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Uruguay citrus joins Oppy lineup

Uruguay-NavelSweet citrus snacks are abundant now at Oppy, as the marketer adds fruit from Uruguay to its summer offerings.

Early shipments of Uruguayan lemons — which sold out quickly — were followed by clementines and Navels that will be available through August. This is Oppy’s first offering of fruit from Uruguay, which was granted access to the U.S. market in 2013.

“It’s a brief season characterized by good quality as growers work to create a foothold here,” James Milne, citrus category director, said in a press release. “First impressions count. We’ve been pleased by the fruit we’ve received to date, and feedback from our customers has been enthusiastic and encouraging.”

Oppy is shipping the "Urugold" label, which is packed by four Uruguayan growers.

“Uruguayan fruit adds another dimension to our citrus offerings,” Milne said. “During the summer, we’re marketing a wide assortment of oranges, including the popular easy-peelers from Chile, Peru and Australia. We’re excited to present fruit from a new source country to our customers, knowing the flavor is intense and the condition excellent.”

Oppy is offering Uruguayan fruit in two-, three- and five-pound bags as well as bulk.

California growers expect large crop of quality grapes, despite challenges

It is not easy being a farmer anywhere, and it has certainly not been easy in recent years to be a grape grower in California in the face of a plethora of challenges, ranging from drought exacerbated by government-imposed limitations on agricultural water use to rising labor costs and a maze of ever-intensifying regulatory pressures.

Yet thus far, California grape growers have been able to meet the challenges and turn out ever-increasing volumes of high-quality grapes in an expanding array of varieties.

22-CalGrapes-Crop--ScarletRPlantings of Scarlet Royal red seedless grapes, a relatively new variety, have increased significantly in California's San Joaquin Valley in recent years for the mid- to late season. (Photo courtesy of Sundale Sales)Last year was a record year for California grape shipments, with a record 116.2 million boxes of grapes (19-pound equivalent) going to market. For 2014, the crop was officially estimated at just over that — 116.5 million boxes — at the season’s start. The California Table Grape Commission revisited the estimate at its meeting on July 17 and reaffirmed that number, notwithstanding some early vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley picking out a little lighter than growers had anticipated, attesting their confidence that if all went as expected, strong volumes would be realized throughout the balance of the season.

In the San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest grape growing region, the 2014 harvest started earlier than usual — earlier than ever for some growers — with varieties coming off from one week to as much as two weeks earlier than average.

However, many growers quickly discovered that for a variety of reasons the volume was not there in the early vineyards that they had anticipated. Some growers had smaller bunches than they expected, and many found the berries were not sizing as well as the year prior. However, the quality of the harvested fruit, they say, has been excellent.

Even so, as of the week ending July 4, shipments were well ahead of the prior year. “Because it is an early season,  our volume is significantly ahead of last year,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement July 11. As of that date in 2013, “we had shipped a total of six million boxes out of the Coachella Valley and out of the San Joaquin Valley. This year, we have shipped 9.2 [million boxes].“

How the trend would play out over the course of the season remained to be seen, as the preponderance of the volume was still ahead.

California’s fresh grape volume is increasingly skewed to the latter part of the season. Most new varieties being introduced are mid- to late season varieties, and most new plantings have been for the latter part, rather than the earlier part, of the season.

On average, the industry ships around 60 percent of its volume after Sep. 1, but Nave expected that number to be higher this year in spite of the early start, and shipments to date being “significantly ahead of where we are this year.”

On July 18, following the commission’s reaffirmation of the 116.5-box estimate, Nave said, “All expectations are that we are going to have a good quality crop, and there is a lot of fruit. The vast majority of it comes off after Sept. 1. I expect we will have 65 or 70 percent of it coming off in the fall, into the winter.”

“It is going to be another big crop,” said John Zaninovich, president of Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons in Richgrove, CA, July 9. “I don’t know if it will be a record or not, but it is definitely a very big crop” and appears to be a good quality crop. “I am expecting good demand, because all the growers are growing varieties that eat well now and look good, so the retailers and consumers should be happy.”

Growers attributed the lighter-than-anticipated production on some early vineyards to various factors, including a mild winter and some intense summer heat.

“Overall, the crop looks good. Size is good” and the color is good, said Anthony Stetson,  sales manager at Columbine Vineyards in Delano, CA, July 2. “I’d say the heat we are having this week has slowed everything down considerably,” largely because harvest crews were only able to work half a day in the heat, he said. “Demand has stayed pretty good” right through the Fourth of July pull, he added.

“The quality is outstanding this year, and it has been a seamless transition out of Mexico to the Central California deal on red grapes,” said Atomic Torosian, a partner in Crown Jewels Produce LLC in Fresno, CA. “Up here in the Central Valley,” he said, he has seen “good berry size and nice firm grapes. So far … it has been a real good deal.” He expected markets to remain active at least through the month of July on all colors of grapes.

The crop is neither light nor heavy but “a good solid crop of grapes this year,” according to Scott Boyajian, director of sales for Sunview Marketing International in Delano, CA, July 3. He expected the total California crop to come in “somewhere between 117 and 120 [million boxes],” which is a bit over the official estimate.

Timing, for Sunview, was running about a week early, “which is good,” he said. “An extra week will help us move the crop through the system.”

“The market has been very strong,” said Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing for Stevco Inc, July 10. That is partly due to the fact that “we haven’t been able to pick as heavy as an industry” as expected. The transition from the spring grape deals out of Mexico and Coachella, CA, to the San Joaquin Valley “was very, very smooth,” he added. “There was not a lot of overlap. The San Joaquin Valley started almost directly as Mexico and Coachella were winding down … so the market has stayed very healthy. I expect it to stay healthy for at least the month of July.”

The main challenges facing the industry this year are water and labor, and specifically “quality of labor and quality of water,” Lane said. “We think we have enough water” to finish the remainder of the crop, “but we are not sure … so we are monitoring that weekly.”

“Water has been a big issue in the valley,” said Brian Crettol, a salesman at Jasmine Vineyards Inc. in Delano, CA, July 9.

“We are basically getting zero allocations” for surface water this year, “so it is all well water.” Seeing that coming, the company put in new wells and retrofitted old wells “to make sure we have a steady water supply.” However, continued drought conditions could be problematic, as water tables have been dropping. Rainfall is needed to recharge the aquifers, he said.

Some of the early fruit did not size as well as expected, and some ranginess in size was also seen early on, but “what we are seeing now, as the later districts are starting to come off this week and next week, is that berry size seems to havae evened out. I think we’ve got more consistency” in Flames, Sugraones, Princess and Summer Royals, said Shaun Ricks, vice president of Eye Grape Guys LLC in Visalia, CA, July 8. “Quality and consistency has also improved.”

Earliness has advantages, but “I’ll take quality and consistency over that just about any day,” he said.

Cub Foods and Robinson Fresh team up for world-record attempt

Records are meant to be broken, which is why Cub Foods and Robinson Fresh have teamed up to top the Guinness World Record for largest fruit display.

Robinson Fresh will supply and transport four truckloads of fresh MelonUp! Pink Ribbon watermelon to the Cub Foods store in Maple Grove, MN.Pink-Ribbon-Watermelon The display will be approximately 1,500 square feet in area and contain about 10,200 watermelons. The total weight is estimated to be 157,000 pounds, exceeding the current record of 11,023 pounds.

Shoppers are encouraged to visit the display on Saturday, July 26 to receive free watermelon samples, take part in a watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests, and spin the watermelon wheel for a chance to win various prizes. In addition, Fairview Clinics’ mobile mammography unit will be on-site, and representatives from Susan G. Komen Minnesota will be available to talk with consumers about nationwide breast cancer research efforts.

“We are excited for the opportunity to promote MelonUp! Pink Ribbon watermelon, an important summer product of ours, in such a big way,” Darren Caudill, vice president of merchandising and sales for Cub Foods, said in a press release. “We invite everyone to visit the store, where they can enjoy the celebration while also gaining additional education about local breast cancer awareness efforts.”

The MelonUp! Pink Ribbon branded watermelons are tied to Robinson Fresh’s cause-marketing program, in which a portion of all watermelon sales are donated to breast cancer research organizations on behalf of participating retailers. Cub Foods, a long-time supporter of the program, has donated nearly $70,000 since 2008.

“We value and appreciate Cub Foods and Supervalu’s support of the Pink Ribbon Watermelon program,” Josh Knox, category general manager at Robinson Fresh, said in the release. “The program began with the intention of educating consumers about the multitude of health benefits that watermelon can provide, and has developed into a fun and collaborative way for retailers to give back to and raise awareness within their communities.”

Watermelon is fat free and packed with immune-boosting vitamins such as A, B6 and C. According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, watermelon contains higher levels of lycopene — a powerful antioxidant studied for its potential role in reducing risk of certain cancers — than any other fresh fruit or vegetable.

The Pink Ribbon Watermelon program has donated nearly $950,000 to nationwide breast cancer research organizations on behalf of retail customers. To find out more about the Pink Ribbon Watermelon program, please visit the program’s Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr pages.

Sun World-Farm Star Living partnership

Sun World, a grower, marketer and breeder of fresh fruit, announced its partnership with Farm Star Living, a national lifestyle brand that celebrates American farming, farm-fresh foods and the farm-to-table food movement.

“We are thrilled to have Sun World onboard as Farm Star Living’s exclusive grape sponsor," Farm Star Living Founder Mary Blackmon said in a press release. "You truly can taste the difference in their grape varieties and we’re excited to help educate consumers about that difference."

To celebrate the partnership, Farm Star Living and Sun World are running the Make it a Sun World Summer! sweepstakes, where five winners will enjoy a three-month supply of Sun World grapes; one grand prize winner will be awarded a Villy’s Custom Beach Cruiser. The sweepstakes can be entered daily now through Aug. 31 at http://www.farmstarliving.com/sweepstakes and will be promoted through both company’s websites and social media channels.

“The sweepstakes and our partnership with Farm Star Living are part of our broader efforts to engage with consumers digitally in order to promote grapes as a sweet, yet healthy snack option, to educate consumers on other exciting and delicious ways they can incorporate grapes into their meals, and ultimately elevate awareness and affinity for Sun World and our grape varietal brands,” Gordon Robertson, senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in the press release. “Farm Star Living’s focus on fresh healthy foods from the farm makes it a natural fit for our brand, and with its rapid audience growth since launching, we believe the site and Mary Blackmon are fast becoming influential amongst consumers.”  

Basciani starts new blackberry farm

Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani Mushroom Farms in Avondale, PA, told The Produce News that the company has begun a new venture into producing blackberries.

“We haul berries for some other companies,” explained Recchiuti. “Over time we’ve learned about berry programs, including that there is an import gap on blackberries in July and August. We decided to start a small blackberry farm to help fill this gap.”

Blackberry-Farm-14 Basciani Mushroom Farms’ new Basciani Blackberry Farm in Avondale, PA.The new 20-acre blackberry farm is called Basciani Blackberry Farm and is also located in Avondale. Recchiuti said the plants produced a small amount of blackberries last year, and this year the crop is considerably larger, and the quality is great.

“We expect to have an even better crop with stronger volumes next year,” he noted. “It’s our inaugural venture into a produce item other than mushrooms, so it’s a fun and exciting new endeavor for our company. We purposely planned production on the blackberry farm with the intent of keeping it a short window only to fill this gap.”

Basciani Mushroom Farms will celebrate its 90th year in business in 2015. The company is multi-generational and it continues to be family owned and operated today.

It produces highly desired mushroom varieties, and the majority of its customers are in the foodservice and processing sectors of the industry.