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The evolving business of foodservice grapes

With the industry transition to imported table grapes and supplies coming in steadily, one marketer is continuing to focus on growing its institutional foodservice program.

For Horizon Marketing Inc., it markets the Sweet Bunches line of red seedless grapes which are distributed primarily in schools and hospitals. It’s been doing this since 2012 but is looking to grow nationally now.

With that in mind, there are challenges to contend with, particularly since the peak of the pandemic. While the Sweet Bunches program is progressing well, Horizon’s Robert Delatorre says overall foodservice demand is still low. “A lot of that is foodservice business still just starting to come back,” he says, noting it's currently working with the USDA on certification to be approved to bid on more programs requiring grapes, whether it’s bagged or institutional pack sized.

“Also, some processors have had to reinvent their machinery due to a backlog of computer chips and other parts. The capacity is down too so that’s one of the bigger challenges we’ve seen.”

Expanding Sweet Bunches
Currently, grapes are arriving steadily from Peru and Chile and Delatorre says there’s a good supply for both retail and foodservice, including for the Sweet Bunches brand. It’s a brand Horizon wants to grow to include retail distribution eventually as well. “We’ve been on hold for the past two to three years because of the pandemic. So now moving forward, we’re revamping our strategy and that’s one aspect of it,” says Delatorre.

The grape business also continues to evolve. “We used to have a huge amount of Crimson and Flame grapes--these were some of the dominant varieties for 10-15 years and were abundant,” he says. “Now, the newer varieties like Jack Salutes and Sweet Globes are grown to be sweeter and nicer grapes.” Bigger too--the older varieties were more medium to large sized and now newer proprietary grapes are sized more often extra-large to double jumbo sized. “A lot of these changes have taken place over the last five to 10 years so pricing has obviously increased because they’re expecting more from their yields,” says Delatorre.

That makes foodservice distribution a careful exercise in balance. “We could go after some of those higher-end grapes but the price would increase tremendously,” he says. “I’m competing with an industry that’s already seen increases. It’s not like retail where buyers buy with their eyes. In foodservice, they buy on price because typically they don’t see it beforehand. We’re trying to create the most affordable and best-tasting product but it also has to be competitive.”

For more information:
Robert Delatorre
Horizon Marketing Inc.
Tel: +1 (559) 636-0429 

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