Table 101

Utilization and destinations of the cactus pear production in Italy, 1996—1999

Average quantities

Type tons %

Wholesale fruit and vegetable markets 28,500 45

Outside the market (street vendors, large chain distributors, etc.) 13,000 21

Foreign markets 12,000 19

Farm rejects, unsold stock, weight losses, and wastage 6,000 9

Personal consumption 3,500 6

total 63,000 100

duced only in old-fashioned orchards. The 'Gialla' cultivar accounts for 85% of the total production, followed by 'Rossa' (10%) and 'Bianca' (5%). About 75% of production is represented by "prime" and "secondary" quality fruit by weight (120-140 g); the "extra" (> 140 g) category is about 10 to 15%, and the rest is represented by "superextra" (> 180 g) and "third" quality (< 120 g). Postharvest facilities and infrastructure are scarce, both in Italy and Mexico, and no more than 10% of the harvested crop is stored in cool chambers for 2 to 6 weeks. Despite the advantages gained from expanding the period of fruit marketing, there is a substantial lack of knowledge on post-harvest technologies at a commercial level.

The main destinations for the cactus pear in Italy are the national wholesale fruit markets, followed by the "outside the market" and the foreign markets, rejects and wastage, and personal consumption (Table 10.1). The "outside the market" category is increasing, and consists mainly of street vendors. The owners of small holdings, who become the street vendors, sell their products at higher prices, especially in cities near the production zones. Small commercial operators serve consumer markets not covered by the local wholesale fruit and vegetable markets. The "outside the market" category also includes large-scale distribution chains, which sign contracts with commercial enterprises that have particular forms of packaging and guarantees of consistency. This category includes mass caterers (army canteens, hospitals, religious communities, university and large company canteens, schools, hotel complexes, and tourist villages), who find it more convenient to buy direct from producers in the period (autumn) when other fresh fruit is in short supply. Only modest quantities of cactus pears are currently absorbed by the confectionery, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries, although there is a definite growth potential.

In Sicily, the most common means of selling cactus pears is ex farm. This form concerns about 80% of production, and the harvesting is paid for by the buyer. In some cases, the product is sold ex farm by weight, with harvesting being paid for almost exclusively by the producer. Less frequently the product is sold ex market, with the producer paying for harvesting, processing, and transport to the place of sale.

In the ex farm sale, the contract is verbally defined 2 to 3 months or more before harvesting and stipulates that the buyer pays 30 to 50% of the agreed-upon sum in advance, while the remainder is payable at the beginning of harvest. To determine the value of the goods, the quantity of goods to be produced that year is estimated, taking into account orchard age, layout, and management. Having agreed upon the production volume, the sales price is established; the buyer organizes the harvest of the product, spreading it out over time according to processing and storage capacities, as well as market trends. The relative production risks (e.g., climatic events) are transferred from the producer to the buyer at the moment of stipulating the contract. The buyer usually transfers the product to his own premises directly after harvesting, so processing and packaging can be completed as quickly as possible.

Sale ex farm by weight follows the same procedures regarding the nature and form of contract, advance payments, and forms of payment. The producer agrees with the buyer how many harvests will be produced for the buyer and sometimes also other aspects of the form and times of harvesting, with the general aim of allowing the buyer to find the best placing on the market for the product. Wide price fluctuations occur in sales by weight, so the buyer must take into consideration the categories of prod uct obtainable from the orchard, the care taken by the producer, and the varieties present. The risks linked to quality/quantity aspects of production remain with the producer until the goods are delivered. An ever-growing number of cactus pear producers prefer to sell ex farm, due to the reduced risks and the savings in time. A few producers, however, choose to sell their produce ex market, taking upon themselves all the operations to do with production, harvesting, processing, packaging, and, at times, storing of the cactus pears. This form is preferred by medium-to-large producers who have the necessary work force for the various phases of processing.

In some cases in Italy, the producer harvests the fruit and consigns it directly to the retailer; if the retailer is a street vendor, the product goes directly to the consumer. Some producer-dealers directly export the product, transporting it in trucks and/or ships for European destinations, or by air carrier toward other continents. Two main articulations of distribution are: (1) producer ^ wholesaler ^ retailer ^ consumer; and (2) producer ^ wholesaler ^ selling agent ^ retailer ^ consumer. Also, an intermediary (a mediator or buying agent) can act between the producer and the wholesaler.

For the processing of cactus pears, warehouses are equipped with fruit de-prickling machines plus selection and sizing belts. Selection, which entails eliminating undersized fruit and those damaged by flies, transport, or split by frosts and/or hailstorms, is carried out by specialized staff, who also ensure the working order of the machines. The product is packaged in plastic, wooden, or cardboard containers with a capacity of 3 to 5 kg. Until a few years ago, the wooden crate was the most common, whereas recently cardboard has become more common. According to its specific destination, the product can be packed in smaller 1 to 2 kg plastic, polystyrene, or cardboard cases.

Among the forms of sale of "packed" goods, selling directly in the warehouse prevails over selling through a selling agent or large distribution chains. The commercial enterprise that buys ex farm pays for the harvesting, transport of the product to the warehouse, processing, packaging, making up the pallets, and transport to the markets as well as for the commission charges. These costs together are U.S. $0.35 to $0.45 per kilogram. The commercial enterprises limit their marketing actions to illustrated pamphlets on the characteristics of the product, and on how to consume the product itself. A promotion/advertising campaign over several years has been activated by the Regional Government, with free tasting sessions of the fruit in the main sales outlets and in the restaurants of the larger Italian cities (Battaglia 1997). Prices at production in Sicily (Table

Average wholesale prices of cactus pears in the province of Catania, Sicily, 1983-1999

Year

Current Lira (£ kg-1)

1999 Lira Value (£ kg-1)

Index (1983-85 = 100)

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