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California grapes to get high-profile exposure at many events

by Rand Green | June 17, 2010
FRESNO, CA -- The California Table Grape Commission, here, engages in a variety of activities to keep fresh California grapes top-of-mind for chefs and consumers as well as for the food and lifestyle writers and editors who influence culinary trends.

This year, those activities will involve high-profile exposure for California grapes at events ranging from Food Fête to baseball games.

The grape commission is a regular participant in the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Following the recent IACP conference held April 21-24 in Portland, OR, IACP member Patti Londre, a "long-time food pro" who writes a culinary blog called, wrote, "Grapes from California always shine at IACP. We members should kiss the boots of [CTGC Vice President] Jim Howard for continually supporting this association in very good times and also in killer tough times. Thank you, Jim. His org ... always showcase[s] in a big way at the expo. … That being said, grapes really are culinary rock stars."

During June and July, as the California grape harvest builds to its seasonal peak, the commission will engage in a busy schedule of promotional and public relations activities.

"On June 28, we are going to New York" to participate in Food Fête, Mr. Howard told The Produce News June 8. "There are about 200 editors and writers who show up" for the event, representing "a very good list of all the top consumer publications. These really are the people who set the agenda for food in this country -- what people eat and what they think about the food they eat. It is an important and influential group."

In addition to sharing with that group "general information about grapes from California," he said, "we are also going to present them with the idea that anywhere you can use a tomato, you can use a grape. We are going to serve them three little hors d'oeuvres that demonstrate this."

One is a classic gazpacho made with green grapes, he said. Another is an appetizer portion of "a play on a capresse salad." The classic capresse is made with mozzarella, tomato and basil, "but we are doing it with a grape." The third is "an hors d' oeuvre play on a BLT," using a grape in place of a tomato. "It works really well - the sweetness of the grape [with] the bacon and the lettuce - and it all comes together really well."

Last year, the grape commission sponsored a "Grapes from California" day at the Giants baseball stadium in San Francisco, incorporating and surrounded by a cluster of public relations components. "We had signage at the ballpark during the season" which was also viewable on television. "We sold grapes at the ballpark. We had a retail volume contest," and the winner got to throw out the first pitch at a game, Mr. Howard said.

The pilot effort was so successful that it is being repeated and expanded this year, beginning with a game Friday, June 11 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

"It is a kickoff" for the California grape season and "a celebration" of California grapes," Mr. Howard said. Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence, who appears on the Food Network, will throw out the first pitch of the game on behalf of "Grapes from California."

"That also starts a retail display contest down in Los Angeles during the month of June and into July," he said. The winner of that contest - the produce manager who has the biggest increase in volume in sales of California grapes -- will be flown to San Francisco for a Giants-Dodgers game on July 31.

After that, the commission's baseball program "really takes off." In all, "Grapes from California" days are scheduled at five different baseball stadiums from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

Bringing Chef Florence into the commission's baseball promotion activities is a "new element" that will "really extend the media coverage," Mr. Howard said. "Tyler is a big and very natural, honest fan of California grapes" who, for years, has "consistently called out 'Grapes from California'" when he "uses grapes on his show or in his writing."

Additionally, the grape commission will be running ads in the Food Network magazine, and in 13 states "we are able to tag that to retailers," reminding consumers "that the place to go find your grapes is a specific local retailer," he said. Those 13 states "represent a huge percentage" of the volume of early-season California grapes.

(For more on California grapes, see the June 21, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)