Monday, April 25, 2011

The Sweet Taste of Sustainability

(This post originally appeared on Sustainablog on 4/24/11.  For links to all my posts on various sites)
I don't do product endorsements, but this post will probably seem like one.  My most recent Sustainablog post was about how to make fruit production more sustainable by reducing the "shrink" (read waste).  I was particularly focused on the worst kind of waste which is "disappointment shrink" where the fruit is grown, harvested, shipped, sold, and then rots in the consumer's refrigerator because it does not taste good enough to eat.  In the past I have actually heard produce companies and retailers say that one of their biggest customers is the garbage can. That mindset is, thankfully, changing.  Today I want to talk about just one of many produce industry players that are doing the hard work to consistently deliver fresh produce that will be eagerly eaten because of taste quality (thus making the inputs for their production more efficient).
A day or so after the "disappointment shrink" posting, I walked into a small produce vendor named Carlsbad Ranch Market.  I was happy to see that they were selling Dulcinea branded melons including a watermelon called "Ruby Bliss." They had free samples at the check-out stand and they were absolutely delicious.  I wasn't surprised about the flavor because I know this brand. I was only surprised that Dulcinea had a full-size watermelon because they pioneered the "personal watermelon."  Fortunately this shop sells quarter melons because with just two of us we risked the kind of waste I just critiqued!
The business behind the Dulcinea brand  is a perfect example of how produce can become more sustainable through consistent quality management that vastly reduces waste at the consumer level.  Their first product was the "personal watermelon," specifically the Pure Heart variety bred by scientist Xing Ping Zhang.  I interviewed Zhang a few years ago.  His goal was to make a melon that was small enough for a normal family to consume with minimal rind and with the color/flavor of the "heart" of a large melon. Zhang's long-term goal was to develop a softball sized melon with similar characteristics that one could take for lunch. He certainly succeeded at the family-sized goal, and until last week I couldn't imaging buying any different watermelon (these are normally available at Costco and many other retailers).  Then I tasted the "Ruby Bliss" melon at this little produce shop.
Dulcinea is a division of a much larger company (e.g. >$10Billion) called Syngenta that is based in Basel, Switzerland.  They have more than 20,000 employees around the world.  Dulcinea may not been able to execute its quality-based strategy without the support of a "deep pockets" company like Syngenta.  They had to develop the superior genetics with scientists like Dr. Zhang.  They had to work out the growing systems and the business models to reward contracted growers to produce quality fruit on a consistent basis (rather than  just on weight, the common contract term).  They had to work out the details of getting this quality preserved through the "channel" in terms of "cold chain" consistency and speed.  They had to work out all these details for multiple geographies as they source seasonally from Central America, work up through California and Arizona, and up from Florida to North Carolina and even to Kentucky.
This was not an immediately profitable business, but Syngenta has provided the "patient money" to make this work.
Dulcinea also has a "Tuscan Sweet" melon which is actually a muskmelon but which seems like a cantaloupe.  I now never buy any other sort of cantaloupe because the quality is so much more dependable. They have a tomato call Amadoro and also a grape tomato.  They have a not-yet-commercial "chocolate tomato" which has fantastic called "Rosa Bruno" (it is brown which is an issue for some consumers but the taste is amazing).  I really want that one to make it after tasting it at the PMA.
Dulcinea is not the only example of "sustainability via edibility."   I could talk about the "Golden Pineapple" originally pioneered by Del Monte.  I could talk about "Conditioned Stone Fruit."  I could talk about "SmartFresh treated apples."  I could talk about the premium greenhouse tomato offerings like "Campari," "Amarosa" etc.  I could talk about "Cuties" in the mandarin orange market.
For consumers concerned about sustainability, it is encouraging that there are all these quality-focused options.  These companies are selling products that are nutritious, delicious, and that will end up in your family's stomachs rather than in your compost pile, disposal, or worst-case, the land fill.
You are invited to comment here or email me at  My website is Applied Mythology.
Dulcinea Watermelon Image From stevendepolo

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