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FRESNO, CA — Export markets are a major outlet for fresh California grape sales, consuming for typically around one-third of the state's roughly 95 million-box annual crop.

Last year, total exports were a little over 34 million boxes (19-pound equivalents), with Canada accounting for about one-third of that volume and Asian countries constituting 38 percent of all grape exports from California. Because of the importance of export markets to the industry, the California Table Grape Commission has long put a strong emphasis on market development programs in importing countries.

With supermarkets playing an increasingly significant role in produce distribution in many developing countries, the commission has been increasing the amount of attention it gives to working with retail chains in various markets.

"We’ve got an expanded and increased retailer promotion program this year, especially in Asia," Susan Day, vice president of international marketing for the commission, told The Produce News during a Sept. 22 interview.

Five Asian countries are in the top 10 export markets for California grapes, with China and Indonesia ranking in second and fourth place, she noted. Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have all seen “tremendous growth” in the past three years.

There are many retail chains that have operations in multiple countries, she said. “So we are targeting those on a regional basis as well as on a local level.” Because of that, “we have an expanded program … with those multi-national retail chains,“ particularly in Southeast Asia and China.

With the preponderance of the state’s grape crop yet to be shipped, this year is “shaping up really well for promotions,” she said. “Those promotions are primarily working with the retailers in an effort to create activities in the store that attract the consumers to buy California grapes, and buy more of them more often and in bigger quantities.” Those activities include helping the retailers build attractive, “nicely merchandised” displays and giving consumers samples of the fruit.

“That program is ongoing, and that is a huge effort on the ground,” said Ms. Day, who had just recently returned from a marketing trip to Asia. “We have our representatives in all these countries. They have teams of people who are out meeting with the retailers on a regular basis, merchandising the fruit, reporting back to us, helping with the displays and helping with each opportunity that we can possibly do to get that consumer to buy California grapes and pull that volume through the retail sector.”

The commission has increased its retail focus not just in Asian markets but in the United Kingdom as well, she said. “We have a lot more activities going on in the U.K. with retailers now. In the past, they have been reluctant to allow too much activity in their stores, but the last two to three years, that has really changed and they are looking at all kinds of promotional ways to move California grapes through their stores. We are doing some in-store activities in a lot of those store groups in the U.K., which we weren’t able to do before. That is new for us.”

In the past, “we have done some on-site … promotions,” offering a trip to California as part of a competition, she said. “But this year, it looks like we will be doing a lot of in-store activities using promotional materials” and using demonstrators to offer grape samples to consumers.

In New Zealand this year, “we are on television with one of the retailers,” participating in a program in which a chef presents a product in television commercials. “We have not done this before. We are doing that in two bursts of television advertising this year in New Zealand,” Ms. Day said.

“This year, we have really fine-tuned our program to target the retailers much more strongly,” she said. “We are trying to work in every possible area we can with the retailers to help those retailers move the grapes to the end consumer, which obviously results in larger volumes being shipped.”

Foodservice is also getting attention in export markets. In the Philippines this year, the commission is working with the hotel and restaurant sector, which is an expanding market there, Ms. Day said. “We are doing a restaurant promotion” with 168 restaurants in seven chains that “are going to promote California grape smoothie drinks in the restaurants.” The promotion will run for three months and will be publicized in the national press, giving consumers as well as restaurants “an idea of how to expand their usage of California grapes.”