POM Wonderful president aims to "supplant" whole fruit with arils
California's leading pomegranate grower is planning a significant marketing campaign for its Pom Poms aril product this fall, in a season that may be running a slightly later than normal.
POM Wonderful president Dominic Engels tells www.freshfruitportal.com the company is planning its first ever wide campaign for the item, backed by "seven-figure money".
"One of the key components of that is we’re going to be doing three FSIs (Free Standing Inserts) during the season to support the arils business, and we’ve come up with a point of view of how to cross-sell the arils with both our fresh fruit and our juice in order to kind of bring the synergy of the whole company together," he says.
"We saw tremendous growth in our arils product last year, and it’s my personal goal to really supplant the fruit with the arils product.
"I think that is the convenient way to eat pomegranates, and the way most consumers will probably eat arils in the future."
It was a trend also noted in conversation last week with another Californian pomegranate grower, Ruby Fresh, which now dedicates half its business to aril processing.
"In order to really get broad based fruit consumption the arils product is really the future," Engels continues.
"Now if you look in terms of household penetration in the U.S., the fresh fruit is probably 8% household penetration, and the arils product is 2% household penetration.
"So it’s quite nascent but last year we grew by 60%, we have designs to grow by more than 40% this year. These are incredible growth rates for a produce product and we expect that to continue."
Engels is cautious when asked about how the crop is looking which doesn't look "super large" or "super disastrous", but certain growing conditions mean the harvest will probably be running a little bit later than the usual late September starting time.
"I’d say the health of the trees is good - good leaf, good branch, good wood as they say, and they certainly got adequate water this year if we’re just looking at the individual year," he says.
He says the bloom was good but bit more protracted because of temperature variations.
"Typically there are two blooms if you break it down - this year there were several other extended blooms which will push out probably the start of the season a couple of weeks," he says.
It's a situation that might actually be beneficial for POM Wonderful.
"The market is really a two-phase market – there is a market for the so-called early Wonderful variety which addresses Rosh Hashanah (Oct. 2 in 2016) , the Jewish holiday, and that the pomegranates be part of the table for that holiday," he says.
"With a little bit of a later start in my opinion that allows the market for early Wonderfuls to clear and kind of set the market for the Wonderful variety."
"What we see with the early Wonderful varieties is generally those are more high price, given there’s less supply and a specific demand...sometimes we struggle with the cutover to the Wonderful variety from the early Wonderful given there’s some market clearance that needs to happen; this year year I don’t expect that kind of overlap."
But does this mean the season will extend further and finish later?
"Everything does fly forward but that is a bit more difficult to predict. We look to clear all the trees in about six weeks and then we’re shipping out of storage, and once you’re shipping out of storage you’re relying on your ability to store effectively," says Engels.
"POM Wonderful does a great job and we use cutting edge technology to store our fruit and ensure that it lasts, and our goal is to have robust and lengthy season if we can, but once you’re subjecting your crop to storage there is a certain level of unpredictability in how it’s going to be coming out of storage."
The executive also sees very good consumption ahead in international markets, and expects South Korea to continue to be the company's leading export market.
"The Koreans have a voracious appetite for fresh pomegranates and we’re going to continue to see that strength of market," he says.
"Continental Europe for us is a challenge exporting from California given the low-priced Turkish supply and frankly Israeli supply - both have advantages in terms of duties, in terms of proximity.
"It's a little bit more of a challenge, but we do see very consistent demand for Californian product in those markets."
While Engels does not intend to source from other countries, he is very positive about the approved U.S. market entry of Peruvian pomegranates.
"This is a small market. There's plenty of room for everyone. I view some of these other origins coming to the U.S. as frankly ways to raise the tide for all boats.
"We see more arils now in this country counterseasonal to the Wonderful Pom Poms – product from Argentina, from Peru, from India in New York City for example.
"Really the market’s nascent and a little bit more year-round supply, even at small levels, will help engender more broad based acceptance of the product, so there’s plenty of runway here for everyone."