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Final tally shows record California grape crop for 2013

California shipped a record volume of fresh grapes during the 2013 season, surpassing 100 million boxes for the second time in history, the California Table Grape Commission announced in a March 20 press release.

The final tally for the 2013 harvest showed a total of 117.4 million boxes of fresh California grapes (116.2 19-pound equivalents) shipped, with a total crop value of $1.7 billion, according to the release. The season started with shipments in early May and continued into February 2014.

California produces 99 percent of the fresh grapes grown and marketed commercially in the United States.

"Over the past 10 years, the volume has significantly increased," Kathleen Nave, president of the commission, said in the release. "In 2003, the crop was under 80 million boxes. In 2012, the 100 million-box mark was crossed for the first time in history."

Export volume totals for the 2013 season also set a new record at 48.6 million boxes exported, a 17 percent increase over the previous year, according to the release. Exports represented 41 percent of total crop volume. The top export markets in volume included Canada at 11.9 million boxes, followed by China/Hong Kong at 7.9 million boxes and Mexico at 6.6 million boxes.

"The fact that California table grape volume continues to grow is a direct reflection of the fact that consumers, both domestically and globally, really do want grapes from California," Nave told The Produce News March 20.

Globally, California ships grapes to more than 60 countries. In the United States, grapes are considered a staple and are the No. 3 fruit item purchased by consumers, behind apples and bananas, "which are pretty much tied in our consumer research," with oranges coming in fourth, behind grapes, she said. "There is a lot of demand for grapes from California, and that demand is really around the world. Our exports keep growing, as do our domestic sales."

The commission expects continued growth for the industry in years to come, but that does not necessarily mean another record year next year.

"Very definitely we expect long-term continued growth," Nave said.

A look back at production statistics over the past 20 years shows that typically the industry would have a record harvest one year, then "pull back for a couple of years, and then climb back up to a new record," she said. "That is what I am expecting [for 2014]" following two successive record harvests, but "as we look ahead, we see an industry that is continuing to grow."

For the 2014 season, "we don't yet have an estimate," Nave said. "We will have an estimate the end of April."

The 2014 season does appear to be a little earlier than normal, with the harvest expected to begin in early May, she said.

Replacement plantings are among the reasons that the 2014 harvest might be slightly less than 2013, she said.

"We have a number of old vineyards that have been removed" and replaced with new plantings, Nave said. Also, "quite a bit of grafting has been going on" as an established vineyard is grafted over to a new variety. "When you have that kind of activity, that is going to impact volume" possibly for two or three years.

As the 2014 harvest approaches," the commission is gearing up for its global marketing campaign for Grapes from California, which includes retail, consumer and foodservice programs," the release stated.

Elaborating on that campaign, which is still in its formative stages, Nave told The Produce News, "In the United States, we will be doing consumer advertising with the Food Network. There will be brand new television commercials airing for the first time in 2014 -- two of them. There will be a series of magazine advertisements in the Food Network magazine, which is the top culinary magazine in the country." Those ads will run every month from June through December.

The theme of the campaign is that grapes from California are "healthy an great tasting" and are "an easy addition to any meal or any dish," Nave said. The health message "really resonates with consumers."

The campaign "will incorporate lots of different ideas for ways consumers can easily make grapes from California a part of their everyday eating experience," she added.

"We will be working, of course, with retailers," she said. "We will be working with the top 70 retailers in the U.S. and Canada, providing them with information and promotional incentives to make sure that there are plenty of grapes on display in stores. Then of course we have a foodservice program, so we will be working with foodservice operators."

In international markets, the campaign will include many of the same activities as in the domestic campaign, Nave said.

"We will be doing a combination of consumer advertising, consumer public relations and a lot of work at retail," she said.