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The Peak of Pursuit

The Peak of Pursuit

I know how the saying goes: Never say never. But I highly doubt the soles of my hiking boots will ever grace the ground atop Mount Everest. Beyond having an aversion to cold weather and a lack of physical strength needed to conquer such a massive feat, I know it takes the utmost level of passion, perseverance, expertise, and fortitude to make this nearly 30,000-foot ascent. Though, I can imagine how good it must feel to summit the peak.

As I embark on a metaphorical climb up Earth’s highest mountain, I am simultaneously exploring the demanding journey of a fresh produce grower.

When Jon Zaninovich, President of Jasmine Vineyards, steps away from a busy field of table grapes to detail a success story 75 years in the making, I conjure up a mental image of how it must feel to stand at such a high peak and what it must take to get there. Fresh air hits your face embodying new heights and opportunities while a look below uncovers each of the individual accomplishments that created this path to greatness.

Standing atop that mountain must evoke an immense amount of pride—75 years is a lot to celebrate, and Jasmine Vineyards is harnessing the expertise gained over these seven-plus decades to push ahead into its next era of growth.

If you are anything like me, you’re probably wondering, what was the vision behind Jasmine Vineyards when it was first founded, and how has it continued to evolve every year since?

“My father, Martin, and uncle, Vincent Zaninovich, founded Jasmine Vineyards in 1947,” explains Jon when I ask this very question. “We’re talking about two young men—a couple of 20-somethings—starting a table grape growing operation. What was their vision? I can’t speak to that, but I do know grape-growing was in their blood. I imagine they shared a sense of post-war prosperity with other young visionaries of the time and, in their case, a desire to feed the world. Over the last 75 years, Jasmine Vineyards has stayed true to our roots in honoring our Croatian family heritage and by growing consistently premium-quality table grapes for the world to enjoy.”

Jon and his partner cousins­­­­—George, Andy, and Damian Zaninovich—remain steadfastly committed to that mission.

With 75 years of brand success comes the need for swift adaptability, continuous innovation, and an understanding of retail and consumer needs. Unsurprisingly, Jasmine Vineyards checks off each of these boxes. From a 29,000-foot view, these are just a few of the traits that have guaranteed the table grape provider’s ongoing growth since Martin and Vincent first brought the Jasmine Vineyards operation to life in the ’40s.

“When it comes to ever-changing consumer and retail demands, we stay on top of trends while always remembering that delivering the highest quality and best-tasting grape is our top priority,” Jon divulges. “If the trend measures up and fits within our program, we’ll consider the next steps. We’re also not afraid to test out our own ideas and invest in something we feel is innovative and fits a market need.”

Just as a mountain climber must adapt to the changing weather conditions and altering terrain, Jasmine Vineyards has advanced alongside the industry, meeting the varying demands of the market decade after decade.

“When it comes to ever-changing consumer and retail demands, we stay on top of trends while always remembering that delivering the highest quality and best-tasting grape is our top priority.”

Jon Zaninovich, President, Jasmine Vineyards

“One change we are excited about is the growing online marketplace for fresh produce,” Jon says as he shares just one of the many ways the industry has progressed in recent years. “There are the direct-to-consumer platforms and the emerging business-to-business marketplaces, both of which put our product in front of more customers. It’s a great example of how technology responds to demand, and in turn, helps growers like us expand into new markets.”

In addition to e-commerce and trends in purchasing, Jasmine Vineyards is also regularly adapting to the new varietals in the table grape category.

“Staying on top of the variety mix is a balancing act that involves both awareness of consumer trends and evaluating if and how a new variety fits into our program,” Jon shares. “Jasmine Vineyards is always on the lookout for an exciting new variety to keep our customers wanting more. We love hearing from our grape fans who tell us how much they love our grapes. The kind words we get via email and social media, and sometimes even snail mail, tell us we’re doing something right. We are committed to serving these grape lovers with delicious seedless varieties, including Great Green, Sweet Celebration, Summer Crunch, and Sweet Globe.”

While keeping a tab on consumer trends as well as driving category growth through its own innovations, Jasmine Vineyards also remains committed to being as progressive as possible as the needs of industry packaging change.

“Consumers tell us again and again how these are the best grapes they’ve ever had.”

“Packaging is a big concern these days,” Jon tells me, echoing a sentiment heard throughout the fresh industry. “We’ve offered backyard compostable and free pack options, along with our full line of packaging so grocers can make the best choice for their customers. Retailers know their shoppers best, after all. As a grower-packer-shipper, we see it as part of our job to help retailers meet these needs. Sometimes they want to test out our sealed punnets because they see how popular they are in the Pacific Island market; sometimes it’s an updated custom clamshell they want. In most cases, we have the in-house capabilities to get retailers exactly what they need, when they need it. As always, we will continue to explore eco-friendly options while ensuring our products stay fresh and safe.”

In such a competitive landscape as the fresh produce industry, Jasmine Vineyards maintains a commitment to ongoing improvement—a constant upward climb with a distinct goal in sight. That goal is to provide consistent quality, sweetness, color, juiciness, crunch, size, and shelf-life across its table grape portfolio, a target that is much more achievable with 75 years of grape-growing experience at hand. The Jasmine Vineyards mindset is that there is always something to improve, whether it be through investing in a new fleet of high-efficiency tractors, test-growing a new breed of berry, or partnering with a company that enhances the shelf-life of its delicious grapes.

“In the produce aisle, it’s the quality you see in the Jasmine Vineyards grape bag—the size, color, the fresh green stems—that really differentiates our brand,” remarks Jon. “Consumers tell us again and again how these are the best grapes they’ve ever had.”

There is no single step or practice at Jasmine Vineyards that could neatly sum up its steadfast ability to bring only the highest quality table grapes to market. If we envision ourselves back on the snowy slopes of Mount Everest,
each of the assets Jon lists is akin to a vital tool in the company’s rucksack.

“There are a few aspects of our operations that stand out when it comes to delivering consistently high-quality table grapes to our partners,” Jon assures. “We have extremely skilled employees who know how to take care of the land and the fruit—from soil prep to manual harvesting, to packing bunches into our bags, clamshells, and punnets. Our loyal employees, including our field crew who return year after year, make this whole operation run smoothly.”

Next up in Jasmine Vineyards’ essential tool set are its comprehensive food safety procedures, to which Jon also attributes some of the company’s successful track record.

“As Luis Katsurayama, our Food Safety Manager, says, ‘Food safety isn’t just a clipboard and a checklist. It’s part of everything we do.’ And, once again, we have our employees to thank,” notes Jon. “They are the ones who receive training and skills to follow these procedures and help us exceed the industry guidelines for food safety.”

Wielding these elements to continue sharpening its competitive edge, the table grape maven is now
celebrating its 75th anniversary, taking the opportunity to host a few gatherings to wine and dine with its partners and industry friends.

“Since our 75th anniversary is a celebration for them as much as it is for us, we’ll be showing our appreciation with gifts and raising an extra glass or two,” adds Jon. “Aside from that, we’ve marked the year with an anniversary edition of our 2022–2023 toolkit, which includes historical photos from the table grape industry. We wanted to acknowledge our past mentors who navigated the sometimes rocky table grape terrain to forge a smoother path—one that continues to sustain us into a vibrant future.”

While some may think there’s nowhere to go but down once you’ve reached the peak of a mountain, it would be absurd to find such a statement true for Jasmine Vineyards. For this fresh pioneering company, the climb goes on and on, and I’d imagine the view gets even better as it endlessly reaches new heights.