Fourth Range Products: history and origins
Fourth range products appeared for the first time in the United States in the Sixties and since then the presence of this kind of fruit and vegetable products on the overseas markets has become more and more considerable, even though some period of decreases in sales.
The Eighties represented a very important period in the history of the consumption of fourth range products as they took on all their characteristics of convenience and healthiness. In the USA, the marketing and technology innovation in the fruit and vegetable sector was due to the necessity to renew this specific sector, which led to the success of the so-called ready-to-eat products: since then, in the US the sales of fourth range products have constantly increased and in 2003 they reached a turnover of 12 billion dollars, about 13% of the total sales of the fruit and vegetable sector.
This great success was due to a favourable juncture, both scientific and economic, in the US production chain.
As to the European market, the first weak attempt to introduce fourth range products goes back to the Seventies, but the fourth range segment was born in France in 1981 and from there spread all over Europe, being successful above all in some countries of Northern Europe, such as Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
In France during all the Eighties and the first years of the Nineties, the fruit and vegetable sector of fourth range products received the contribution of a large quantity of fruit and vegetable producers; in the following years, contrary to previsions, the market of fourth range products entered a stagnations phase, due to the strong reduction of the price/quality ratio. Each fruit and vegetable company, in order to guarantee its own affirmation on the market, carried out strategies to drastically reduce prices at the detriment of quality, which instead is trait of lightly-processed vegetables.
As a consequence, consumers’ choices addressed again to the traditional segment of fresh fruit and vegetables. The reduced demand inevitably caused operators to disappear from the market till in 2002 only a small group of company producers remained (only three companies covered 80% of the demand). However, nowadays fourth range products market is again increasing.
Recent estimates calculate an average incidence of the fourth range around 8% of the total French and English fruit and vegetable market, respectively 350 and 500 million euros.
Also in Italy fourth range fruit and fourth range vegetables represent today about 7% of the turnover of fruit and vegetable sales, that is 375 million euros, compared to the 5389 million euros of the total fruit and vegetable sector (data from 2004). In Italy fourth range products appeared five years after the French debut, but only starting from mid-Eighties an increase in sales could be seen, due to an increase in the number of families where all members worked.
In the first years the sale policy of fourth range products caused a slowing down and a consequent decrease in the market, as packaging of fourth range products came from the production surplus of the traditional segment and were therefore often characterized by low quality. Only recently there have been market policies in order to spread a fruit and vegetable product that is no more for a small group of people, but for mass consumption. Companies that produce fourth range products, in fact, nowadays have to respect and follow the GMP and the critical points described in the HACCP manual: the aim is to obtain a final fruit and vegetable product that is excellent from a microbiological point of view.