KINGSBURG, Calif. — After an early start to the California table grape season and a fast and furious first half, growers, shippers and marketers say they expect that momentum to continue well past Labor Day.
“One of the things that we’re anticipating is we’re two weeks earlier than last year,” said George Matoian, sales and marketing director for Visalia Produce Sales Inc., Kingsburg. “That, coupled with the demand that’s also so good, we might see a rise in FOB during the month of September and definitely into the month of October, because we’re harvesting a lot more grapes earlier.”
During the 2012 season, California harvested 100.1 million 19-pound box equivalents of table grapes, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.
The commission in April issued a preliminary estimate for this season of 106.9 million boxes.
Much of the early accelerated movement has been prompted by exceptional quality and stable, promotable prices, Matoian said.
“Flames this year are the best I’ve ever eaten,” said Ron Wikum, grape category sales manager for Bravante Produce, Reedley. “They’re off the charts. They’re just fantastic. Everything’s early this year. I think repeat sales are driving the deal, and we couldn’t be happier.”
That quality is expected to continue into the fall varieties, such the black seedless autumn royal, the green seedless autumn king, and red seedless scarlet royal and crimson, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner for Fresno-based Crown Jewels Produce.
“I was looking at some vineyards last Friday (July 19) and saw some fruit that’s coming up for the late August, September and October period,” he said. “The fruit looked over the top with great quality.”
Sundale Sales, Tulare, has a variety mix weighted heavily into the later types. With all grapes coming off early, President Sean Stockton said the second half of the season may prove to be a balancing act.
“The whole early part of the season has been early,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the middle and the later seasons play out because everything is coming on so fast.
“You have some of these red seedless varieties where the color is moving rapidly. When it all comes on that fast, it can be a tricky situation to try to figure it out.”
Like many other grower-shippers, Stockton said this season’s grape quality has been some of the best he’s ever seen.
“With a big crop and to have this type of quality, it’s kind of a blessing,” he said. “It makes things that much easier to deal with.”
Sales in the bag
High-graphic handled pouches also appear to be taking the industry by storm. Many grower-shippers say the stand-up, pleated bags have become the norm and have displaced older cloudy slider bags in most markets in just the few short years since they were introduced.
“It just displays so much better and it’s so much cleaner — it’s just a nicer bag,” Wikum said. “I don’t expect to pack any zip bags next year.”
Stockton has seen a similar response at retail.
“It’s become a high-demand item across the board in the table grape industry,” he said. “We’ve seen a significant increase over the last two years, and this year it’s a dominate factor in the marketplace.”
Nevertheless, Stockton described the pouches as a double-edged sword. Although they do display the grapes better, they also cost significantly more than the old slider bags.
Even if retailers request slider bags, Matoian said they want the newer, clear ones that lend themselves to colorful printing and better showcasing the fruit.
Depending on the style, some handleless slider bags also have pleats on the bottom, allowing for stand-up displays.