California grower-shippers anticipated promotable supplies of pomegranates from mid-August onward, although 80% or more of the crop is in the wonderful variety which starts around Oct. 1.

Good volumes were forecast despite some movement toward other crops.

"The industry is expecting somewhat lower than normal total volume because there are still growers swapping out pomegranates for nut varieties that they feel will give them higher returns," said Tom Tjerandsen, manager at the Sonoma, Calif.-based Pomegranate Council. "So acreage is declining somewhat, but sizes are going to be up."

"Mother Nature has been kind to the pomegranate harvest," Tjerandsen said Aug. 4. "There were some 106- and 108-degree days in mid-July that brought on color but slowed development. We moved from what we anticipated originally as an earlier than normal start for the harvest to expecting promotable volumes from about Aug. 15."

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Slayman Marketing, which focuses on early varieties, kicked off the pomegranate season Aug. 2 with its harvest of granadas. Last year started earlier, around July 20.

The bellwether deal, whose production runs about six and a half weeks, will move on to the foothill variety.

"We're a little lighter," said Ralph Melendez, ranch manager at Slayman. "The spring was cooler than normal."

Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co. expected good volumes and sizing.

"Crop size is going to be the same as last year if not slightly larger," vice president of sales and marketing Jeff Simonian said. "The fruit looks like it will be bigger this year due to the more prolonged winter and more water."

Simonian Fruit planned to start its Urbanekgranate variety in the second week of September. Early wonderfuls will start the third week of September, and wonderfuls close to Oct. 1. The company finishes its harvest in the first or second week of November.

As August began, Simonian's early season varieties showed some color, while wonderfuls were still on the green side.

The main shipper of the wonderful variety is Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful, which accounts for perhaps 70% of California pomegranate sales.

On the fresh-cut side of the business, the industry reports growing interest in arils sold in cups or trays. DJ Forry, for one, offers arils year-round, sourcing them from Chile as well as California.

"We have several retailers who are up significantly over the previous year on sales of arils," said Ray England, vice president of marketing at DJ Forry. "We see that as a trend. The aril is still a niche item for supermarket chains, but it's a good growth item. We time arils with the wonderfuls, starting in October."

Tjerandsen agreed. "The grower-shippers are continuing to see substantial increase in the level of interest for arils," he said. "More and more retailers are including it as part of their seasonal, and especially holiday, items. A number of retailers have been reluctant to aggressively promote arils because of the limited shelf life after arrival, but the technology is improving and the shelf life has taken great strides forward."

About 40% of California pomegranates are exported.

"There is no diminishment in sight for growth in international demand," Tjerandsen said. "More and more importers around the world are appreciating the size and color of California pomegranates, and that demand is competing for the domestic harvest."

Apart from Canada, Korea is by far the biggest destination for export fruit. Pacific Rim countries that had various issues and difficulties with product from Uzbekistan or Iran leapt at the chance to import California pomegranates when they were authorized about four years ago. The Golden State has held that market ever since.