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Divine Flavor pushing June Mexican grape promotions

divinflavJune will be a perfect month for retailers to promote Mexican grapes, according to Carlos Bon Jr., the sales manager of Divine Flavor LLC. This June the company will offer high-quality, abundant supplies of specialty grape varieties, organic and conventional varieties, and all colors.

With expanded production in the northern Sonora growing district, Caborca, Divine Flavor will have strong grape supplies until July 17.

Bon said this Mexican grape season is “shaping out to be very similar to last season. But,” overall at Divine Flavor “we have more volume, more acreage and more specialty varieties.”

This season has been remarkable for Divine Flavor thus far, as this was the first year to ship commercial volumes from the firm’s new vineyard in Jalisco. The Jalisco ranch started shipping March 20, which was earlier than expected. That deal was to end on May 3.

In Jalisco, Bon said, “For a first year crop, it exceeded my expectations by far. Our growing team did a heck of a job. And we only expect this to get better in the seasons to come.”

He added, “The reason we started growing in Jalisco was to have green grapes at a time when there are not a lot of green grapes available. But now we realize that beyond just having grapes, we have fantastic grapes! The quality of the grapes, the sizing, the sugars, are all super. The growing conditions there are fantastic.”

He noted that Grupo Alta, the parent company of Divine Flavor, has planted very aggressively in Jalisco. The firm anticipates shipping 1 million boxes of grapes from Jalisco in two years. “We have planted red seedless there,” Bon added. “It made sense to have green seedless, but I consider red seedless also important. We had fantastic results. The yields were very good.”

Retail buyers had a chance to buy Chilean red seedless during Divine Flavor’s Jalisco deal “but many chose to buy fresh red grapes” from Mexico. “Retailers like to have the best available. They switched to Mexican reds, and then ordered more and more. So, it was the correct decision” to plant reds in Jalisco.

Sonora’s grape deal is maturing late, so, given Jalisco supplies, “we had a little less pressure to get going; so we were more patient waiting for the best sugars” in Sonora.

On the heels of Jalisco, Divine Flavor is to begin shipping from Guaymas, Sonora, on May 5. Guaymas “will be very short on volume. We will have half the volume we did last year because of cool weather in January. So, we will start Guaymas with much less volume and we’ll only have green grapes and some black. No reds. We won’t have reds from Hermosillo until the very first box about May 16 or 17. We won’t have volume until May 20.”

Divine Flavor has grape growing partners in Chile and Peru. Chilean grape supplies were “still holding up really well” as of April 30. He noted “there is no such thing as organic Chilean grapes” in the U.S. market because of phytosanitary regulations requiring fumigation for Chilean grapes. Furthermore, “we will have no organic program in Sonora until about May 20.”

Bon said the 2020 Sonoran season “is looking very similar to last year, where we started later and later every day” because of slowed maturity due to cool weather. By late April, Sonora had warmed, but the improved temperatures were arriving too late to avoid a late Sonoran shipping season.

For Mexican table grapes in recent years, the trend has been for later shipping. He added that this is partly true because of newer varieties maturing, which were expected to come in late, thus causing a volume push later than what was once normal.

Market demand for grapes was erratic early in this deal, “although there has been some kind of normalcy lately. We hope that improves. And, as the U.S. open up” from the Covid-19 shutdown, “people will be allowed to go outside and have picnics and barbeques, which is ideal for grape consumption.”

The decline in grape demand has been variously reported as being between 10 and 30 percent, “depending on who you talk to,” Bon said. “Hopefully, that will get better. It should definitely start to get better I hope — for all industries, particularly produce, and particularly grapes. No one really knows what’s going to happen.”

Bon was very pleased that no one in Grupo Alta or Divine Flavor had been struck by the Coronavirus. He said worker dorms in Mexico were housing fewer people per dorm room to help social distancing. In fields and packinghouses, arrangements were made to have more space between workers. As of April 30, the vast Mexican state of Sonora had only 288 reported cases of COVID-19. Sinaloa, to the south, had many more illnesses. For that reason, Grupo Alta was hiring no workers from Sinaloa.

Grupo Alta expected a labor shortage for its fields this spring. But Bon said “people are knocking on our door about every day looking for work” in large part because their plans to work in the U.S. were thwarted by especially strict U.S. immigration policy due to COVID-19.

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