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Coachella poised for big season

by Tim Linden | April 27, 2011

The stars — and production — appear to be aligned, and to a person, California’s Coachella Valley produce community is expecting a strong season in 2011.


Grapes may dominate the Coachella Valley deal, but other items such as peppers, corn, citrus and watermelon also represent a significant portion of the deal.


A few shipments have already begun, with most shippers planning to kick off the vegetable season with production the first week of May followed by grape shipments during the week of May 9.

By the end of May, both grapes and vegetables will be in very good supplies with shippers hopeful that markets will also be strong.

Grapes remain king in the valley, but there is also a strong presence of vegetables, melons and citrus. For the most part, growers and shippers are expecting a much better marketing season than last year for almost every item.

For grapes, it appears that Chile will clean up faster than it did last year, and vegetable prices have been hot all winter so Coachella is getting started in the vegetable deal with demand exceeding supply in a number of crops.

George Tudor, facilities manager of Tudor Ranches Inc. in Mecca, CA, said that this is an average year with regard to timing with the first harvest of grapes expected the week of May 9. “It’s not a large crop, but it looks very good,” he said in mid-April.

With regard to the marketing situation, he said it all depends on whether Chile is cleaned up by the time Coachella starts to hit its stride in late May. Last year, Chilean grapes were still in the marketplace throughout May, creating a sloppy deal at the front end. Mr. Tudor and everyone else The Produce News interviewed in the Coachella deal hope that history does not repeat itself this year.

John Harley, sales manager at Anthony Vineyards Inc. in Bakersfield, CA, expects the grape season to start in normal fashion. “I think we will start off with a price in the high $20s or low $30s, and then we will see a natural lowering of the price as time goes on. Of course it all depends upon whether there is any late-season Chilean fruit on the market when we start.”

Anthony Vineyards is expecting to begin both its Flame seedless and Perlette production the week of May 9 with both conventional and organic offerings in those varieties.

Jared Lane, vice president of sales for Stevco Inc. in Beverly Hills, CA, expects a very good opening market for the grape deal. He said that the early fruit was impacted by a February freeze that swept through Coachella. That also hurt the early fruit coming from Mexico. “Chile is also a little short on green fruit. The big question is how the Chilean Crimson [variety] will hold up. I think we are going to see a very good market in May. It is going to be a demand-exceeds-supply situation.”

In mid-April, Mr. Lane said that the supply of Chilean grapes appeared to be very manageable, so he expected the situation would be the same when Coachella gets started around mid-May.

Gordon Robertson, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sun World in Bakersfield, CA, had received similar indications from his sources. “We expect the pricing to be pretty good this year. We think the greens and reds should do fairly well, and there should be very strong demand for black grapes.”

Like the others interviewed, Mr. Robertson said that California’s Coachella Valley deal appears to be “normal this year with no major fluctuations in supply.” He said that for the most part, the valley’s vineyards averted the February freeze that gripped Mexico, “so we are feeling pretty good about this season.”

Yet another optimistic grape shipper was Nick Bozick, president of Richard Bagdasarian Inc. in Mecca, CA. “The weather has been a little erratic, but the crop looks like it is going to be a good one. Of course, Mother Nature still has a role to play over the next month,” he said April 13.

Mr. Bozick believes it will be a good marketing year because he does not think Chilean grapes will adversely affect the Coachella deal this year. “There are a lot fewer Chilean grapes in [Philadelphia, where most of the Chilean grapes enter the United States] right now than there were a year ago. I think our pricing structure is going to be pretty good.”

The vegetable folks are similarly optimistic.

Mike Aiton, marketing manager for Prime Time International in Coachella, CA, said, “In early February, about one third of the vegetable crops that were in the ground were damaged by the frost. We had temperatures in the mid to high 20s for three nights in a row. The cold temperatures stunted the growth of some of the plants, and everything hasn’t caught back up — but it will.”

The February weather problems resulted in a supply gap from Mexico for much of the late winter and early spring, which has resulted in a very strong market for many vegetable items. In fact, Mr. Aiton said that a lack of supplies has kept the red pepper price hot for quite some time, and he said that the hot market is not going to cool off until the temperatures heat up and bring more supplies. “I think red peppers will remain scarce until we get deep into May,” he said.

Mr. Robertson said that Sun World is also expecting a good market for both its red and yellow peppers and its packs of sweet mini peppers.

Franz De Klotz, managing partner of Pasha Marketing in Mecca, CA, was also bullish on the upcoming vegetable season. He said that his firm has increased its production because of demand, and he believes this season is shaping up to be a good one for growers and shippers. Pasha markets all three pepper colors as well as Jalapeños, eggplants, green beans and watermelons.

(For more on the Coachella deal, see the April 25, 2011, issue of The Produce News.)