Thursday, August 30, 2007

Making Pate de Fruits or Pectin Jellies

Yesterday I attempted, for the first time, to make pectin jellies. I started with strawberry fruit puree and all the other required ingredients. Adjusting for altitude, I lowered the cooking temperature, mixed up the ingredients, and cooked away. In under an hour I was at the right temperature, and added my acid and poured the jelly.

It set up almost just right, perhaps just a bit soft. I cut them on the guitar cutter and they were almost perfect.

Today, I made a second attempt with blackberry puree. I cooked it up slowly; it thickened to almost a jellylike consistency before I added my acid. I poured it into the frame and left it to set up. After over an hour, it was still fragile and a bit crumbly. Unfortunately, it never did set up firmly like the first batch. Guess I'll have to use it for blackberry jam or something.

I am considering making these for sale here as part of my product line, so I went online to some of the major chocolate/confectionery shops in the US. I was fairly appalled to see that most places charge upwards of $50 a pound for this item. My major considerations for pricing include cost of ingredients and labor, as packaging and marketing are fairly fixed across the board. I thought maybe I could get $10 a pound. But considering that quantity trumps almost all other factors, even quality, I had to go down in price.

The most difficult factor in selling high-end products and getting a decent price for them here is the lack of understanding and appreciation for craftsmanship and quality. The root of this problem lies in the country's economic situation as well as cultural factors. Labor is cheap, even if it is highly skilled. The overall level of quality of most products here is fairly low, so there is no recognition of quality, even when it is obvious. And most people aren't willing, and often are unable, to pay for it.

The lower levels of education and lack of a sophisticated consumer culture makes marketing a high-end product difficult. You can't appeal simply based on quality or craftsmanship. It takes consumer education, and time, to be able to market a product here based on those traits.

Taking Pat├ęs de Fruit as a specific example, most people simply equate it with gum drops, those cheap, mass produced, corn syrup laden gum drops with artificial flavors and colors. It's hard to compete on price with these, unless I were to be selling to the mass market. And it's even hard to make people understand that the two are not the same thing.

As for ingredient costs, Ecuador is blessed with an abundance of cheap, fresh, exotic tropical fruits. 500g of passion fruit puree in the US could cost anywhere from $20 to $35. Here, costs are less than a tenth of that. Blackberries are so cheap here you might as well be buying rice or flour. The same goes for other exotic and not so exotic fruits, including strawberries, soursop, orange, pineapple, and mango. So I have reduced the price to $7 a pound, and I'll keep experimenting until I get it right.

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