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Pandol Associates offers smaller, more flavorful grapes for niche market

In addition to the “normal mix of varieties” that most grape shippers carry, Pandol Associates Marketing Inc. in Selma, CA, has a line of niche market products that run counter to the traditional wisdom that “bigger is better.”

It consists of “grapes that are grown for sweetness and flavor, rather than berry size,” and they are called “Sweet Babies,” according to President James (Jim) Pandol.

Rather than apply cultural practices designed to increase berry size, “we let them stay small” and develop “very beautiful colors and very intense flavors,” Pandol said.

“We do that primarily with a series of green seedless varieties,” particularly Thompsons, “but we let them get a golden color” rather than harvesting them at a deep green stage,” he added.

There are also colored grapes in the program. “We have done this a little bit with Flames and Crimsons. Crimsons, especially, come out with a very unique flavor,” he said. “If you keep the berry smaller, it gets to be a very intense rub red color and has a lot of flavor.”

Some grapes used in the program are older varieties “that have kind of gone by the wayside” mainly because they didn’t have big berry size. “There are even some juice varieties” in the mix.

When Pandol Associates started the program, “Sweet Babies” were targeted primarily to people who had originally come from such places as Russia, Armenia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“These certain ethnic groups really like it because it is more like the grapes they had back home,” Pandol said.

The grapes have “real intense flavor, and they like that,” he said.

But the “Sweet Babies” are now becoming more popular with mainstream consumers in the United States as well, he added.