood, meat and dairy,” admitted Holt. “However, fresh produce still accounts for 75-80 percent of our business and will always be our core market.” This past year also marked another huge milestone for the company, as QA Supplies opened a new, onsite calibration laboratory which offers NIST traceable testing and certification services that are convenient, affordable and fast. “We have always striven to provide our customers with the best products possible and a big part of that is ensuring that those products are both highly accurate and extremely reliable.” stated Holt. “Our calibration lab gives us the ability to personally validate our instruments for this type of dependability.”
QA Supplies started out in North America, but sells its products globally. Customers in South America in particular do not always have easy access to quality assurance supplies. “As a result, we have seen our foreign business grow by double-digit numbers in the past five or six years. We ship anywhere that FedEx will deliver,” concluded Holt.
For more information:
QA Supplies LLC
Tel: (+1) 800-472-7205
or (+1) 757-855-3094
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