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US: Larger volumes, expansion for POM Wonderful

With over 18,000 acres of trees in California, POM Wonderful is the largest grower of pomegranates in the United States. They pick, pack and ship all of their fruit in California's San Joaquin Valley, and in the face of growing domestic competition from an increasing number of small growers in the state, they are expanding into new markets with the help of good volume from this year's crop.

Crop volume is expected to be up to 25 percent larger this year than it was last season, according to Gerhard Leodolter, vice president of international sales for POM Wonderful. He added, however, that although it may seem like a large jump in production, the difference between last year and this year is atypically pronounced because of a down year in 2011.

“We had some weather events that were out of our hands last year,” he said. “We had rain in the middle of our harvest, and that's the worst time to have rain because it causes splitting.” Added to that is the fact that 2010 was a good year in terms of volume, and Leodolter noted that seasons with big production are usually followed by years with less fruit.

“We've found that a slightly smaller crop follows a year with a huge crop,” he said. “Big production tends to stress the trees out.” Those factors have certainly pushed down last year's numbers, but part of the reason for a large increase in production has also been good growing weather this season.

“We're off to a great start,” said Leodolter. Harvest began in October and is expected to continue through November, and with a long summer with favorable weather, harvested fruit has looked excellent, according to Leodolter.

“This is a big year,” he said. “This will be one of our best years in quite a while.”

Although this year's good production isn't directly driving POM's expansion, it is part of a general upswing in the volume they handle and their plans for what to do with that volume. The past few years have brought an increasing awareness of pomegranates among consumers, and Leodolter believes POM has played a large part in both piquing consumer interest as well as feeding that demand.

“We have, roughly, four million trees, so we're the largest pomegranate grower in the US,” he said. With that kind of volume, they are able to export to over 50 countries. They can also provide a consistent level of quality that comes from growing a single variety in only one region. With that level of consistency and with large volumes, Leodolter said they've been able to move into the processing business. POM began selling pomegranate concentrate to juice companies and any other industry that wants to use pomegranates as an ingredient.

“For years companies approached us about us providing them with concentrate, but that wasn't really our business before,” he said. But with more fruit, they found it possible to sell concentrate.

“We now have the volume for it, and there's demand for our pomegranates as an ingredient,” he said. “We also feel we can provide a superior product to what's out there, so we feel there's good potential moving forward.”

For more information:
Gerhard Leodolter
POM Wonderful

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