Urbanekgranate variety from Simonian Fruit Co.
Urbanekgranate variety from Simonian Fruit Co.

Slayman Marketing started California’s pomegranate deal right on schedule in the first week of August.

A bump in production answered any questions about continuity of supply that may have lingered after the May death of company president Dee Slayman.

“It’s the same operation, and volume is 10% to 15% larger than last year,” said Ralph Melendez, ranch manager at Bakersfield-based Slayman Marketing.

“A lot of buyers around the country and importers in Korea, Japan and Australia were really interested in whether early varieties would be available this year,” said Tom Tjerandsen, Pomegranate Council manager.

“For years Slayman has dominated the early program, and perceptions were that Dee Slayman was the sole motive force to keep it alive. They’ll be pleased to know it’s business as usual.”

Deanna Slayman is now president, and Jim Peirone remains sales manager.

Slayman Marketing started granadas and early foothills Aug. 5. Sizes were peaking on 36s and 32s.

About 50% of the early fruit goes to export, Melendez said, with Japan and South Korea the biggest buyers.

High heat in early July caused no major problems.

“We had a lot of dropping but it didn’t overburden the tree, so they’ve been in a growing mode most of the season,” he said.

“The granadas have the traditional deep red color,” Tjerandsen said in July.

Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co. expected to start Sept. 1 with its proprietary Urbanekgranates, with early wonderfuls in line for mid- to late-September and wonderfuls around Oct. 1, sales manager Jeff Simonian said.

By July 24 it was still too early to predict volume and sizing, he said, but at that point Simonian’s fruit did not mirror the normal to heavy crop anticipated for the state’s industry as a whole.

“There’s probably going to be plenty of fruit but some of our stuff looks a little lighter,” he said.

Simonian Fruit plans to pursue gentler handling.

“The early varieties really get marked up and discolored easily compared to a wonderful,” Simonian said.

“We’re going to pack some by hand to minimize bumps and bruising on the line. We pick them in a tote, as a lot of guys do. They don’t get tossed in a big bin and bounce around. We’re going to treat them more like a delicate piece of stone fruit.”

“You think a pomegranate with that thick rind like a piece of hardware doesn’t bruise, but the early varieties are sensitive,” he said.

“We’ve been talking for six months about how we’re going to minimize that. A lot of customers said, ‘We just want to wait for the wonderfuls.’ We’re going to try to ease their concerns.”

Wonderfuls account for about 80% of the California pomegranate crop, the great majority of it from Pom Wonderful.

“The wonderful deal is right on schedule,” Tjerandsen said.

“A lot can happen between now and October when they get underway, but so far Mother Nature is behaving and everything is in a positive direction.”