BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Over the years, the apple industry has been able to successfully create varietal awareness among buyers and consumers.
David Cain, who leads fruit-breeding efforts at International Fruit Genetics LLC, sees no reason why the table grape industry can’t do the same.
“It’s been done with apples, so now people recognize Pink Lady, Honeycrisp and gala,” Cain said.
“But I think it’s a difficult thing. There’s some resistance (with table grapes) on the part of chain stores. At the same time, it can be useful to build that customer loyalty.”
He points to the efforts of International Fruit Genetics to develop table grape varieties with distinctive traits as reason for his optimism.
Among the varieties to Cain and the breeding firm’s credit are Sweet Celebration, Sweet Jubilee, Sweet Sunshine, Sweet Surrender and Cotton Candy. More are nearing release, he said.
The firm was founded by Jack Pandol Jr. and the Stoller family, owners of Sunridge Nurseries, in 2001, he said.
International Fruit Genetics develops the varieties, patents them, licenses them worldwide, and sets acreage limits and minimum quality standards.
For example, Sweet Celebration — a crunchy, cherry red, mid- to late-season seedless grape with a large berry — must have a brix rating of at least 20. Four marketers have U.S. rights to the grape — Grapery, Pandol Bros. Inc., Jasmine Vineyards Inc. and Castle Rock Vineyards.
Licensees also must agree to pay a per-box production royalty to the breeding firm “in exchange for us not just selling as many plants as we can sell like a lot of traditional breeding programs do,” Cain said.
“That’s part of the incentive for people to pay the royalty.”
International Fruit Genetics isn’t a competitor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s public grape breeding program, said Cain, himself a former USDA grape breeder.
Instead, he said the private breeding firm works to develop grapes with unique traits that can be licensed exclusively to a small group of grower-packer-shippers.
USDA, on the other hand, conducts more basic public research, such as its latest work trying to develop Pierce’s disease- and powdery mildew-resistant table grape varieties.
When developing new varieties, Cain uses plant material from worldwide sources housed at the USDA’s National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Davis, Calif., and from the University of Arkansas.