Anthony Vineyards Prepares for Outstanding Table Grape Season
BAKERSFIELD, CA - When I was growing up, there were red grapes and there were green grapes (there were also grapes with seeds in them, but we didn’t talk about those). But after speaking with Rob Spinelli, Sales at Anthony Vineyards, I learned that the world of table grape varieties stretches far beyond the dichromatic options of my youth—into a land rich with dazzling flavors and colors. As I tried to keep my excited heart palpitations in check, Rob gave me a crash course in all things grape, including Anthony Vineyards’ varieties, production schedule, and expanding organic program.
“Anthony Vineyards has concentrated on the organic front, producing that ourselves, and making those changes with the new varieties on the organic side. We have brought in two outside growers with newer varieties on the conventional side, and we now have a full grape program, which will start late May and go all the way through into November and December,” Rob told me.
Producing both conventional and organic varieties is a delicate balancing act, but by bringing in outside growers to supplement production of conventional varieties, the company complements its organic production, creating a one-stop-shop for buyers. And as Anthony Vineyards expands its organic acreage in the San Joaquin Valley and tries out new varieties, the grower positions itself as a well-rounded source for table grapes.
“We've pulled out some of the older varieties of the organic as well as some of our conventional and replaced them with newer varieties, so we can always be ahead of the curve on the organic front and also on the conventional side,” Rob continued.
With more varieties comes more choices for consumers—and more opportunities for retailers to drive up sales, Rob noted. Sweet Globes, Valley Pearls, Sweet Sapphires, and Candy Dreams were just some of the grape varieties Rob name dropped, and as a relatively recent phenomenon, the grape variety boom offers growers and consumers something different.
“The big change in the grape industry over the last eight years, has been all the newer varieties,” explained Rob. “All the specialty varieties have a high, intense flavor and a different eating experience. There's a higher sugar content and a different flavor profile than your normal mainstream grape. And those are going to have a slightly limited availability.”
At the moment, the Chilean grape season has started to wind up, though the supply of green and black grapes has been low, with red grapes leading the pack in availability. However, around the week of May 12, grapes from Mexico begin to show up for a seamless transition.
Anthony Vineyards’ domestic grapes are grown in Coachella Valley and San Joaquin Valley, and this year the crop quality is expected to be excellent, arriving just in time for one of summer’s most cherished holidays.
“We normally start the San Joaquin Valley earlier than anyone else—around that last week of June,” Rob noted. “So, we'll be able to promote for the 4th of July, ending the Coachella season and continuing on into the San Joaquin season.”
The grapes are good to go, but what happens when they hit the produce department? The key here is helping retailers figure out how to merchandise and grow the table grape category. Successful retailers, Rob told me, promote grape varieties as special or niche. Retailers who treat these varieties as different from normal, every-day grapes will see their grape sales rise like the sun. However, there is competition between popular summer fruits.
“Last year they didn't really have a cherry crop in June/July. Cherries and grapes, they're both impulse buys, so we're competing, and if retailers are running cherry ads all the time, and not grapes, then we're going to have a hard time,” Rob said. “There will be promotional times for grapes throughout the year, especially with back to school in August.”
Anthony Vineyards has been a busy bee this year, with additions to cold storage, improvements to facilities, and a changeup in both conventional and organic acreage all in the works. But this is all par for the course for a company that is always looking forward.
“We're growing towards the future,” concluded Rob. “We have to anticipate more organic demand and more demand on newer varieties. That's what we have focused on the last five years, and we're continuing on with that pattern of growth.”
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