When I think of premium California produce, a few key categories come to mind, and vying for the top spot on that list is always the Golden State’s table grape industry. Celebrating this coveted industry and helping to elevate the category to new heights, the California Table Grape Commission is ramping up its efforts to bring a unique grape experience to produce departments and kitchen tables here in the States and across the globe.
Commission President Kathleen Nave joins me to chat about the commission’s efforts and how, sometimes, the numbers can do all the talking.
“California produces 99 percent of the table grapes grown commercially in the U.S., truly making the state America’s local grape provider. A majority of the crop is consumed domestically, and in 2017, that remained true, with 64.2 percent of the crop consumed in the U.S. and 35.8 percent consumed in export markets,” Kathleen shares.
In 2017 alone, California table grapes were shipped to 59 countries around the world, with Canada, Mexico, mainland China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan taking the top six volume markets, according to the commission.
“California as an origin for safe, wholesome, and great-tasting fruit simply resonates with consumers. In the U.S., new research tells us that nine in ten fresh grape purchasers prefer California grapes to those of other origins when price is the same. 68 percent still prefer California grapes to other origins even when priced higher,” Kathleen reveals.
"California produces 99 percent of the table grapes grown commercially in the U.S., truly making the state America’s local grape provider."
—Kathleen Nave, President, California Table Grape Commission
Hovering around 110 million boxes, California table grape volume has been steady for the last four years. California’s extended growing season, May through January, results in the harvest of more than 85 varieties, each of which is unique, according to the commission. The commission has worked to move toward varieties that are more efficient to grow in the last five years, with red grapes still remaining the most produced (49.3 percent of the crop), followed by green grapes (40 percent of the crop) and black grapes (10 percent of the crop), Kathleen notes.
So, what do stats like these mean for retailers who want to tap into the value of the California table grape category?
Keeping grapes front-and-center across multiple platforms, both physical and digital, is key to getting grapes in-basket. With the knowledge that 55 percent of fresh grape purchasers make their decision to buy grapes before going to the store, the commission knows that keeping grapes at the top of consumers’ minds through all forms of media—television, radio, newspapers, magazines, online sites, and social—are routes that should be tapped more and more.
“We found that 40 percent of purchasers use social media as a shopping tool, so advertising via social media, particularly through Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, is a focus. This season, we are offering opportunities for retailers to participate in volume-based promotion awards programs, display and sales contests, and to receive media incentives with tagging opportunities in magazines, pre-roll video, and traffic radio,” Kathleen shares.
"It’s about doing work on behalf of the whole. Everything that the commission does is designed to benefit all of the table grape growers, regardless of which varieties they grow, where they grow them, how long they grow them, or how big they are as operators."
— Kathleen Nave
She adds that the last five years have seen an uptick in the release of new table grape varieties, but an ebb-and-flow of varieties has always been part of the table grape landscape.
“The reason to develop new varieties is to provide growers with grapevines that are more economical to grow and to provide consumers with more choice on the shelf and, thus, more reason to buy California grapes,” Kathleen tells me. “The job of the commission is to promote all California table grapes, so our primary interest is the way in which new varieties enhance and extend the season for California.”
When I ask Kathleen what attracted her to the work that the California Table Grape Commission does, she shares that it was the idea of helping a farming community remain economically viable by telling its stories and communicating its importance.
With an undergraduate degree in Journalism, a graduate degree in Communication Research, and a vested interest in the kind of storytelling that benefits communities of people, it makes sense that Kathleen would be attracted to the commission.
“It’s about doing work on behalf of the whole. Everything that the commission does is designed to benefit all of the table grape growers, regardless of which varieties they grow, where they grow them, how long they grow them, or how big they are as operators,” Kathleen shares. “It’s nonprofit work in that sense and that—along with the people in the industry—is what has kept me here. I believe the work is important; I believe it makes a difference in the ability of California table grape growers to remain economically viable. It’s not the only thing, of course, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle—a tool for growers to use. That’s why I came and why I have stayed.”
Kathleen tells me that, at the end of the day, the California Table Grape Commission’s job is to promote all table grapes—red, green, black, seeded, and seedless—May through January. I can see Kathleen and the commission’s hard work and passion for storytelling in both the role they have played in creating demand for California table grapes around the world and in the fervor with which they speak of their products and community.
As a California kid and produce lover, you know I am beating the drum for our state’s premium table grape industry, and I would bet, after these numbers, retailers are, too.