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A Cut Above

When Jon Zaninovich first uses the phrase “a cut above” as we chat about Jasmine Vineyards, I can’t help but wonder if the play on words is purposeful. It’s too perfect of an expression for a story about a leading grape growing company in the United States, and one that admittedly gives me “sour grapes” for not having come up with it myself. But after Jon articulates the many efforts the company enacts to try to continually improve, I realize there’s more to it than that. Simply put, there is no other way to describe Jasmine Vineyards’ self-imposed bar and rigorous attention to its future than a cut above.

If you’re one to keep an eye and ear out for what’s coming through the grapevine, then you’ve probably seen and heard that our industry is changing in leaps and bounds with each passing day. Behind that change, Jasmine Vineyards stands amongst a few of our industry’s finest, holding the shears that have shaped the entirety of its fresh produce program thus far. From ground-breaking new varieties to boundary-pushing safety and operations strategies—and everything in between—Jasmine Vineyards has set the curve and, in the interim, defined what it means to be a grower in today’s times.

From left to right: Karla Camancho, Shipping Clerk; Julio Gonzalez, Food Safety Officer; Yesenia Diaz, Shipping Clerk; Brian Crettol, Sales Manager; and Sara Diaz, Sales and Shipping Support

“For us, a modern grape grower is a combination of staying the course while continuously improving,” Jon, President of Jasmine Vineyards, begins. “Staying the course means being firmly rooted in our tradition of producing the very best grapes we can, in quality, consistency, and variety. It also means we are committed to progressive farming practices that meet and exceed many operations in the industry.”

This commitment to both tradition and progress is also what continues to motivate the Jasmine Vineyards team and keep them on the same track set by Founders Martin and Vincent Zaninovich in 1947.

Martin Zaninovich (left), past President and Co-Founder, with his son and current President, Jon Zaninovich (right)“Jasmine Vineyards’ strong foundation in the community and respected leadership in the California table grape industry is due in large part to my father, Martin, and his cousin Vincent,” Jon tells me. “Today, Jasmine Vineyards is a well-known brand producing delicious California grapes for the world to enjoy— all because my father and his cousin set the groundwork for the excellence Jasmine Vineyards still enacts today.”

When I ask Jon what Jasmine Vineyards is doing today to continue the legacy Martin and Vincent first began over 70 years ago, he gives me a whole grocery list of items. From updating its varieties, packaging options, and food safety protocols to improving its operational efficiency, farmworker wellbeing, and consumer and retailer awareness, Jasmine Vineyards is never not busy striving to be one of the best growers, companies, and stewards of the Earth.

“Staying the course means being firmly rooted in our tradition of producing the very best grapes we can, in quality, consistency, and variety.”

- Jon Zaninovich, President, Jasmine Vineyards

To start, Jasmine Vineyards has shifted to all-seedless varieties, both a reflection of consumer preferences and a testament to the standard to which the grower holds itself. This year, Jasmine Vineyards is adding three new varieties—Great Green, Sweet Globe, and Alison—to its staple seven: Summer Crunch, Autumn King, Flame, Scarlet Royal, Sweet Celebration, Summer Royal, and Autumn Royal.

“Our criteria for variety selection comes down to flavor, berry bunch and size, shelf-life, texture, and color. We want naturally-sweet, firm, elongated grapes in medium to large bunches with a long shelf-life. We also want crisp and juicy grapes with excellent crunch and hues of light to bright greens, deep pink to raspberry reds, and bold purple-blacks,” Jon notes. “We believe that all our criteria is met in our three new varieties.”

Luis Katsurayama and Jon Zaninovich in one of Jasmine Vineyards’ vineyards

In addition to ensuring new and unique varieties line store shelves, the industry as a whole is concentrating its efforts so that these varieties sport built-out, established brands consumers can recognize and trust. For Jasmine Vineyards, this has meant doubling down on its marketing initiatives and introducing innovative packaging.

“In the last few years, we’ve updated all our packaging to reflect what we hope is the sentiment of our brand: quality and consistency. Increasingly, consumers are asking for Jasmine Vineyards grapes, and we wanted to create a strong, recognizable brand across the whole family line of packaging,” Jon says.

Jasmine Vineyards' Grapes To Go™While its family line boasts the usual stand-up bags, clamshells, and punnets, it also features a real landscape changer: Grapes To Go™, available with a point-of-sale display box across all varieties of grapes and with peel-and-reseal packaging for food safety. With the 2018 introduction of 125-gram Grapes To Go convenience-size options, Jasmine Vineyards is poised to expand its traditional retail sector by introducing the new packaging and brand to convenience and online markets.

“We feel the single-serve option delivers big benefits to retailers and consumers in the way of profitability, health, and convenience,” Jon adds.

As if these new kid-friendly snackers weren’t enough, Jon has yet another surprise: free-pack grapes. He explains, “Buying habits in Mexico, Asia, and Europe are different from the U.S., so free-pack grapes are popular in open-air markets and grocery stores. For retailers, the free-pack option allows more flexibility—both in pricing and in the ability to repackage grapes according to their own preferences.”

And, as Jasmine Vineyards has pivoted to accommodate burgeoning markets, it’s also reinvented its marketing strategy to keep driving consumers to its product line—no matter the market.

“We’ve shifted significantly into digital advertising, and as we’ve done so, we’ve realized social media has opened the door for us in a major way. From our Central Valley, California, farmland, we share videos, photos, and news from the field to our retailers across the world. We use Instagram and email to deliver Fresh Alerts™, and we’ve used Facebook to build an organic following via behind-the-scenes views of our fields and operations,” Jon elaborates. “We are also exploring live event sponsorships to promote fun and healthy messaging, like ‘Hydrate with Grapes,’ and to get our product into consumer’s hands at the right place and at the right time.”

Luis Katsurayama (left), Food Safety Manager, and Erik Castellanos (right), Repack Supervisor, examine one of Jasmine Vineyards’ packaging innovations

This increased communication with consumers and buyers across all channels is also evident in the grower’s commitment to be as transparent as possible in areas like food safety and operations. And in this new era of food safety, Jasmine Vineyards is once again stepping up and fulfilling its role as an industry leader.

“Striving for excellence also means exceeding industry guidelines when it comes to food safety. Our comprehensive internal food safety plan includes exhaustive safety checks and procedures to ensure that our food safety objectives are met, every day. Thanks to our vigilant food safety leadership and ongoing employee training, Jasmine Vineyards has an excellent safety record in the agricultural industry because food safety is always a top concern,” Jon reveals. “We’ve gone to great lengths to offer many packaging choices to ensure the product purchased by our consumers is as safe as can be.”

“Today, Jasmine Vineyards is a well-known brand producing delicious California grapes for the world to enjoy..."

While some might view the extra steps needed to achieve food safety as a hassle, Jasmine Vineyards has optimized its operations in order to take anything and everything in stride. This has included implementing drip irrigation to maximize efficiency in its water consumption, reducing its pesticide use with natural enemies to mitigate pests, and relying on recyclable materials for its packaging, shipping, and packing supplies. On top of all that, the grower also began construction on a new cold storage facility in 2017 that ultimately increased its capacity to hold 900,000 boxes of fresh grapes.

“Despite its grand scale, our new facility is an efficiency machine, designed to minimize electricity usage while maintaining that just-picked, sun-ripened flavor of our grapes,” Jon notes. “We’re also looking into different mechanized practices to increase equipment usage and decrease labor, particularly in the fields. Since this involves upgrading our trellis system, this will be a long-term rollout. But we know it’s crucial for the longevity of Jasmine Vineyards, and the bottom line is that grapes produced more efficiently means we can pass those savings along to retailers and consumers.”

This year, Jasmine Vineyards is adding three new varieties—Great Green, Sweet Globe, and Alison—to its staple seven

At this point in our conversation, I cannot help but wonder how Jasmine Vineyards accomplishes all that it does effortlessly. But Jon is quick to point to the support the company has received along the way.

“Our long-standing partnerships with the California Table Grape Commission, California Fresh Fruit Association, and many others have been integral to our operations. From consumer outreach and healthy snacking campaigns to farmworker wellbeing through our partnerships with the California Farmworker Foundation, we are constantly collaborating and sharing resources with the industry,” Jon emphasizes. “And, each year we recommit to our vision to grow, pick, pack, and ship the most delicious, high-quality California table grapes for the world to enjoy.”

With 2019 so close to its end, I begin to question what’s next for Jasmine Vineyards in the coming years. But asking if Jasmine Vineyards has something more up its sleeve is like asking if the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

Some are born a cut above, some achieve a cut above status, and some have a cut above-ness thrust upon them. For Jasmine Vineyards, it’s all in the mindset—and in the vines.