The organic grape category has been growing with help from higher-yielding varieties. ( Courtesy Homegrown Organic Farms )

Consumers love organic grapes.

Of the items surveyed in The Packer’s Organic Fresh Trends 2019, grapes were the No. 2 item that shoppers bought as exclusively organic.

Grower-shippers say organic shoppers are special.

“The organic consumer is definitely a more sophisticated consumer,” said Craig Morris, category director of citrus and grapes for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.

“They want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown,” he said.

They also want to know about the people and the company growing their food, he said.

California’s grape growers seem to be increasing their organic acreage just about every season.

King Fresh Produce LLC, Dinuba, Calif., will expand its grape acreage by 50% this year, said owner Keith Wilson, though he added that the firm’s organic volume has been fairly small the past couple of years.

Wilson said he anticipates a good-quality organic crop from California, but it will come on five to 10 days later than normal — sometime between July and 20.

The company started packing organic grapes from Mexico May 24.

Few grower-shippers are as into organic grapes as Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards.

About 70% of the company’s grapes are organically grown, said co-owner Bob Bianco.

A portion of almost every variety the company offers is organic, he said.

Anthony Vineyards was one of the first growers to offer organic grapes, he said, but it didn’t happen overnight. The organic program began more than 12 years ago and continues to expand.
“We’ve been doing more and more every year,” Bianco said.

At first, only a few supermarkets stocked organic grapes, he said.

“Now, virtually all of them do.”

About 10% of the grapes sold by Bakersfield, Calif.-based Top Brass Marketing Inc. are organically grown, said president Brett Dixon.

Organic varieties include Allison, flame, Great Green, Krissy, Luisco, Scarlet Royal, sugraone and thompson.

The price difference between organic and conventional grapes isn’t as great as it once was, grower-shippers say, but organic fruit always will cost more than conventionally grown product because of added costs involved in growing it.

For example, organic fertilizer costs 10 times as much as regular fertilizer, Bianco said, and organic grapes are more labor intensive, and yields are not as great as conventional grapes.
“But the public seems to be willing to pay more for it,” he said.

Demand for organic grapes seems to be good, Wilson said, but the category accounts for only a small part of the market compared to conventional grapes.

“We don’t see load volume of organic grapes going out, at least to our customer base,” he said.

The volume of fruit in the marketplace also has a direct impact on how much a grower can charge for a product.

“Organic table grapes have been overplanted in this valley, resulting in a far smaller difference between conventional and organic table grape pricing,” Dixon said.

This is a positive for the consumer and can help boost sales, but it’s not good for the grower, he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see some growers who have overplanted them reduce their acreage in the future,” he said.

Although organic grapes make up only a fraction of the grape category, Morris of Homegrown Organic Growers expects the category to continue to grow as more mainstream consumers switch over to organic. But it must be “cautious growth,” he said.

“It has to be scaled correctly.”

Homegrown will “continue at a steady but very strategic growth model,” he said.
The company represents some of the oldest organic growers in California, said Christine Toy, grape category manager.

“It’s not a fad for Homegrown, it’s a lifestyle.”

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