KINGSBURG, Calif. — After more than two decades of growing, shipping and marketing fresh fruit only, Valhalla Sales & Marketing has found success in its first foray into vegetables.

Eggplant is a winner for Valhalla Sales“Demand has remained strong from the day we began picking,” owner Dave Stone said of the eggplant crop planted on the company’s recently acquired, Primus certified 40-acre plot near Fowler.

The crop of black bell variety eggplant has produced greater volume than the novice vegetable grower-shippers had anticipated.

“We’ve already gone past what we thought we would get, and we’re not even halfway through the picking,” Stone said. “We really don’t know what our volume will be.”

Valhalla plans to ship eggplant until the first frost, which usually comes in November in the San Joaquin Valley, he said. In addition to standard cartons, Valhalla is offering foodservice targeted four-count and five-count cartons, Stone said.

Essential to the quality eggplant Valhalla is growing, he said, is postharvest handling. The field-packed vegetables are handled delicately and only by gloved workers.

“They are washed, individually wrapped, packed in cartons and moved into adjacent trailers refrigerated to 45 degrees within 10 minutes of picking,” Stone said.

A Gold Valhalla carton is in the works to complement the new Valhalla eggplant carton.

“We’ll pack only the best of the best of the day’s harvest in the Gold Valhalla cartons and only 18s and 24s,” Stone said.

Other vegetables may be added in the future to Valhalla’s inventory. The company is evaluating other potential commodities, Stone said, and is testing several new eggplant varieties for next year.