“Growers want varieties that will help the season get a little longer, especially on the front end. The earlier the better,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
Early varieties are preferred because the market is ready for fresh grapes early in the spring.
“Right now, the grapes we’re eating are from Chile, where they have been harvested several months ago
sometimes. With early Mexican varieties, we can have a fresher grape with that nice texture to it,” Jungmeyer said.
Any major changes could still be in the future, because changing varieties takes time.
John Pandol, special projects director for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., said many of these new varieties are very early in the development stages.
“New varieties are really more prototypes at this point,” Pandol said.
He relates choosing new varieties to putting a deposit on a timeshare for a resort community that hasn’t yet been built.
“The California plant breeders are making a big push into Mexico. They are pretty aggressive to get guys to sign off on new varieties,” Pandol said.
Retailers are also hungry for new options to promote.
“Retailers are always searching for new varieties to offer to their consumers,” said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla.
Others agree that the push for new varieties often comes from retailers.
“Almost every store asks you what you have that’s new, so there’s pressure to put new things out there quickly,” Pandol said.
Not all retailers are ready for new products this early in the game, though.
“There are guys on both sides of this. Some say they only want something new if it’s truly better,” Pandol said.
Growers are also excited about the chance for new varieties.
“We see a huge opportunity. A lot of new varieties are coming out of California and there is an explosion of varieties coming to market,” said Louie Galvan, managing partner, Fruit Royale Inc., Delano, Calif.
“They grab attention. It’s not just the regular old red and green seedless, which encourages consumers to try them out,” he said.
All these developments can cause new varieties to run together in the minds of those selecting which new options to plant.
“After evaluating these new varieties, the eyes can just glaze over after seeing so many prototypes,” Pandol said.
This is especially true because within these new varieties, Pandol said many of the developments aren’t as noticeable from an end product standpoint.
“The more interesting developments are in the roots. That’s where the action is happening,” he said.
Improvements with water usage, disease resistances, and other positive characteristics are becoming major focuses for both the wine and table grape industries.
Varieties are also being developed that offer new characteristics for the eating experience, although Pandol said those changes aren’t as remarkable right now.
“There are a lot more interesting things happening from the bottom rather than the top standpoint. It’s really focused on the farming improvements,” he said.
Prime vs. perlette
One new variety that’s already widely available is the prime variety, according to Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms, Nogales, Ariz. Fresh Farms distributes for Molina Group Co., Hermosillo, Mexico.
Havel said the prime variety may eventually replace the perlette.
“Perlette is the mainstream for early green seedless, but there have been a lot of primes planted and a lot of retail chains prefer those,” he said.
Steve Monroe, sales, Monroe & Sons Produce Distributors, Bakersfield, Calif., agreed the prime variety is slowly replacing the perlette.
“It might take a few years, but no one is really planting any new acreage of perlettes,” he said.
Natalie Erlendson, marketing manager for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., said proprietary varieties are also popular with retailers.
“Retailers recognize how important the produce department is when it comes to the consumer’s decision on where to shop. They are looking for ways to bring differentiation and improved quality to their department and the grape category,” she said.
Erlendson said Sun World’s proprietary grape varieties fit this need for retailers.
“We recommend that retailers look to proprietary varieties as a way to differentiate themselves, and that they actually market the unique characteristics of these varieties to the consumer.
Erlendson said marketing these proprietary grape varieties will lead to more repeat sales.
“Instead of just selling a red seedless grape, call out a Scarlotta Seedless red grape. This helps the consumer recognize the quality of the proprietary variety and once they know they love that grape, they will look for it by name in the store, helping to drive repeat sales,” she said.