The California pomegranate deal is underway, with good quality and promotional volumes expected over the next few months.

"The El Nino effect should benefit harvests in California considerably this year. We'll perhaps have somewhat lower total volumes but a larger percentage of the harvest should be in larger sizes," said Tom Tjerandsen, manager at the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council.

Quality looks good so far.

"Mother Nature has been behaving admirably so we're getting the deep red color that retailers prize and high sugar content that consumers like, so right now, everything leads us to believe we'll have a pretty successful harvest," Tjerandsen said.

As of the end of August, Tjerandsen said pricing was high.

"I spoke to Slayman Marketing, who is underway now and they seemed quite optimistic. I think everyone is sort of dazzled by the high prices," he said.

The market is ready for California fruit to hit the shelves after the Southern Hemisphere finished early.

"This year we had a gap and those early growers are focusing on filling domestic pipelines right now," Tjerandsen said.

Atomic Torosian, a partner in Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing LLC, said the company usually packs approximately 400,000 unites of pomegranates per, and that this year looks to be mostly normal.

"The weather has been pretty good for the pomegranate growing season. We're anticipating good sized fruit with good color and internal quality," Torosian said.

He expected the earliest varieties to begin around Labor Day, with a company goal to finish shipping before Christmas.

Levon Ganajian, director of retail relations, Fresno, Calif.-based Trinity Fruit Sales said smiths, the earliest variety, started around August 25, followed by urbanagranate. Early Foothills were set to begin September 5 and early wonderfuls on September 10.

Aco, Emek and Shani-Yonai, proprietary varieties to Trinity Fruit, were expected to start Labor Day weekend. Wonderfuls won't begin until October.

He said that although the wonderful variety is a big seller, Trinity has seen the most increases in the early varieties.

"We're even seeing people want bins in September, so those early volumes have been a big part of meeting that demand," Ganajian said.

Promotions should be available from September through November, with product available through Christmas.

"We expect a brisk start to the pomegranate deal around the first or second week of November," said David Anthony, salesman for Firebaugh, Calif.-based Ruby Fresh. Ruby Fresh markets the wonderful variety.

The industry will likely be down in volume this year as more acres have been pulled out due to water issues.

"They've been pulling trees out on the west side, so we might be down 5% or so, but there will still be ample supplies of fruit, and our company's crop will actually be larger due to new plants coming into production," Ganajian said.

Mike Forrest, president of Reedley, Calif.-based Youngstown Distributors Inc., said some of the early fruit may be smaller, but that there is a lot of variability between blocks.

"We've seen some blocks that are small, but we do have some with nice size as well," Forrest said.

Jeff Simonian, sales manager for Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co., agreed the overall sizing may be smaller than originally expected.

"Some guys have said last year the crop was small and this year we should see more normal sizes, but we think this year may be on the smaller size as well," he said.

Simonian expects early season varieties to peak on 30s and 36s, with the later wonderful variety in the 24 or 30 range.

"That's typical to what we usually see," Simonian said.

Pomegranates contributed 9.1% of the total fruit sale dollars for the 52-week period ending July 30, for a total of $48.6 million in sales, according to data from Nielson Perishables Group.

Despite category growth as a whole, that percentage is actually down almost 16% from the previous year. Volumes were also down by 13.6%.