Pomegranates are finally here, and California shippers will be serving them up until the end of the year.

The very earliest pomegranate varieties — principally granadas and early wonderful — were moving into the distribution channels in mid-August, said Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the California Pomegranate Council, Sonoma.

Tjerandsen said the wonderful variety accounts for about 70% of the state’s total volume. Industry estimates put the fresh crop this year at close to 6 million boxes in 2019, down 15% to 20% compared to forecasts earlier in the season.

California fresh pomegranate shipments totalled 38.9 million pounds in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported, more than double 2017 shipments of 14.4 million pounds.

In 2018, California shipments were active from September through December, with peak movement in October and November.

Crop outlook

Hail and wind during bloom caused bloom drop and lower than expected yields for California pomegrantaes, Tjerandsen said.

“It (didn’t) affect the quality of the fruit, but it has affected the volume,” he said. 

Fruit quality and color should good this year, he said.

“It looks as though the fruit that is going to be harvested is going to have the traditional deep red color, the high brix, and sizes probably are going to peak somewhat above normal,” he said.

Beyond whole fresh pomegranates, Tjerandsen said produce industry buyers are intrigued with the potential of fresh pomegranate arils, along with a keen interest of how to merchandise and promote them.

Retailers like Costco and Walmart have expanded their fresh aril offerings. Trinity Fruit, Fresno, Calif., has begun to market dried arils.

Because pomegranates are an impulse buy, grower-shippers have realized they need to do more to help retailers call attention to pomegrantes, and Tjerandsen said a number of shippers have explored new point-of-sale materials and social media outreach.

“If retailers know what kind of tools are available to help them merchandise and promote pomegranates, they’ll act on it,” Tjerandsen said. 

Pomegranates have a very low shrink rate and don’t require much labor at retail.

Pomegranate surge

IRI/Fresh Look data indicates that fresh pomegranate retail sales volume in 2018 was 34.5 million pounds, up 16% from 29.8 million pounds in 2017. Pomegranate retail sales in 2018 were $108 million, up from $101 million in 2017.

Demand for pomegranates continues to grow, though perhaps not at the torrid pace of six or seven years ago.

“The health benefit is really driving it, and people are still discovering them and finding what to do with them,“ Jeff Simonian, sales manager for Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co.

Pomegranate acreage in California has been growing fast over the past 20 years. The 2017 Census of Agriculture reported that bearing and non-bearing acreage of pomegranate totaled 30,917 acres, down slightly from 32,226 in 2012 but up from 24,458 in 2007, 9,529 acres in 2002 and just 4,672 in 1997. 

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