Fruit World put this message in 160,000 Thomcord grape clamshells last season. More than 1,800 consumers texted, and the company responded to each one. ( Courtesy Fruit World Co. )

Fruit World Co. co-founder CJ Buxman ended the 2018 season with more than 1,800 digital “pen pals,” and he’s looking to add to that this season

Like many produce marketers, Buxman was searching for a way to connect with consumers. Unlike others, he went the direct route, asking for them to contact him directly through a text message.

In more than 160,000 one-pound organic Thomcord seedless grape clamshells, he dropped a note that ended with: “I planted these seedless organic Thomcord grapes because I love their flavor. Please text me personally if you feel the same way!”

Many did, with more than 1,800 responses. And the company responded to each one. He plans to do the same this season.

“It’s a lot of work responding, but the messages are heart-warming, and our retailers tell us it really drove repeat sales,” Fruit World co-founder Bianca Kaprielian said in the release. “We were blown away by the response last year. We expected people to love the flavor, but were surprised and humbled by the large number of people that took the time to thank us for growing them.”

Thomcords are a hybrid of the heirloom Concord and thompson grapes.

Fruit World plans to start shipping the 2019 crop in cartons of 20 one-pound clamshells and 10 two-pound paper totes the first week of August, packing from Reedley, Calif., through early October.

“The Thomcord yield per acre is less than other varieties of table grapes, but its taste and aroma can’t be beat,” Buxman said in the release. “They also are a perfect example of our obsession with growing the most flavorful fruit possible.”

Fruit World will be shipping 10 other organic grape varieties from heritage vines from company partner Pete Wolf, a longtime organic grower.

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