Fall offers bounty of grapes

09:11AM Sep 12, 2019
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The fall is a season of strength for California grape marketers.

“(The fall season) actually kind of really gets into our program (and) is really where we shine, especially late fall as we kind of get into November, and even December with the mix of our proprietary varieties,” said Mitch Wetzel, vice president of sales for Sunview Marketing International, Delano, Calif.

Last year, the United Fresh Produce Association’s Fresh Facts fourth quarter report on retail sales indicated that retail grape volume from September through December was up 11.2% compared with the previous year.

“It is a great variety of grapes that we are coming into for the fall,” said Brian Campos, organic sales manager with Sun Pacific, Pasadena, Calif., noting that the company has 19 varieties of grapes.

“The varieties are providing good eating quality and when have that you have repeat sales, so that’s always a nice combination,” he said.  

Sun Pacific has a growing volume of organic grapes, Campos said.

John Harley, head of sales for Anthony Vineyards, Bakersfield, Calif., said retail demand has been strong and consistent.

“It is amazing,” Harley said. “The (demand) seems to be there every week, the varieties are good and the quality is excellent, which I think is pushing the grape category to a stronger level,” he said.

Although California shippers experienced a “bump in the road” with the way the Mexican grape season unfolded, the road ahead looks clear.

The official estimate of the California grape crop was adjusted downward from 116 million boxes to 110 million boxes, and Harley said the final packout could be even lower.

While July pricing was “abnormally low” this year as a result of concerns by some growers of a repeat of 2018, Brett Dixon, president of sales for Top Brass Marketing, Bakersfield, Calif., said “with so much movement so far this season, we are beginning to see those prices firm up heading into August.” 

“The industry as a whole does not appear to be behind in shipments the way they were last season” Dixon said.

The 2018 fall season was a strong year for grape availability and the 2019 season also will offer plenty of promotion opportunities, Wetzel said. As cherries, stone fruit and melons start to fall away, grapes will take center stage from late August into November, he said.

“The vendor trade in the California grape deal are more prepared for it this year, and I think they’re being a lot more proactive and understanding what it’s going to take to move the crop,” he said. 

“We’re basically telling our customers that we can promote all the way through Thanksgiving,” he said.

Wetzel said the sophistication of grape merchandising has increased over the past few years.

“The grape business is moving from just having three SKUs of red, green and black into a full category — now with your standard offering of red, green, and black, then premium varieties, organics, and these high flavor varieties,” he said.

Wetzel said the perspective of looking at grapes as a category is creating more attention from the retail trade.

“Not just this generic, kind of throw it out there displays, but actually having a business plan and some focus — how do we merchandise those different areas of the category, the high flavor, the organic and in the standard offering.”

“I would say that the conversations have advanced and elevated themselves into a true category conversation,” he said.

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