Empire Grape Co. LLC in Dinuba, CA, is a new marketing entity formed in February by Peter Vallis, who has been involved in growing grapes since childhood and is a former partner in Farmer’s Fresh Fruit Co., and his wife, Demitra Vallis.
Handling sales for Empire Grape are Jay Stover, who was also previously with Farmer’s Fresh and prior to that spent 10 years at Fazio Marketing Inc., and Susan Lucas, who has been in the produce business for 30 years.
“What is exciting about our fall program is we are resurrecting the ‘Silver King’ brand,” said Stover. “That is a well-known label from Delano from the past, and because it was such a well-respected label, we are going to resurrect that label and put all of our very best grapes in ‘Silver King.”
The “Silver King” label, which has been “out of circulation for about seven or eight years,” belonged to George Lucas Farms which was owned by George and Susan Lucas, Stover said. Susan Lucas is now on sales with Empire Fruit, and George Lucas “helps us with our field operations. So they gave us permission to use the ‘Silver King’ brand, and we are going to bring that back.”
Empire Grapes is also bringing back to the market the trademarked “Gobbl’n Grapes” label for Halloween promotions. “We own the label ‘Gobbl’n Grapes’ and the term ‘The Official Grape of Halloween,’“ Stover said. “That was the first Halloween grape promotion deal, from over a decade ago. So we are bringing that back into the industry.” Empire will be packing red seedless grapes and black seedless grapes in clamshells under the “Gobbl’n Grapes label, he said.
Coming into its first fall season, Empire will have Crimson seedless, Vintage Red, Scarlet Royal and Sweet Scarlet grapes from September forward in the red seedless category, according to Stover.
For fall green grapes, “we will have the Thompsons in September, and early October, and we will have the Autumn Kings,” he said. “On black grapes, we will have Autumn Royals. Aside from those, we will have a good-sized Red Globe program. We have later vineyards, so we will get into the Red Globe deal for the fall, not the early deal that is going on right now,” he said Aug. 9. “We’ll have Red Globes for shipping in September, October and November. We will put up a domestic carton, and we will also put up a Styrofoam box for export.”
Empire’s pack styles will include the stand-up pouch bag “with our own brands” as well as clamshells. “We pack, really, any size clamshell that a customer would want,” from one pound to four pounds, Stover said.