The Grape Guys in Cutler, CA, which had an increase in grape volume last year due to some new plantings and one new grower, will be up in volume again for 2012. This year, most of the increases will be in newer, late-season varieties, according to President Shaun Ricks.
Vintage Red, Scarlet Royal and Autumn King are three varieties “that we have new acreage on, and those are all later varieties,” he said.
Earlier in the season, the company will have its first “packable volume” of a new, and as of yet, unnamed proprietary black seedless variety. Mr. Ricks did not elaborate on the variety and was non-committal on whether the company would be expanding production of the variety for future seasons. “We are going to take a look at it and see how we like it,” he said.
Mr. Ricks, who had recently returned from Nogales, AZ, where he was selling the company’s Mexican grape deal, told The Produce News July 10 that “the end of the Mexican deal has been a big disappointment” because of a drop in the market that made the transition into California’s San Joaquin Valley grape season “a little more challenging than it has been the last couple of years.”
There is “an excess amount of fruit out of Mexico” still in the market, “and some out of Coachella, too, that is kind of muddying the waters,” Mr. Ricks continued. “But having said that, actually demand has been pretty good. I think [buyers] have been ready to move into fresher fruit with maybe a little more consistent red color on the flames, more green stems on all varieties,” and an additional pound of fruit in the box. “For those reasons, we feel like a lot of people have moved to California” in their grape sourcing, and “the Mexican deal is struggling to clean up.”
Markets “could be a little higher,” he said, but “I am actually more comfortable with markets in the mid-to upper teens” than with the more typically higher opening markets, “because I just feel like the stores can do more with that kind of a market, and we need them to promote.”
The season start in the San Joaquin Valley is running about 10 days earlier than last year or the prior year, Mr. Ricks said. “The last two years we’ve started between the 10th and 12th [of July] in the valley. We’ve been packing for a week and a half already this year.”
The harvest started, for The Grape Guys, with Flames and Perlettes and the new proprietary black seedless, all in Kern County. “We will start up in Tulare County the end of this week with more flames,” he said.
By the end of July, “we’ll have Thompsons and Princess going on the green side, although our [fresh market] Thompson crop will be down significantly because we see a lot of Thompsons going to the raisin deal,” he said. “The raisin markets are really good this year. We expect to see a lot of fruit get laid down,” including “a higher percentage of Thompsons than in the past, because the market is so good.”
The company’s Flames will continue through August and into the beginning of September, he said. Meanwhile, “we will have Crimsons starting the end of August” and ramping up in September.
The Grape Guys will have Summer Royal black seedless grapes throughout the month of August and Red Globes throughout August and September, Mr. Ricks said. Those will be followed by the company’s expanded program in the late season Vintage Reds, Scarlet Royals and Autumn Kings.
The Grape Guys will also have Champagne grapes, or Zante currents, he said. Those were expected to start around July 20 and continue “deep into September, probably.”
The company expects “to be adding a new pack style, the new gusset bag,” Mr. Ricks said. “We are going to be packing that this year.” It will be “the first time for us.” Some shippers, he said, are using the new bag, also called a stand-up bag, exclusively for special promotions. “For us, we are approaching it more on a customer by customer basis, and the two customers I know that are going to be using it will be using it exclusively, not just for special promotions. It is going to be there every day.”
In addition, “We will continue to pack the traditional slider [bag]” as well as two, three and four-pound clamshells, he said.