U.S.: Sun World refocuses efforts in South America

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U.S.: Sun World refocuses efforts in South America

While U.S. fruit breeder and marketer Sun World is no stranger to the South American industry, the company intends to expand its presence on the continent by giving a more regional focus to its office in Santiago, concentrating not just on Chile but Peru and Brazil as well. Executive VP David Marguleas and international licensing consultant Johan Jooste recently caught up with www.freshfruitportal.com to discuss growth plans, particularly with the "next generation" of grapes. Scarlotta Seedless - Sun World

Sun World's three late-ripening branded grapes Autumncrisp, Adora Seedless and Scarlotta Seedless have received a strong response from the world's retail chains in recent times, prompting Marguleas to see "tremendous opportunities" for further introduction.

"We have had an office in Chile for the last 7.5 years to help manage the introduction of our varieties and to provide support to our grower-marketer licensees. Now we're here in an effort to transform that office into more of a regional South American effort," he said.

"We’re hearing from supermarket retailers around the world in the Far East, the European continent, the U.K. and the U.S. that varieties like those we're selling under the Autumncrisp and Adora brands in particular will truly change the nature of the grape industry in the years to come."

He said these fruits, which grow from March to May in the Southern Hemisphere production window, would "form the core" of Sun World's late season presence in South America, eventually becoming the preferred varieties during that period in Brazil, Peru and Chile.

"All three are highly productive varieties with neutral flavor profiles, great eating quality, high brix, extremely large berry size so they've got terrific visual appeal at retail, and they are grower friendly.

"I think the producer community appreciates the efficiency of growing varieties that enable them to reduce some of their cost structure, and at the same time they have great appeal at retail with consumers. The postharvest qualities are excellent in all three."

While Scarlotta has been around for around a decade, Jooste still classified it as one of the company's "second wave varieties", with the first involving the brands Sable and Midnight Beauty.

"In their own right, they [Sable and Midnight Beauty] were were very pioneering the black seedless category, but right now there’s a host of good varieties - it's now about differentiating your product in the marketplace after you’ve satisfied all the growing conditions and the efficiencies in that early stage.

"Referring to the Autumncrisp, it has an enormous berry. We're not used to that and it comes naturally. We've got minimum use of growth regulators, it's a producer-friendly variety, and I think it's something everybody will be chasing soon.

"The Adora is in my book even more unique, maybe not something for all markets as it’s an enormous berry. Previously the standards in berry size in seedless was something like, depending on the market, 20-24mm was a big berry. Now we’re looking at something around 28mm."

Marguleas added there were still hurdles to overcome for the black grape trade, as many consumers still associated these fruits with the presence of seeds.

"Even in markets like the United States and Canada where seedless varieties have been predominant for the last 15-20 years, there’s still a perception in many markets that black grapes have seeds.

"I think the majority of black grape production now in North America is by far in seedless varieties, so the consumer has an opportunity to sample true seedless varieties."

For building the licensing and commercialization of these branded varieties, Jooste said strategies were needed both with growers and the trade, across global markets and production regions.

"We try to do it in a disciplined way to avoid overproduction and to maintain the premium status of our varieties, for the benefit of everyone in the chain," he said.

"All of the 1200 growers with whom we work with around the world now are hand selected by us and the production of our varieties is required to meet the quality specifications - those consistent ones - that warrant the brand names," Marguleas added.

A local view of South America

He added the South American presence was not just focused on export to the Northern Hemisphere, but also local market development.

"The Brazilian interest in our varieties has been fuelled largely by the local market opportunities. So the selection of varieties that are suitable first and foremost for the national market, and secondly for the export market because of the currency issues that are certainly driving planting decisions and varietal selection," Marguleas said.

"We’ve seen tremendous interest in our black seedless varieties in particular in the Brazilian national market; varieties sold under the Midnight Beauty brand, which is a large berry, neutral-flavored black seedless grape, as well as the Sable seedless brand, which is a mid-season variety with a tropical flavor profile.

"The Californian industry has been exporting to Brazil and a number of South and Central American countries for many years, but clearly the emerging middle class in Brazil creates opportunities for both the local production as well as imports from abroad."

He highlighted Chilean grape growers faced many challenges, including drought in the north and recent frosts further south, but the industry had proven itself to be robust.

"The Chilean industry of course faces the effects of the recent freeze as well as the challenges of water availability, particularly in the north, and the introduction of alternative supply from Peru and Brazil.

"Having said that, the Chilean industry has shown that it is very resilient – it's a mature industry that knows how to deal with most of those challenges, and we have confidence that most of our varieties in the grape industry here in particular, as well as the stone fruit industry, will continue to strive."

He said something like 20% of Sun World branded grape varieties had been impacted by the country's frosts.

Operations further afield

With Sun World's grapes grown in almost a dozen countries around the world, the company's growing strategy extends beyond South America and its core base in California.

The business recently added two new licensees to its already significant operations in Australia and South Africa, through Fresh Produce Group WA and Freshworld respectively.

Jooste highlighted that surveys recently conducted by Frudata in South Africa that showed all three Sun World varieties growing in the country were in the top ranks of income per hectare.

"With a good 10 years under our belt in South Africa it really forms the foundation and the core of our licensing effort internationally, and the varieties have been extremely well received by retailers around the world but as importantly by the producer community in South Africa," Marguleas added.

In addition to the recently incorporated Fresh Produce WA, Sun World's Australian venture in grapes also includes partnerships with The Grape Exchange and Perfection Fresh, while its stonefruit varieties are managed by Holman Fresh and Montague Fresh.

"Our stonefruit and table grapes have a strong presence both in the domestic market as well as export markets, originating from Australia," Marguleas said.

"The Australian activities are managed by our licensing manager based in Australia who also looks after New Zealand, and has taken responsibility for our fledgling efforts in China as well."

In terms of China, the executive mentioned Sun World had been looking for partners there for the last six or seven years.

"I think we’re getting closer to the point of introducing some interesting seedless varieties both to both Chinese consumers as well as for export from China.

"There’s no question we’re encouraged by the accession to UPOV and the introduction of solid plant variety rights legislation in China. Having said that, China does have a history of intellectual property rights challenges and we’re watching very closely to see how those rights are managed going forward."



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