The Mexican grape deal may last only six weeks, but it gives consumers a burst of fresh fruit just when it’s needed before the domestic season begins.
“Mexican grapes are well-timed to get consumers excited about eating grapes right before summer starts,” said Tom Wilson, grape sales manager for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos.
Sales jump because retailers are dealing with a much fresher product, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner of Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce Co. LLC.
“When you talk of grapes from Chile, Peru or Brazil, you have a grape that’s been harvested, put on a vessel and held, and there’s a good chance it’s been fumigated,” Torosian said.
“Mexican fruit is picked with more brix, and it just has a fresher appeal,” he said.
“They could be on retail shelves, especially in the southern U.S., the next day.”
Torosian said Mexican grape numbers fluctuate between 13 million boxes and 16 million boxes a year, while southern California’s Coachella Valley hovers between 5 million and 6 million boxes.
“Mexico’s on a huge growth pattern,” he said. “Plus, some of the top shippers are exporting more to the U.K. and Pacific Rim countries, so there’s an export market at play, too.”
John Pandol, director of special projects for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., said he’s impressed by the growers’ willingness to revitalize their vineyards and experiment with technology.
“Since the industry quadrupled in size in the early 1990s, they’ve been constantly replanting, and the older vines are almost all pulled out,” Pandol said.
“They’re also playing with protected agriculture,” he said, “laying shade cloths, plastic and houses over open fields to filter out different parts of the light spectrum and see how the crop responds.
“We’ve have seen it in Mexican tomatoes, where there are virtually no open fields,” he said, “and you see covered vineyards in Spain and Italy.”
He said Mexican growers have also learned to deal with scarce water by using the same water to grow a lot more grapes.
Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Farms, said Mexican grapes are on the rise because of flavor, the food safety all growers practice, the size of the berries, and the fact they ripen between Chile and Central California.
David Espinoza, president and sourcing director for the Charlotte, N.C.-Based International Fruit Co, which markets Chiquita grapes, said more Mexican growers are trying to become certified in Global Food Safety (GFS) protocols every year, such as Mexico GAP and GlobalGAP.
“We are also seeing some growers achieve Rain Forest Alliance certification,” he said, “and the organic segment sees an increase every year.”
“They do a phenomenal job down there as far as food safety is concerned,” said Jeff Olsen, vice president of Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co., “and they take great pride in making sure their product is safe and overall quality is very good.”
“If we can start Mexico this year with something nice that eats well,” he said, “people will start picking them up off the shelves.”
“When the volumes are there, retailers can set some pretty aggressive ads, move a tremendous amount of product and get more ring at the cash,” he said.
“That’s the advantage of working out of Mexico.”