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At Sun Fresh, volume increases for Blanc seedless grapes

by Rand Green | October 19, 2010
VISALIA, CA — They're big. They’re beautiful. They’re crunchy. They’re sweet. "What else can I say?" said Darrel Fulmer, managing partner at Sun Fresh International LLC, here, when asked what characteristics, besides their lateness, make the proprietary Blanc seedless table grape variety special.

One bite into one of the big, beautiful, sweet, crisp berries from a bunch in a clamshell that had been sitting on Mr. Fulmer’s desk for two days validated his claim.

“We have found that as we compete at the end of the Thompson seedless season, we only have to make the first sale,” Mr. Fulmer told The Produce News Oct. 6. “Once the customers get them and the consumers taste them, the retailers have to satisfy their customers” by ordering more. “So basically the first sale is tough, and after that it is pretty easy.”

A product flyer from the company, quoting the variety’s developer, Anton Caratan, actually does add some detail: “The Blanc seedless has a crisp texture coupled with a taste that starts off with a sweet vanilla streak and ends with a zesty Granny Smith apple finish.” It also has “unbelievably long shelf life.”

Mr. Caratan, a partner in Anton Caratan & Son in Delano, CA, is also owner of the “Pristine” registered trademark that, according to company legal documents, is utilized “to identify grapes corresponding to the 'Blanc seedless’ variety.”

“Pristine” is not the name of the variety, Mr. Fulmer emphasized. Sun Fresh and two other companies — Delano Farms and Four Star Sales, both in Delano — have been licensed to market the Blanc seedless grape variety within the continental United States and Canada, and the three companies work together to coordinate the marketing, according to Mr. Fulmer.

Sun Fresh markets all of Caratan’s production, and Delano Farms and Four Star are licensed to grow and pack as well as to market the grapes. The variety has been in commercial production for about four years, with volume increasing each year and several thousand acres planted.

“This year, we think there will be ... in the domestic market close to 2.5 million boxes,” Mr. Fulmer said. “Next year, there could be 3.5 [million] to 4 million.”

The harvest for the late-season green (or white) seedless variety starts in late September and continues to the first of November. “But the real marketing window is October, November and half of December,” he said. Because the variety is harvested late in the season, “all of the vineyards are covered with heavy-duty plastic to protect against rain.”

A large percentage of the grapes “are harvested in totes, put in cold storage and packed to order” in-house in clamshells, Mr. Fulmer said. “All three companies have in-house packing facilities.” The group’s philosophy “is to have as fresh a pack as possible for the customers through the end of the marketing period. We feel that by having our value-added packing facilities, all three companies in conjunction” can accomplish that objective.

“In this day and age, to satisfy the retail trade, you have to have fresh product, it has got to be eye appealing for the public, and it’s got to have eating quality,” he said. “We feel that this [product]“ meets all of those criteria. Currently “we have several retailers that are taking significant volumes,” he said. Promotional programs are client-specific, but “we have done a lot of internal promotion,” and those programs have included “sampling in cooperation with retailers.”

Outside the continental United States and Canada, Sun Fresh has an exclusive license to market and distribute the Blanc seedless variety of grapes produced in the United States.

Sun Fresh, which was formed in 1999 by Mr. Fulmer and some partners from South America, is part of the Vidaurri group of companies, which have locations throughout Latin America and which are involved in production and international marketing of a wide assortment of produce commodities.

Caratan has licensed to Polar Fruit International — Sun Fresh’s sister company in Chile — the exclusive rights to produce and market Blanc seedless grapes produced outside the United States.

Some of that fruit will be sent to the U.S. market beginning next year, and “it will be a major import variety from Chile within the next five years,” Mr. Fulmer said.