Consumer brands are coming for table grapes

Leading breeders agree consumer-facing brands will feature in the future of the table grape category but what matters most now is consistent quality and taste.
Thu 12/01/2023 by Julie Butler
Grapes need more space at sales points, where they compete with other fresh produce like berries and stone fruit, plus snacks like beer, crisps and chocolate, and “branding is going to help with that,” said Sun World International brand ambassador Rupert F. Maude (with mic) in a Grape Attraction panel debate.
SNFL Group’s Timpson variety.
SNFL Group’s Navsel variety

Why hasn’t the table grape industry seen the rise of consumer brands like those of berries and apples? These were among the questions put to an industry panel by the now late Jim Prevor, founder of Produce Business, at the Grape Attraction event held in October as part of the Fruit Attraction fair in Madrid.

Consumer brands will help grapes compete with other fruits and snacks

“Branding is coming and it’s going to be an ever more important feature in the grape business,” said Rupert F. Maude, brand ambassador for California-based Sun World International, a fruit variety developer and licensing company. “If you have a recognisable brand, you will sell more than someone else,” Maude said, while also stressing the need for a good and consistent consumer experience as “the more they come back, the more opportunities we have to educate and to maybe influence them.”

Grape brands based on flavour are needed

Consistency and value-adding are the keys to the future of the table grape industry, said Murcia-based Pablo Gómez, quality assurance manager for Californian fruit breeding company International Fruit Genetics (IFG), one of the world’s top private breeders of table grapes. There are already over 100 table grape varieties grown globally, with more and better ones on the way. “The biggest challenge is how to ensure customers know what they are buying,” Gómez said. Don’t focus on white, red or black, build brands attached to an eating experience, so customers know exactly what to expect, like when they buy a pack of apples. But brands and packaging also need to tell a story about the grower, the growing region, the practices used, etc., something the wine industry does well, he said.

The varieties that will win with consumers are those that look the best and provide consistency every week. – IFG quality assurance manager Pablo Gómez

Competition comes from other foods, not just countries

Spain’s grape growers might consider Italy their main rival, and Chile might say Peru, but sometimes their main competition is in other categories at the store or on the fruit counter, said Murcia-based Josep Estiarte, managing director of Special New Fruit Licencing (SNFL Group), a leader in table grape R&D. “Consumers don’t go to the shops to buy grapes, they go to buy fruit, so the fruit that’s going to win is the one that looks the best and can provide consistency every week. We as a breeder have a responsibility to ensure the right varieties are launched on the market and we’ll keep working with growers in every country to ensure the right growing practices in order to provide consistency and keep consumers coming back to buy grapes,” he said.

Breeders’ role in helping growers face coming challenges

Big challenges lie ahead for grape growers – such as heavier rainfall, heatwaves and water and labour shortages – and Grapa Varieties is doing its best to be an ally in facing them, said commercial director Nomi Karniel Padan. The Israeli company specialises in breeding and commercialising premium table grape varieties under the ARRA™ and Early Sweet™ brands, and “I feel our obligation is to provide producers with varieties that can withstand all these challenges and arrive at the market with good quality.” Much of the panel discussion focused on pleasing consumers, but “we shouldn’t forget the producers,” she stressed. The breeder draws on knowledge and data from producers around the world and sees it as its responsibility to provide licensees with the tools to do things right and know they have varieties they can successfully grow, even amid the ever-changing climate.

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