As the country comes back online and moves further out of the height of the pandemic, one area of the produce industry is experiencing great interest: ripening rooms.
Thermal Technologies says the early shut downs for COVID-19 caused the delay of some ripening room projects. Since then installations have been ramping up.
Blythewood, SC-based Thermal Technologies Inc., a commercial ripening room design and construction company, says the early shut downs for COVID-19 caused the delay of some ripening room projects, particularly in the second quarter of 2020 when the stay-at-home orders were largely in place.
“Since then installations, particularly for large retailers, have been ramping up to meet the increased consumer demand created by the pandemic,” says David Byrne, vice-president of sales for Thermal Technologies. “That’s showing no signs of abetting, even though we are contending with a significant increase in prices for steel, rubber and insulated panels caused by the pandemic.” Currently the company is working on two of its largest ripening room installations in the company’s 30 years history for two leading retailers in the U.S.
Byrne says its TarpLess ripening room systems are used by 18 of the top 20 retailers across North America including Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Meijer, Wegmans, HEB and more.
Right: David Byrne
The state of ripening in the U.S.
When it comes to using commercial ripening technology, Byrne says the U.S. is leading the way. “As far as other countries, everyone likes ripened fruit. But the technology used can vary widely, depending on available infrastructure as well as regional differences,” says Byrne, who estimates Thermal Tech rooms ripen more than 70 percent of bananas across all of North America.
On top of that, ripening is also moving out of solely focusing on bananas. “As pressurized ripening technology expanded to include avocados, pears and other fruits, this boosted sales and consumer demand for these fruits as well, along with their expectations for high quality, uniformly ripened fruit,” says Byrne. “Beyond the growing popularity of fruit such as avocados, which we're seeing ripened in increasing volumes, the biggest new trend is to have rooms with the capability to ripen multiple fruit types without compromising performance.”
Banana ripening in a Colombia facility.
Byrne says its largest customers and regional wholesalers are increasingly looking for rooms with the flexibility to not only handle those multiple fruit types but also combine ripening and pre-cooling tasks and have multiple temperature control zones. Other ripening applications are also gaining ground says Byrne, noting two installations it recently completed in Latin America are examples of this: one ripening avocados for a major guacamole producer in Mexico and the other for a new banana puree facility outside Turbo, Colombia.