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Sales Of Non-Chilean Fruit Dip In Some Places; Consumers Called More Careful

March 17, 1989

Undated (AP) _ The scare over tampering of fresh fruit from Chile has reduced sales of all fruit at some markets, but others reported Thursday that consumers are asking more questions but not cutting back much on their shopping lists.

″Consumers definitely don’t want any fruit from Chile and we don’t offer any fruit from Chile. They pick up apples from Washington and ask if they’re from Chile,″ said David Sneddon, co-owner of Fairway, a large New York City fruit market.

On Monday, the United States urged consumers not to eat Chilean fruit after two grapes imported from Chile were found to be tainted with a small amount of cyanide. Most Chilean fruit was pulled from U.S. market shelves.

The finding of the tainted fruit followed anonymous calls to the U.S. embassy in Santiago earlier this month from a man who threatened to inject cyanide into Chile’s export fruit.

Officials had concluded the first call was apparently a hoax after precautionary inspections revealed no sign of tampering. But when a second call was received March 8, saying the threat was not a hoax, further inspections turned up two tainted, seedless red grapes in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Unlike some other grocers, Brian Johnson, produce manager at the Byerly’s grocery store in Edina, Minn., said he had seen a drop in fruit sales, even types that are not grown in Chile.

″I’ve noticed some melon sales slowing down even though they aren’t even from Chile, and even with bananas, which was a real shocker since they are grown nowhere near Chile,″ he said. ″This has created a certain air of uncertainty about buying fruit.″

″Sales have slowed down quite a bit,″ Johnson said, adding that a drop in fruit sales was particularly important to grocers because of the jump of interest in fresh fruit recent years as consumers have become more health- conscious.

In New York, Sneddon said consumers were still buying fruit ″as long as we confirm for them it’s not from Chile.″ He estimated that overall his business is down only about ″five thousand bucks or something like that.″

At Balducci’s, an upscale specialty market in New York’s Greenwich Village, produce department manager Gino Roselli said his business was off about 10 percent, but he said that was due mainly to higher prices for fruit from sources other than Chile, not to a general fear of tampering.

Mary Ellen Gowin, vice president for consumer and public affairs at Shop Rite, a national chain based in New Jersey, said Chilean fruit accounts for about 15 percent of the chain’s fruit sales at this time of year, so ″we still have 85 percent to work with.″

″People are very cautious and concerned,″ she said. ″We recognize that.″ The company has posted signs in produce departments and is displaying shipping containers showing the fruits’ country of origin, she said, and sales of non-Chilean products are holding up well.

″Consumers like fruit and will substitute. They are very understanding,″ she said.

Mike DeMay, co-owner of Tait’s Super Valu in Des Moines, said the reaction to the Chilean threat could invite more of the same.

″The next guy will do it to bananas or lettuce,″ he said. ″But the biggest part of the problem is that the customers’ confidence is going to be further eroded in their belief in our food safety system.″

Mike Loffredo, vice president of Loffredo Fresh Produce Inc., a Des Moines food wholesaler, questioned whether officials overreacted.

″It’s just been blown out of proportion,″ Loffredo said.

Fruits imported from Chile include grapes, nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots, pears, Granny Smith apples, cherries, raspberries, blueberries, cantaloupe and honeydew melons. Substitute sources are available for most types of fruit except for grapes, virtually all of which come from Chile at this time of year.

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