California organic grape sales have been strong this season, so much so that it’s factoring into an early end of the season for one grower-shipper.
Next year, Fruit World will double its production on Kyohos as the young vines continue to mature.
For Fruit World in Reedley, CA, organic Thomcord grapes, a hybrid of the Concord and Thompson grapes, had volume that was as expected this season. “The quality and flavor of the Thomcords was top-notch this year. We’re really proud of those grapes,” says Bianca Kaprielian of Fruit World. Strong sales helped push a two to three week early end to the season.
Its other specialty variety, the Kyoho grape, a Japanese variety, is in its second year of production. “The Kyoho vines are young, so not at peak maturity which means the crop was on the smaller side,” says Kaprielian. “The grapes' deliciously intense flavor was spot on and we had a really great response to them. Sales were strong.” Kaprielian notes that next year, Fruit World will double its production on Kyohos as the vines continue to mature.
The Fruit World team at the recent Organic Produce Summit.
Some early starts
Both the Thomcords and Kyoho grapes started the season seven to 10 days early this year.
Fruit World was also in production with organic red, green and black grapes from grower Pete Wolf. This year saw a lighter crop overall on these grapes and the early end is due to the combination of that lighter crop coupled with strong demand.
Strong sales helped push a two to three week early end to the Thomcord season.
“We believe the lighter crop set on Pete’s grapes was due to climate change and the fact that some of his vines are over 100 years old. They’re not prolific producers but they make up for it in flavor, which is why the sales are so strong,” says Kaprielian. “Pete’s heritage varieties have a depth of flavor and a wonderful crunch. Customers who know them come back.”
Kaprielian says also spurring sales this year could be its switch to paper tote bags and away from plastic pouch bags. (Totes were offered on the Wolf grapes while some clamshells were offered still on the specialty grapes.) “We decided to not do any more plastic pouch bags and wondered if we’d have any push back. But customers loved it,” says Kaprielian, who noted last year already the Thomcords in particular saw about 1/3 of the grapes move in paper bags while the remaining 2/3 in plastic clamshells. This year that percentage moved to more than 50 percent paper totes.
Supply chain concerns
That said, accessing paper totes was challenging. “Getting the totes made was a challenge. From paper to ink to stamp the bags, materials were in tight supply. We managed to get by, but definitely felt the supply chain issues,” adds Kaprielian.
Kaprielian says customers responded well to packaging grapes in paper tote bags over plastic bags.
As for pricing this season, it was strong and stable. “Pricing really stayed where it needed to be to match the additional costs of production we’ve seen in the last two years. It felt like we struck that balance between getting our customers a good price and our growers a good price,” says Kaprielian.
Looking ahead at next season already, along with doubling that Kyoho crop, Kaprielian notes more specialty varieties are being planted. “We continue to seek out some really unique specialty varieties and will start getting some of those into the ground to bolster our grape program. We want to have a small but mighty, primarily specialty, grape program.”