“Mexico and California have been our largest growth areas and are important for our ability to service our customers 52 weeks a year,” he said. “That is also true for Brazil and South Africa, especially during the last few years. They fit certain windows for us that can be filled in if one of our main regions is running late on timing, or if the industry runs into a weather event or logistical issue that could delay volume.”
Schiappa added that grape imports are currently focused on conventional fruit, but Sierra is starting to develop an organic import program.
“We are looking at a few options out of South Africa and Mexico, and we’ll add California to complement our conventional varieties,” he said.
Schiappa said the import season will get started in November with arrivals to the U.S East Coast from Piura, Peru, in that nation’s northern region. Concurrent shipments will also take place from Brazil.
“Right now, northern Peru is going to be harvested earlier this year, as there have been some effects from El Niño and we want to avoid some possible weather issues during what would have been their normal timeframe,” he said. “The majority of the harvest will be September through November, and the overall volume is projected to be slightly lower, but we shouldn’t feel the effect of that here in the U.S.”
Commenting on shifting consumer preferences, Schiappa said the newer varieties have been well received, but it is incumbent upon the industry to continue educating consumers about grapes.
“The average shopper notices the better sizing and flavors these new varieties offer, but they are still in a learning curve as to what the variety names are, as there have been so many introduced in such a short period of time,” he said. “Five years ago, the consumer mostly knew Flames and Crimsons for red grapes, and Thompson for green. We, as an industry, are now trying to bring them up to speed on the variety names by putting the names on the bags so they know what they are buying, instead of just ‘red’ or ‘green’ grapes.”