KINGSBURG, Calif. — California table grapes begin to hit their stride after Labor Day weekend, offering good eating quality and promotional opportunities, such as back-to-school and three colors, say grower-packer-shippers.
“From Labor Day on, the reason you get excitement over grapes is because for the most part, peaches and nectarines are done,” said David Stone, owner of Valhalla Sales and Marketing Inc., Kingsburg, Calif. “You’re getting into volume of some very high quality grapes. Plus grapes are huge promotional items because there isn’t a lot of competition.”
John Pandol, special projects manager for Pandol Brothers Inc., Delano, agreed.
“I think the best thing is we start to see the summer fruit wane,” he said. “The mid-fall grapes have the biggest number of varieties and some of the best flavors, and they’re coming off fresh. That’s when consumption peaks is in September.”
The high quality, good color and large berry size that retailers have seen with this year’s California’s summer table grapes should continue into the fall varieties and fall marketing season, grower-packer-shippers said.
The 2012 season also is on a more normal schedule and about 10 days to two weeks ahead of last year, giving the industry about two more weeks of marketing time this year, Stone said.
The Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission released an updated crop estimate July 19 of 100.9 million 19-pound box equivalents. That’s up slightly from its initial estimate in April of 100.8 million boxes.
Shipments historically peak in September, but many grower-packer-shippers said they’ll have table grapes into the holiday season, thanks to newer, late-season varieties and vineyard covers that protect the fruit from rain.
In late July, Nick Dulcich, owner of Jakov P. Dulcich & Sons, Delano, Calif., said the market was strong and he anticipated it continuing, even as more volume comes on.
“It looks good for us,” he said. “It looks good for the retailers, and that’s important. It’s important for them to do well.”
Even as summer varieties transition into fall grapes, George Matoian, a salesman at Visalia Produce Inc., Kingsburg, Calif., said many promotions will still carry the same theme.
“We’ll still be promoting all three colors in addition to the red globe, which is a seeded variety,” he said, referring to green, red and black grapes. “Red globe will take off, especially if we see the red seedless market creep up on the f.o.b. prices ― red globe may be more promotable.”
Moving into fall, Crown Jewels Produce, Fresno, Calif., offers a host of green, red and black seedless varieties ranging from the popular crimson, autumn royal and autumn king to the lesser-known vintage red and luisco, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner.
“What we like to see is a good mixture of colors and large displays,” Torosian said.
In fact, research by the table grape commission found that displaying all three colors of grapes together helps boost overall category sales, said Karen Brux, vice president of marketing communications.
Although schools in some area may start before Labor Day, Justin Bedwell, president of Bari Produce, Madera, Calif., said Labor Day still marks the official kick-off of back-to-school promotions.
“Back-to-school is a big one for us,” he said. “I think as far as planning for the calendar, Labor Day is still that magic date.”
Bari Produce will have the green seedless autumn king, the red scarlet royal and the black autumn royal in standard packs as well as a 4-pound clamshell for club stores until about mid-December.