RICHGROVE, Calif. — Although public table grape varieties, such as autumn king and autumn royal, still dominate the market, an increasing number of grower-packers have introduced proprietary selections along with varietal marketing programs.
One of those is Richgrove-based Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons, which is bullish on the green Sweet Sunshine. Developed by Bakersfield-based International Fruit Genetics, the variety is known for its large berry size, crunchy texture and high sugar levels of at least 20 degrees brix, said Chance Kirk, director of retail and foodservice sales for VBZ.
“You compare this to a thompson (seedless), and it’s a no brainer,” Kirk said. “We have major retailers in exclusive arrangements. It has the right price point for us, and it makes sense to go for a grape that other people don’t have.”
Sweet Sunshine hits the market in late summer before the autumn king.
VBZ expects to see volumes of the conventionally grown variety increase about 25% this season as younger vineyards come into full production, he said. In addition, the grower-packer has it in a certified organic program.
VBZ has designed an entire branded marketing campaign around the Sweet Sunshine, complete with bags that differentiate the variety from generic green grapes, cartons and retail display bins.
One of the challenges in growing proprietary varieties is learning the right cultural practices that will enhance the grape’s desirable attributes, Kirk said.
With Sweet Sunshine, for example, he said they found that drip irrigation alone couldn’t satisfy its satiable thirst. With the heavy crop set and large berry size, growers have to augment the drip with furrow irrigation.
Growers also have to be patient with sugar levels and not pick too early or the eating experience will be disappointing, Kirk said.
But VBZ isn’t the only grower-packer adding proprietary varieties.
A few years ago, Bakersfield-based Sun World International LLC beefed up its proprietary late-season grape program.
The red Scarlotta Seedless is the flagship, coming into the market in mid-September with a crisp texture, high brix and large berry size, said Gordon Robertson, executive vice president of sales and marketing. It stores well, and last year shipments went into mid-January without any quality issues.
In addition to grab-and-go bags and clamshells identifying the variety, Sun World also will offer point-of-sale material and merchandising bins for retailers.
Sun World’s newest late-season additions are the green Autumncrisp and the black Adora Seedless.
As its name implies, Autumncrisp has a crisp bite, with large berries averaging 15/16 inch in diameter and a sweet flavor with a hint of muscat. It is available beginning in September.
Adora Seedless has as large or even larger oval berries, topping out at 1-inch diameter, Robertson said. They are dark purple with a sweet flavor.
Supplies of both varieties will be limited this season, but newer plantings coming into production should increase volumes in the next two to three years, he said.
Sundale Sales, Tulare, will have limited volumes of its new proprietary seedless Royal Red this year as the vines have just come into production, said Sean Stockton, president.
The variety, which resembles a jumbo crimson, features large, elongated red berries, a crunchy texture and sweet flavor.