Vicky BoydPomegranates start ripening in an orchard near Kingsburg, Calif., in late July. Early indications suggest a bigger fall pomegranate crop out of California this year.
Growers don’t expect selling it all to be a problem, but more substantial growth in the future would require making the kind of connection with consumers that’s been elusive so far.
Shipments could be as high as 4 million boxes industrywide, up from 3.5 million last year when rains ended production early, said Jeff Simonian, vice president of sales and marketing for Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, Calif.
“A lot of people are still unfamiliar with the fruit,” Simonian said.
“There’s been research done that shows only 15% or so of people in the U.S. know what a pomegranate is.”
The reach hasn’t extended much beyond Middle Eastern, Asian and Hispanic populations in the U.S. and abroad, he said. About a third of the fresh portion of the crop is exported.
“We haven’t had issues marketing the crop, but we’ve been selling pomegranates for 35 years,” Simonian said.
“If you got in the last few years, it would be difficult.”
“It’s still only a small percent of U.S. consumers who have ever bought a pomegranate,” said Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council.
“They tend to be concentrated on both coasts, so there is still a lot of developmental work to be done to expand the franchise throughout the country.”
Many Americans have their first pomegranate experience in foodservice, Tjerandsen said.
“The arils are sprinkled through a salad or added to a glass of champagne,” he said.
“Those experiences then typically lead to purchases of pomegranates.”
Taste clearly matters — unless those purchases are made for decorative purposes, which is more common than the industry would prefer.
“It’s a little frustrating given the care that goes into producing such a delectable item to see it parked in front of a cornucopia and discarded at the end of a holiday season,” Tjerandsen said.
But he takes heart from novel uses for the fruit.
“We’re getting reports of people taking the juice of a pomegranate, putting it in an ice tray and freezing it for pomegranate ice cubes,” Tjerandsen said.
“You drop them in a clear beverage then watch the red suffuse the liquid. It’s a whole new, unintended use for the juice — not only delicious, but beautiful.”