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Chuck Olsen Co. expects increase in early-season Flame production

“In our early-season program, we’ve got a few more Flames” this year than in 2012, Jeff Olsen, vice president of The Chuck Olsen Co. in Visalia, CA, said in an interview with The Produce News. The additional volume will come from a new grower whose fruit the company will be handling this year.

“Other than that, it is about status quo as far as the early season is concerned,” Olsen said.

He expected the harvest to start “probably right at the end of June” or “possibly the first of July. That “obviously” depends on weather, Olsen said. But “it looks like we are going to start about seven to 10 days earlier than normal.” That is the earliest start date ever for The Chuck Olsen Co. “We have never started that early,” he said.

The company’s early-season program in the San Joaquin Valley will start with Flames. “Then we have a handful of Perlettes” but will “carry on primarily with Flames until we start Thompsons, which hopefully will be around the third week of July, possibly sooner.”

The company will also have some Summer Royal black seedless grapes during that period, he said.

Around the first of August, or possibly as early as the end of July, “we will start Princess,” Olsen said.

“We have had just absolutely perfect weather” during the growing season, he said.

The crop looks large, both for the company and for the industry — possibly even larger than last year’s record crop, according to Olsen. “We just hope we have the quality we had last year, because the quality was superior. The fruit ate good. Color was perfect. Everything just moved off the shelf.” And in spite of the crop being the largest ever last year, “we enjoyed some very good f.o.b.s,” on average, throughout the season.

Large crops and good prices are “an unusual combination, but quality is what sells them,” he said. “The quality speaks, the fruit moves off [the shelf]. The retailers helped, with their promotions, and thank goodness they were promoting and moving fruit.”

The start of the harvest in the San Joaquin Valley appeared likely to overlap with the end of the Mexico and Coachella deals, Olsen noted. “Hopefully Mexico and Coachella can get their fruit moved so we are not stepping on each other’s toes,” which “causes everybody problems.” The quality of the grapes out of Mexico and Coachella “does look good,” he said. “We just hope it will get moving.”

The Olsen Co.’s earliest production in the San Joaquin Valley comes out of Arvin, but “ironically we have a ranch up in Fresno that is very, very early” as well, he said. “It is on a trellis system.”

The company also has production in Delano, Visalia and Orange Cove, and has Flames in all areas. “The Flames are all spread out,” he said. Within a week or two of the start in Arvin, “we will start with everybody,” and all of the company’s growers will be harvesting during July.

“John Bianco, our field man, works year-round with our growers and our ranches,” Olsen said. “We know quality sells, and what we have to do is make sure we’ve got the quality in the box” to keep consumers coming back to the store to buy more.

The Chuck Olsen Co. is service oriented, he said. With regard to pack styles, that means “we are willing to do whatever we need to do to keep customers happy.”