Nothing like a week-and-a-half off to take your mind off work ... except when you cover an industry that plays such a big role in everyday life, working and non-working.
Because of holiday scheduling craziness, I have the Crops & Markets column two weeks in a row to kick off the New Year.
This will be part one of a two-part vacation-and-family-related produce fun fest.
Let’s start with clementines. I’ve always been hesitant to buy them in the boxes or big bags, fearing they’d go bad before we could eat them all.
But then I only have two kids. Over the holidays, in a household that featured two additional kids, that box of clementines vanished quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if my mother-in-law puts two boxes on the Christmas shopping list for next year.
Of course, to those four boys, they’re not “clementines” or “mandarins” or even “small oranges.” They’d give me the “huh?” look when I asked them if they wanted a clementine or a mandarin.
Come to think of it, I don’t think any of my in-laws knew what I was talking about either.
It was “Cuties” they were eating. They loved saying the word. And while it’s easy to get cynical about efforts to market fresh fruits and vegetables to kids as candy or something else non-produce-like, the Cuties brand is a case study in how to do it right.
In my sons’ and nephews’ minds, they weren’t eating a fruit or vegetable. They were eating something fun and novel called a Cutie.
This vacation “field work” was a kind of coda to a conversation I had in mid-December with John Pandol, special projects manager for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
The conversation started with grapes. Pandol expects strong demand for Chilean grapes this winter, thanks to a timely end to the California deal, as shippers continue to do a better job this season of ending their deals before quality suffers.
The only thing standing in the way of strong demand for grapes this season, Pandol said, could be the booming California clementine and mandarin market. Grape shippers, he said, will have to compete against big easy-peeler promotions this winter.
“The price per pound is a lot less than grapes,” he said.
Coincidentally, it was another Pandol — Jim Pandol, president of Delano-based Pandol Associates Marketing — who told me recently about another fruit that could potentially steal shelf space from traditional winter fruits this season.
“Blackberries will be very promotable,” Pandol said.
Pandol Associates Marketing is importing blackberries and other berries from Mexico for the first time this season.
The quicker blackberries get to market, the better, making Mexico a logical choice for the company — particularly because it sources its main crop, grapes, nearby.
Pandol said blackberries could be an enticing retail alternative not only to grapes but also to apples, which are costlier in some markets this winter — despite a record crop in industry leader Washington — because of devastating crop losses in Michigan and New York.
And on that note, we’ll end part one of this two-part holiday report.
Next week, we’ll begin where we stopped today — with apples — and with a different kind of produce consumer in my family, my mom (you’ve been warned).
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