Supplies of grapes out of Southern California are steady and strong.
“We’re getting into the meat of our season here with good volume,” says Jim Beagle of Grapery based in Shafter, CA. “The weather has made for a very good growing season and by and large, the quality is very nice out of California this year.”
He notes that the volume of grapes is estimated to be about the same as last year’s volume.
Grapery's Jim Beagle and Jack Pandol.
What is changing though is the types of grapes coming out of the state. “There continues to be an evolution of varieties in California table grapes. There’s a continuation of that diversity of breeding programs—they’re releasing new varieties that are offering improvements over the old varieties and I see the industry really adapting to that pretty quickly for a permanent crop,” says Beagle. “Whether that’s better farming traits or better yields or lower costs or better eating quality, I think it’s a healthy diversity of varieties to offer lots of different things in the marketplace.”
Increased 2020 demand
Meeting these good supplies is solid demand—demand that’s stronger than last year at this time. “It seems like every year we have a good eating quality year there’s strong demand,” says Beagle. “But I also think with fewer options for people to eat food from restaurants, more of people’s food comes from the grocery store. Historically when people eat less at restaurants, they eat more of the soft fruit like grapes and berries. You don’t really get served those types of things a lot at restaurants but you buy them a lot at the grocery store.”
And even with the COVID-19 challenges that have been facing the agriculture industry in general (such as additional hygiene costs), one issue that Grapery is not having is difficulty accessing labor. “For the first time in many years, it’s been smooth and I think it’s related to the pandemic,” he says. “A lot of people have left the farm workforce in the last 10-20 years and have gone into construction or restaurant or service industries. A lot of those people are out of work this year and they have a history of having worked in the fields and know how to do that work. So we’ve had better access to labor with some of them coming back this season.”
As for pricing, Beagle says that while it’s still early, pricing currently looks steady and stronger than last year at this time.