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“If we were winemakers, we'd call this a vintage year”

US (CA): Table grape quality good, prices strong

Quality of this season's California table grapes has been good so far, and consumers are responding well to it. Prices have also picked up after several years of stagnant prices at the retail level.

“All of our retail audits are telling us that customers are quite pleased this season,” said John Pandol of Pandol Brothers in Delano, California. “If we were wine makers, we'd call it a vintage year.” What consumers have been responding to has been the fresh quality of fruit from California vineyards this season, which has led to good movement. With brisk movement, fruit is getting from field to store more quickly, and that, in turn, means the fruit is all the more fresh. The result is a virtuous cycle in which consumers buy up the freshest grapes, which ensures a steady supply of fresh fruit.

“We actually have more grapes this year than last year, by about two or three percent,” noted Pandol. “But they're moving through the sales channels quicker, so they are fresher, and consumers are responding to that.” A good reception from consumers, along with improving economic conditions, has, in turn, resulted in a rebound in prices to levels which haven't been seen since 2008, according to Pandol. Part of the reason for a prolonged price dip has been stagnant economic conditions, but it's also been an insistence on the part of retailers to hold onto promotional prices for fear of losing customers.

“For many years we've had the 99 cents per pound promotional retail price, but that's no longer realistic with inflation,” said Pandol. “At some point, that promotional price becomes unworkable, and despite a dip after the real estate crisis, the price has come back the other way around.” He estimated that prices this year have been between 15 percent and 20 percent higher than in previous years, with costs per pound hovering near the $2.30 per pound mark.

One of the things Pandol pointed to as a reason for the high quality of California's table grapes was the emphasis on developing new varieties. While a few years ago 70 percent of the state's production was comprised of just four varieties, Pandol noted that now those same varieties make up only about 60 percent of the state's production. That culture of innovation only makes the state's fruit better, he reasoned.

“What's unique about California grapes is the amount of knowledge that's available in this industry and the amount of experimentation that is shared,” said Pandol. “We now have 19 varieties, and I think table grapes are going to become more like stone fruit where you have new varieties coming out every day.” He pointed to the success of many varieties with open marketing agreements as evidence that competition is a good thing.

“There are many players that compete,” he said. “And that means those players are always innovating.”

For more information:
John Pandol
Pandol Brothers

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