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Weekend! Food: In Season

Snack company hopes schoolkids will get fizzy with fruit
by: COURTESY OF FIZZY FRUIT CO., A pear that was accidentally carbonated in his cooler led Galen Kaufman to develop Fizzy Fruit.

While sailing in the Gulf of Mexico in 1994, Texan Galen Kaufman bit into a pear that had come into contact with some dry ice in a cooler. The result was absolute flavor shock.

The pear tasted unbelievably sweet, juicy and effervescent. Not only did Kaufman like what he tasted, he immediately perceived that others would like it, too - particularly kids.

Kaufman took his idea to Portland's Food Innovation Center in 1999 - a joint venture between Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture geared toward advancing Northwest foods.

After numerous consultations with food scientists and marketing experts, Kaufman incorporated the Fizzy Fruit Co. in 2005 and chose Portland as his company headquarters, though he continues to live in Austin, Texas.

Fizzy Fruit is a carbonated fresh fruit product with no additives, other than carbon dioxide. The carbonation does not alter the nutritional value of the fruit, but it does make it bubbly and exciting. The idea is to make fruit fun for kids who otherwise would favor a potato chip over a plum.

What will be bubbly next?

And it's not just fruit that gets the fizz; vegetables may be fizzable, too. Kaufman says: 'We're thinking carrots might be a winner. Other vegetables are a little more challenging. We'll start the launch with fruit, and then, depending on customer demand, we may start working with vegetables.

'There's not really anything like it on the market. It's carbonated, so that makes some people's skin crawl. But we explain that it's not in the same category as soda. We aren't using unhealthy additives, and there's no caffeine. Carbonation on its own is perfectly healthy.'

Sometime this fall, the Fizzy Fruit Co. will roll out its retail launch in California with individual five- and eight-ounce containers of red flame seedless grapes and melon. By 2007, retail Fizzy Fruit should be available nationwide.

For now, it's only being distributed through schools.

Fizzy Fruit piloted in elementary schools in Albany in 2005 and now is in hundreds of schools throughout the country, including four school districts in Oregon. Kaufman is hopeful they'll break into Portland schools next year.

The retail product will be individual prepackaged containers, but when a school signs on with the Fizzy Fruit Co. it purchases a three-liter stainless-steel pressure vessel known as the Fizzolator for roughly $1,000. Then the school can fizz its own fruit.

Carbon dioxide is combined with fruit and water, and after roughly 16 to 18 hours the fruit becomes carbonated. Fruits that have been fizzolated so far include Asian pears, pineapple, nectarines, strawberries, apples, watermelon and mangoes (fruit that's at least 80 percent water works best).

'We've had the Fizzolator out since last December, and it really lowers the Fizzy Fruit cost because they're doing all the labor,' Kaufman says.

Many hop on the fizzwagon

During the past two years the Fizzy Fruit Co. has partnered up with Sodexho Inc., Chartwells School Dining Services and the Walt Disney Co. in various endeavors.

Kaufman says, 'Disney actually contacted us. They were really amazed at the technology and interested in a partnership. … Disney is a very health-focused company - specifically kids' nutrition of course. So there was an automatic synergy there.'

The Fizzy Fruit Co. will be promoted as a tie-in for Disney's upcoming film 'Meet the Robinsons,' scheduled to be released next spring.

The hope is that by then consumers will have encountered Fizzy Fruit on local grocery shelves and tasted its unique, fizzy flavor.

Until then, if you're one of the hundreds of Oregon kids served Fizzy Fruit in your school lunchroom, don't burst anyone else's bubble by bragging - just consider yourself lucky.