Greater integration is just one of the aims for affiliated licensees and growers of Sun World table grape varieties. Produce Business UK speaks with six of the firm’s affiliated companies to find out more
Licensees of Sun World table grape varieties are wide and varied in location, structure and size, spreading across the Mediterranean arc from southern Spain to Egypt and beyond, while the company is also strongly represented in South Africa. However, one aspect almost all the growers have in common is a keen interest in the UK market.
This focus is perhaps unsurprising given that Sun World CEO Merrill N Dibble recently described the UK market as “the single most important market worldwide to the variety development programme and to our licensees”.
The level of this interest will be showcased in early June when a group of exclusive licensees from a number of different countries attend the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 as part of a sizeable Sun World presence at the event.
However, one of Sun World’s licensees and growers in Egypt, Pico, is keen to emphasise that the participation of the table grape companies will be about more than just the show.
According to Pico’s Heike Hagenguth, the one of the company’s principal objectives for attending the London Produce Show is to achieve greater integration with other Sun World growers from around the world to work towards providing Sun World varieties on a year-round basis.
The licensees also hope to agree a joint marketing approach and strategy with the ultimate aim of achieving better returns, she says.
The last point is particularly pertinent given that Egyptian growers face challenges in terms of exchange rates, especially by the drop in the value of the euro.
In terms of varieties, Pico currently produces Midnight Beauty, Sable and Red Superior, and is currently developing a trial plantation of Scarlotta.
“We are in continuous communication with Sun World on new varieties and we also communicate with supermarkets to see which trends and demands they foresee, so that we can plan our production accordingly,” explains Hagenguth.
Over the coming months, Pico expects to continue expanding its table grape production, focusing on increasing its planted area and adding new varieties for trial.
“Our future grape capacity will be bolstered by the addition of new Sun World grapes in order to offer the best basket of varieties for international markets and including white, red and black grapes for early, mid and late season opportunities,” she adds.
As well as table grapes, the UK is Pico’s main market for all its signature crops, including strawberries and stonefruit, and Hagenguth says Pico is looking forward to meeting many of its UK receivers and supermarket representatives at the London Produce Show.
Further to the west, fellow Sun World licensee Moyca has had a busy 12 months, with the introduction of its first hectares of organic grape production in Spain and the beginning of a new production operation in Argentina.
The Murcia-based company specialises in the production of seedless grapes, delivering approximately 40,000 tonnes of fruit every year, the bulk of which is exported to the UK.
Moyca’s Josefina Mena describes the UK market as “vitally important” to the company, explaining that the firm’s sales in the country are based on offering grapes at the moment of the season when their quality and taste is exceptional.
Italy’s Didonna also features strongly among the list of Sun World licensees. A family-run company that can be traced back to 1930, Didonna specialises in exporting seedless grapes, including Sun World varieties such as Thomson, Flame, Crimson and Superior.
The Bari-based company, which farms around 320 hectares in the province, has recently added to its grape range with a number of new Sun World varieties.
These comprise Autumn Crisp, a late white, Adora, a late black, and Scarlotta, a very early red; all of which Didonna believes could help extend the company’s grape season.
Raffaella Didonna from the company says demand for new seedless varieties has actually been increasing over recent years, as has demand for better-tasting grapes.
“Supermarkets and customers are looking for taste and all of our new varieties are being selected for this,” she says.
As well as the emphasis on improved flavour, Didonna says she has noted far more interest, especially from the UK, in the production methods used to grow fresh fruit.
“Consumers are paying more attention to the production in terms of respect for the environment and workers’ rights – this is an important new trend and we’re putting a big effort in this area,” she adds.
Portugal’s Herdade Vale da Rosa is another of Sun World’s Southern European affiliates, producing six different varieties of seedless and seeded table grapes in Ferreira do Alentejo, close to the Port of Sines and Beja Airport.
The company’s Susana Ferreira says the transport links mean Vale da Rosa benefits from a privileged geo-strategic location where it focuses on delivering 230ha of high quality grapes.
Vale da Rosa, which began life in the 1960s, produces grapes using the pergola vine system – high standing vines protected by plastic and netting – that regulates conditions for the development of the fruit and significantly extends its harvest period.
Ferreira says the company’s focus is very much on the future, explaining that Vale da Rosa operates a sizeable experimental crop field where each year some of the most prestigious grape varieties in the world are tested. “When their quality and feasibility are assured, these varieties could become new options to consider when extending cultivation and marketing options,” she says.
Although it exports a full range of fruit products to the UK including topfruit, citrus and stonefruit, South African fresh produce company Green Marketing will also be present at the London Produce Show 2015 in its capacity as a Sun World licensee.
Based in Paarl, in South Africa’s Western Cape province, Green Marketing is one of the top 15 South African grape exporters by volume and has recently added to its Sun World varieties with Autumn Crisp and Adora Seedless.
The company’s Wiekus Hellmann says Green Marketing success in the UK has been founded on a programme delivery supported by an emphasis on quality, as well as due diligence on traceability and pesticide residues.
This focus is particularly important as Hellman believes quality and product traceability will become even central to Green Marketing’s business going forward, as a result of ever more stringent Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for pesticides.
Fellow southern African exporter Dole South Africa, which has been operating since 1998, offers a mix of citrus, table grapes and top fruit to the Dole network and customers across the globe.
The company produces table grapes in five areas, stretching from South Africa’s Northern Province down to the Hex River Valley in the Western Cape. In each region, Dole production accounts for between 5-10% of the total volume.
However, Dole’s ambitions do not stop there. Over the past 12 months, the company has steadily invested in farms in the Orange River region, with the aim of becoming one of the top 20 grape producers in South Africa by 2017.
The company’s Theda Doman says Dole South Africa is also focusing on investment in new varieties as a means of further differentiating its product range, explaining that the subsidiary hopes to become a leading player in South African breeding programmes.
“It is our opinion that grapes will become a commodity with consistent shelf space for 12 months a year on red, black and white seedless,” she adds. “It will be important to stay at the cutting edge of new varieties regarding shelf-life, taste, shape and size.”
Sun World and a group of its exclusive licensees from a number of different countries exhibited at the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel on June 3-5.