Creating a flavor revolution. That is the mission of California fruit breeder IFG. “About 20 years ago, breeding programs were mostly focused on grower aspects, including tonnage, yield, color and timing,” says Andy Higgins, IFG’s CEO.
When IFG was established back in 2001, consumer experience became the leading factor in the company’s process of developing new varieties. “Our varieties need to tick all the consumer boxes, but also what growers are looking for. The demand of tomorrow’s consumer will be higher than today, and we will need to anticipate that.” An example would be breeding varieties that are more adaptable to an organic way of growing or to climate change. “It is a matter of enhancing positive traits and suppressing negative traits,” added Higgins.
After 21 years in business, IFG is active in 18 countries around the world. Altogether, the company has over 34,000 hectares under license and works with over 1,300 licensed growers. For growers interested in becoming a licensee, anyone can apply. “It is a comprehensive application process. Our field staff works with the new applicant in reviewing the application and viewing their farm locations.” Licensed growers rent the varieties from IFG. “We receive a percentage of the net wholesale value of the fruit that was harvested,” said Higgins. “It is an important part of our model and a win-win for us and our licensees.”
Rendering of the lab.
To accommodate for its growth and to be able to offer an even wider selection of table grapes and cherry varieties, IFG is building a new state-of-the-art $14 million campus in McFarland, California. The campus, named Fruitworks|The IFG Discovery Center, is surrounded by 150 acres of test fields and is scheduled to open in Fall of 2023. The location was chosen after a thorough research process.
“It is an isolated location, far away from Delano, a key grape growing region where there is greater disease pressures.” The farm in McFarland grew mainly row crops that aren’t a threat to IFG’s breeding facilities. Another key advantage of the new location is access to water.
“McFarland is situated in a good water district.” With this new site, IFG aims to create a place of innovation with a university feel. “We are building a physical space that is inspirational,” said Higgins. He reveals that each lab room will have windows, so visitors can see the work that is being performed in the lab. In addition, there will be a 25,000 square feet space for propagation and the Isolation House will allow for new varieties to be shipped to other countries as quickly as possible. “The Isolation House will keep all varieties clean, enabling a direct transport to any destination in the world.”
The Fruitworks campus will also hold a post-harvest physiology lab. Here, hundreds of selected varieties will be screened and tested every year. “In this lab, we will replicate what happens to fruit when it is being shipped from Chile to Europe for example. It is very important for us to know how a variety holds up during long transit times as well as shipping delays,” Higgins commented.
IFG's post-harvest physiology lab.
Family of Flavors
Table grapes are the largest category IFG breeds for, and the company’s collection includes a Family of Flavors to better communicate to retailers and consumers how to recognize and easily discern the flavors amongst IFG’s table grapes.
- Tropical/Fruity grapes exploding with flavor, such as Candy Snaps™ grapes.
- Toffee or cotton candy flavor, found in Cotton Candy™ grapes.
- Muscat/Floral essence, found in Sweet Nectar™ grapes.
- Sweet Neutral flavor, which is the most popular category with more than half of consumers preferring a ‘grape that tastes like a grape’, such as Sweet Globe™ grapes.
- Exotic/Spicy that’s very flavor forward and aromatic. These strongly flavored grapes pair well with strong cheeses. An example of an exotic/spicy table grape variety is Julep™ that was launched last year.
Higgins expects the new Discovery Center will allow IFG to speed up innovation by growing better and growing smarter.