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Rick Chong with Sutherland discusses the dedication it takes

“We specialize in exporting grapes to Asia”

This is the 24th season Sutherland, S.A. has exported fruit to Asia and the company continues to have great success. Demand for several of the company’s premium labels are exceeding supplies this season. What is the secret to being a successful exporter to the Asian continent? “Our focus has always been to be a leader in the industry,” says Chong. “We don’t sit behind our desks, but are in the field every day inspecting grapes, selecting the best quality, overseeing packing, and handling all logistics door-to-door,” he added. “We don’t shy away from getting our hands dirty to provide our customers with the best quality available.”

According to Chong, being a leader also includes being at the forefront of innovation. “We offer new varieties, new labels, new packaging, and do the graphic designing in house. In addition, the company is focused on building a personal relationship with their customers. “We want to get to know their likes and dislikes and develop each market on the continent individually. Asia is made up of many cultures and our team is a representation of that; many different cultures, speaking multiple languages to get to know our customers and understand them. Our key people each have 20+ years of experience in the industry.”

Rick Chong of Sutherland, S.A. and Edgar Contreras of Delano Farms inspecting Pristine green seedless grapes. Right: Pristine Grapes in Sutherland's Smiling Buddha label.

Different premium labels result in healthy sales
Sutherland develops its own labels and offers three premium export labels for the Asian market. “We want to create a demand for our labels as it allows our customers to command a premium price over market.” To guarantee demand, only the best fruit available makes it into the premium brand boxes. “Grape quality has to be a cut-above the usual, which is why we work with only the best growers.”

Why offering several different premium export labels? “Flooding markets with one label often devalues a brand, and reduces returns for our customers,” mentioned Chong. “Different labels give customers a choice and differentiate the product, which is key to healthy sales and returns.” This season, Sutherland released their Panda Grapes label for the first time. “The label has been very well received by our clients everywhere and for the past 10 days, demand has exceeded availability. We are being berated by our customers for more volume.” In addition to Panda Grapes, Sutherland also offers grapes under the Smiling Buddha, and Black Ox labels.

Which varieties have been selected for the premium label? “Currently, we are offering Sweet Sapphire, Midnight Beauty, Ivory, Sweet Globe, Sweetie, Candy Heart, Candy Dream and Sweet Scarlet varieties in our premium label boxes.” In general, Chong is seeing an incredible demand for newer varieties (IFG, ARRA and Sheegene) and this season, the company is offering Asian clients many ‘unreleased’ experimental varieties to test the market. “Many varieties have not been ‘named’ yet, giving our customers a wonderful opportunity to try something new and exciting.”

Sweet Sapphire grapes for Sutherland's new Panda label.

Strong grape market
This time of year, all grapes exported to Asia are California-grown. A cooler spring delayed California grape harvest by about 7 to 10 days. How have supplies developed since the season kicked off? “We continue to see a 7-10 day delay in grape maturity in the San Joaquin Valley this season, strengthening global demand for California grapes,” said Tad Brusseau, Sutherland’s Grape Manager. “Fobs have continued to remain strong with demand exceeding availability, especially for green varieties.” As the deal continues, Brusseau has witnessed volumes substantially increasing over the past two weeks. “We have been working overtime every day to keep up with our customers’ demand. We still have a long season ahead of us and are prepared to take the bull by the horns,” he concluded.

Tad Brusseau, Grape Manager.

For more information:
Rick Chong
Sutherland S.A. Produce, Inc.
Ph: +1 (403) 616-1977
[email protected]