DELANO, Calif. — California’s grower-shippers of table grapes set a record last year with 117.4 million boxes, topping the previous record set in 2012 of 101.5 million 19-pound box equivalents.
Although most industry representatives interviewed predict this season’s crop will not match last year’s, they said it will still come close with plenty of promotable volumes.
The Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission didn’t plan to issue its first official until late April. But Kathleen Nave, president, said in late March that she expects a slight pullback in production from 2013 as growers pulled out and replanted older vineyards or regrafted to other varieties.
“We still expect to harvest the second largest crop ever,” she said.
John Pandol, special projects manager for Delano-based Pandol Bros. Inc., agreed.
“Last year it was just like the perfect storm in a lot of ways,” he said. Pandol cited a slight increase in removal of marginal vineyards because of the drought as well as ownership changes within a few large companies for his prediction of slightly fewer boxes this season.
Based on current conditions, Pandol said he expects early season grapes to start possibly 10 days to two weeks ahead of schedule.
Nave said based on conditions in late March that she would expect the first shipments from the Coachella Valley in late April or early May, followed by the San Joaquin Valley about the week of June 23.
George Matoian, sales and marketing director for Visalia Produce Sales Inc., Kingsburg, said this year’s bud break was seven days ahead of last year, and last year was early. If the warm weather the Central Valley was experiencing in March continues, he said he expects the table grape season to be extremely early.
Matoian pegs this year’s crop at up to 115 million boxes.
“Is it going to be a bumper crop like we had last year? No,” he said. “But we’re into the varieties right now that put out pretty good numbers.”
Based on last year’s crop size and reasonable prices received from retailers, Matoian said grapes have earned a spot in the produce department.
“The prices we got for the most part were pretty amazing,” he said. “What that tells you is grapes have moved to the front of the produce aisle big time. Retailers love to promote grapes. When they’ve done the promotions with grapes, they’ve been very successful with them.”
Atomic Torosian, a partner with Fresno-based Crown Jewels Marketing and Distribution LLC, said in late March that it was too early to predict this year’s yields. But he said based on current conditions, he’d expect central California flames to start in late June, compared to the July 5-6 start in 2013.
“Things are moving along rapidly,” he said.
This year, he said Crown Jewels plans to handle slightly more than 1 million boxes out of the San Joaquin Valley, a production increase of about 15%.
With acreage in the Coachella Valley and Mexico, Coachella-based Sun World International LLC expects harvest to be about four days earlier than last year. The season will then transition into the San Joaquin Valley.
“With two months until harvest, we are continuously monitoring the heat units, as well as weather patterns to identify as early as possible any shifts to that forecast,” said Natalie Erlendson, marketing manager.
To help move this year’s crop, the California Table Grape Commission has crafted a campaign that includes a new retail sampling program in California as well as continued tie-ins to the Food Network and its Food Network magazine, according to information from the commission.
The commission also plans to have recipe card inserts in the Food Network magazine twice, with the first coming in the July-August issue.