Black table grapes, like the Sweet Sapphire, may not be as popular as red or green varieties, but suppliers say they have their own following. ( Courtesy Top Brass Marketing Inc. )

Black table grapes rank a distant third in sales after red and green varieties, but there’s a decided group of consumers who have taken a liking to the darker-hued fruit.

Grower-shippers seem divided over the impact of black varieties.

Daniel Bell, senior produce and floral buyer for Grocery Outlet Inc., a chain of 246 stores based in Emeryville, Calif., is a fan of black grapes, and so are many of his customers.

He said he’s seen an uptick in sales of black varieties.

“That one is really gaining in popularity,” he said. “There’s a big opportunity for growth there.”

He attributes some of their popularity to the large number of new varieties and their taste.

“When black grapes are in peak season in October, they’re just so flavorful,” he said. 

“I think consumers are figuring that out and going toward them earlier in the season now.”

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Grocery Outlet tries to feature black grapes on ad a couple of times a month, Bell said.

Nick Bozick, president of Richard Bagdasarian Inc., Mecca, Calif., sees potential in the black grape category.

“Some of the black varieties have some of the best flavor profiles that are out there,” he said.    

And it’s becoming a more consistent flavor profile.

Sun World International LLC, International Fruit Genetics and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture have developed some great-tasting black grapes, Bozick said.

Sable, Midnight Beauty and Sweet Sapphire are among his favorites.

An obstacle to black grape purchases is the fact that some consumers perceive them all to be grapes with seeds, he said.

But he believes that misconception is getting bridged as retailers promote new ones.

“They’ve got a lot of customers who are really followers of these black varieties,” he said.

Black grapes are a good export item, especially for buyers in Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia, said Jeff Olsen, president of The Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, Calif.

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“They travel well,” he said.

Autumn Royal, which usually comes on in August or September, is a strong black variety, he said.

It’s a large, sweet, elongated grape, similar to the Scarlet Royal and an inch-plus in diameter.

They’re around until November.

The Chuck Olsen Co. has been selling more black grapes in recent years, he said.

“There are retailers who do push black a lot,” he said. 

Bob Bianco, co-owner of Anthony Vineyards, Bakersfield, Calif., wouldn’t say there is a trend toward black grapes, but he did say there are “way more black grapes being sold” compared to 20 years ago.

Customers who used to buy a couple of pallets per load now buy a half- or even full truckload, he said.

He attributes their popularity to their good taste.

“The consumer has found out they eat good, and they’re buying more of them,” he said.

Not all suppliers are enthusiastic about black grapes, and some say there are too many of them on the market.

“Black varieties in the area seem to be generally oversaturated as compared to overall demand,” said Brett Dixon, president of Top Brass Marketing Inc., Bakersfield, Calif.

Top Brass offers the Summer Royal and Sweet Sapphire varieties.

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Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., has Summer Royal and Autumn Royal in its lineup, but John Pandol, the company’s special projects director, said black grapes are not huge sellers.

“For whatever reason, black grapes don’t seem to excite consumers,” he said.

Nonetheless, there are supermarkets that are “monster black customers,” he said.

“I have no good explanation for that.”

For many customers, black grapes “sell at a slower clip, tend to get old, and shrink is higher, so they don’t stock them,” he said.

“We get a lot of that.”