Autumn Crisp grapes from Sun World International. ( Courtesy Sun World International )

Specialty grape production is on the rise in Mexico as growers adopt varieties that have gained popularity in the U.S.

“The grape industry is transitioning from the traditional varieties to the newer, high-flavored varieties,” said Jared Lane, vice president of marketing for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grapeman Farms.

“There is a ton of new varieties out there,” he said.

Lane estimated that 40% of the grapes Grapeman Farms imports from Mexico are high-flavor varieties, like Passion Fire, Chrissy, Ivory and Timpson.

Besides traditional varieties like flame, crimson and thompson seedless grapes, Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International offers branded grapes, including black Midnight Beauty, black Sable Seedless and green AutumnCrisp, said Jason Fuller, vice president of domestic sales and grower relations.

The company also is testing varieties that have not yet been named and that are not yet in commercial production.

From 90% to 100% of Sun World’s Mexican grapes are branded, Fuller said.

Kingsburg, Calif.-based Fresh Farms, formerly Visalia Produce Sales, offers specialty grapes like Cotton Candy and Sweet Sapphire, an elongated black seedless grape with great flavor, said George Matoian, in sales and marketing.

The company also markets the IFG — International Food Genetics — Candy varieties, like Candy Snaps, Candy Hearts and Candy Dreams. 

IFG also developed Sweet Celebration, a premium red seedless grape, and Sweet Globe and Sugar Crisp, premium seedless green varieties.

Fresh Farms also markets the green Ivory, an alternative to sugraone.

“The breeding programs are all aggressive in (developing) grapes that look great, have great flavor, great snap and crunch,” Matoian said.

MAS Melons & Grapes LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz., currently focuses on traditional varieties, but that’s starting to change, said Miky Suarez, managing partner.

Last year, the company shipped “a couple of loads” of Ivory grapes, and plans call for more this season.

“We’re definitely looking to keep growing the program on new varieties,” Suarez said.

About half of the grapes Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. imports from Mexico are branded, said Tom Wilson, grape sales manager.

They included:

  • Arra Passion Fire, a sweet, red seedless variety;
  • Arra Sugar Drop, an early green seedless variety with large- to jumbo-sized berries; and 
  • Early Sweet, a low-acid, early green seedless grape.

“Our Arra-branded grapes offering exceptional sizing and flavor, which are important attributes to consumers that keep them coming back for repeat purchases,” Wilson said.

Marketing specialty grapes can vary from place to place, Matoian said.

Some retailers want consumers to know which varieties they’re buying so they can differentiate their stores from the competition, while others simply want a good-tasting grape, he said.

Fuller said promoting branded grapes in-store and in print has been one way of connecting with consumers, but increasingly, “social media space is where things are trending.”

Branded grapes enable grower-shippers and retailers to earn a bit more for their product, he said.

“We see that retailers that have the better offerings and execute consistency are able to attract a premium.”

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