Strong Season Projected For California Grapes


California grape growers project a season of strong demand bolstered by a multi-faceted promotion program to reach retailers, foodservice operators and consumers from now through January.

“The promotion campaign for the 2020 season is very broad,” says Jeff Cardinale, vice president of communications for the California Table Grape Commission based in Fresno, CA. Cardinale notes that a lot of the communication is digitally based but television, radio, and print will carry campaign messages focusing on snacking and health. Added to that and all the retail and foodservice work, is what Cardinale referred to as a “right-sized” crop.

“The initial crop estimate is 106.5 million 19-pound boxes,” says Cardinale. “That puts the early, initial estimate at very close to last year’s final number of just under 105 million 19-pound boxes.” He notes that the estimate is nearly 10 million boxes less than the crop harvested in 2018 and four to five million less than the 2014-17 seasons. “From an industry perspective, this is a right-sized crop with promotable volume throughout the season. But not so much volume that supplies exceed demand,” he adds, noting the estimate will be reviewed again in late July.

The California season began in the middle of May with production in the Coachella Valley region. Harvesting will continue in the desert region into early July, about the time the harvest begins in the San Joaquin Valley and where it will continue until early December. California grows 99 percent of the commercially produced grapes in U.S. and ships through January most seasons.

Anticipating greater demand
Cardinale notes that demand for grapes is expected to be strong this season. “Consumers love California grapes, prefer them over imports by significant margins even if they cost more. They know them to be versatile and healthy.,” he says. “Because of the pandemic, people are eating at home more and looking for innovative ways to jazz up menus. And there is a renewed interest in healthy eating now that the first stage of the pandemic with all of its comfort eating is behind us. A lot of people are focusing on improving their immune health in particular and research indicates that grapes can play a positive role in that.”

Cardinale notes that the USDA food buying program will also play a season-long role in bolstering demand. “The USDA is committed to buying a significant volume of domestically grown grapes this season. There is so much need in communities across the country now that the food buying the USDA is doing serves the dual purpose of helping with food insecurity and with strengthening demand for crops such as grapes.”

And while significant marketing efforts are focused on domestic consumption of grapes, Cardinale also notes that there will be an aggressive marketing campaign in 20 export markets this season. (Approximately 35 percent of the California crop is exported to markets around the world.)

Add together expanded campaigns in the U.S. and export markets around the world, renewed consumer interest in eating foods that bolster long-term health, the USDA buying program and a right-sized crop of one of consumers favorite fruits, Cardinale says it is clear why the season is projected to be a strong one.

By Fresh Plaza