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Sundale Sales continues volume growth, including early-season varieties

Flame seedless grapes and Sugraone green seedless grapes, the two major early-season varieties for Sundale Sales Inc. in Tulare, CA, are among the varieties in which the company will have increased volume in 2013 due to young acreage coming on line.

“We have increased acreage of both, with two new blocks coming into [fuller] production this year, both on Flames and on the Sugraones,” said President Sean Stockton. “Last year, we had first-year crop” on those vineyards, he said. “This will be the first full crop on those early acres.”

Both vineyards are located “behind the cold storage on the main ranch here in Tulare,” he said.

Sundale continues to increase in volume not just on the early grapes but throughout the season, according to Stockton. To accommodate that growth, last year the company completed the third-phase expansion of its cold-storage facility. All aspects of that expansion are now operational, he said.

Part of the expansion was the addition of a house pack facility that is now “all up and running,” he said. “We plan on starting the bi-color and tri-color clamshells in that facility” as soon as multiple colors of grapes are available.

While there is “nothing necessarily new” in Sundale’s packaging options this year, the trend to the handle pouch bag is continuing to grow. There is a “solid demand for that” as well as for clamshells, Stockton said.

He noted that the growing popularity of the pouch bag has not eaten into clamshell business. “They are a completely different customer base.” What is happening is that customers who have traditionally taken poly bags are switching over to the pouch bag. That is happening to such an extent that “a significant part of our volume will be packed in pouch bags this year,” he said.

This year’s grape crop “looks early and strong,” Stockton said. “We will start Flames sometime around July 1,” which is 10 to 14 days earlier than last year. “Sugraones should start for us four or five days later,” with Summer Royal black seedless grapes starting around the second or third week of July.

“An early forecast has all numbers exceeding where we were last year,” he said.

“We are anxious to get the season started,” Stockton continued. “Usually when you have a grape season that starts early, it forecasts for a strong, healthy market throughout.”

The Mexican grape crop has been running later than normal, and with the early start in the San Joaquin Valley, an overlap is expected. “A big part of the Mexican crop is being harvested in June,” Stockton said. “With the early start out of [Central] California, the question will be how quickly will the retailers move from the Mexico grapes” to grapes from the San Joaquin Valley. “All indications from our customer base are that as soon as we get started, they are prepared to jump on board.”