During what seems to be shaping up as a downer of a year, there may be a bright spot in the upcoming California pomegranate season.
A preliminary estimate from the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council indicates that the state’s pomegranate growers will produce about 6 million to 6.5 million 25-pound box equivalents of the fruit this season.
The 2019 season was one most growers would like to forget. Volume was off by about 20% compared to normal, said Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the Pomegranate Council.
“Last year was a very difficult year,” said Ray England, vice president of marketing for DJ Forry Co., Pismo Beach, Calif.
“It was a challenging year to get the right fruit in the boxes,” he said.
He blamed light rain followed by high temperatures for creating the adverse scenario.
When rain comes just prior to harvest and the fruit has not been hydrated appropriately, he said, “Those trees will suck up the water, and the fruit can crack.”
The fruit is useless when that happens and can’t even be used for juice.
“It was a tough year,” he said.
But this year is looking more normal.
“Right now, we don’t see any overriding issues,” England said in early September.
But unusually high temperatures — well over 100 degrees — had engulfed the growing area.
“There have been some hot, hot days,” he said.
Hot weather will not harm the fruit and may actually be beneficial for the pomegranates and increase their color, Tjerandsen said.
But the fruit also needs cooler temperatures at night to further bring on the color and flavor.
Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce Co. LLC expected to begin harvesting its early foothill variety Sept. 14 or 15, said salesman Stephen Thomason.
The company’s early wonderful pomegranates were expected to start the last week of September.
“Right now, everything is looking really good as far as the size of the fruit and the size of the crop,” he said in early September. “The appearance is very clean.”
At Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful, Charlotte Mostaed, director of marketing, said the quality of the company’s fruit this season should be “excellent.”
From March through July, Pom Wonderful experienced a 19% rise in dollar sales in the grocery channel, she said.
The company offers its pomegranates in eye-catching display bins, in the form of convenient Pom Poms arils and in the portfolio of Pom Wonderful 100% pomegranate juices, Mostaed said.
The company has made a concerted effort in the past two years to improve the quality of its Pom Poms arils for the consumer and reduce shrink for customers, she said.
“We have made significant technology investments in our Pom Poms processing line to keep our arils fresher and more intact as they are extracted in our completely automated process.”
Pom Poms also will invest $1 million in marketing in 2020 to showcase the product’s taste and versatility.
The effort will include its largest-ever digital marketing campaign.
Trinity Fruit Sales Co. Inc., Fresno, Calif., also expects a strong season.
“Retailers are doing great this year,” said Levon Ganajian, vice president of retail relations.
“People aren’t going to restaurants or on vacation,” he said. “They’re staying home and they’re shopping.”
Ganajian said he expects increased demand during the early deal this season, but the company will have more product available to fill that demand.
Trinity Fruit’s early program was expected to start the week of Sept. 7, mostly with its proprietary varieties.
The company has the U.S. rights to the Emik and Aco pomegranate varieties from Israel.
The mainstay wonderful variety will start in October with a higher packout and more volume than last year, he said.
“The demand has just gone crazy,” Ganajian said, and orders should keep up with supplies.
DJ Forry Co. was in production with its own proprietary Rubilee pomegranates in late August, England said.
The Rubilee typically peaks on 30-count size.
“It’s not the biggest piece of fruit, but it does have really nice-looking arils, and the fruit overall has a real dark-red color,” he said.
The company will kick off its proprietary Smith variety and early wonderful variety the second week of September.
Sizing of those varieties is somewhat larger than the Rubilee with many 22s, 24s and 26s.
It was too early to know for sure when the main wonderful crop will start, but England said the usual start date is around Oct. 10.
Wonderful pomegranates account for about 70% of California’s pomegranate crop, Tjerandsen said.