Agronometrics Interviews: Perspectives From Fruit Logistica 2023 : Sun World International
In this installment of the ‘Agronometrics In Interviews’ series, Sarah Ilyas studies the state of the table grape industry in an exclusive interview with the Senior Marketing Manager at Sun World International, Dané Joubert.The series is based on interviews with esteemed professionals from the industry, focusing on a specific origin or topic visualizing the market factors that are driving change.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Sun World?
Sun World International revolutionized the produce business in the 1970’s by introducing new proprietary fruits and vegetables to an industry ripe for innovation. The company was the first to bring to market commodities that seem very commonplace today like the seedless watermelon, vine ripened tomatoes, sweet peppers and many more. In 2019, the company sold its farming and sales operations and focused on breeding and licensing innovative table grape and stone fruit varieties to growers worldwide. Today, Sun World is the oldest table grape breeding program in the world, with more than 2000 growers in 15 plus countries on more than 50,000 acres growing Sun World varieties.
Q: How do you keep the consumer and grower in mind?
Sun World’s breeding program is focused on developing varieties that the grower and consumer want in 10-15 years from now. The goal is to provide the consumer with an exceptional and consistent eating experience and appearance 52 weeks a year. For the grower, Sun World aims to provide varieties that are grower-friendly, require less hand labor, are disease resistant, high yielding, have good storage potential and moreover the variety needs to look well.
Q: Which table grape varieties are your top sellers?
At the fair, we had a lot of demand for the AUTUMNCRISP® branded grapes. Yesterday our samples of AUTUMNCRISP® ran low quickly and people kept returning asking for more. That is a good challenge to have. Even on the retail side, there is exponential demand for AUTUMNCRISP®, people come to us and say, I want AUTUMNCRISP® and I want this throughout the year. The brand itself was first released around 2010. 13 years later we see more and more demand for the brand. It shows you how long it can take to build a brand with adequate global supply and recognition. Having a fantastic product makes it easier to build a brand. I believe with AUTUMNCRISP®, we have established that growers know it, retailers know it but the next step is to educate the consumer about this brand.
Dané Joubert, Senior Marketing Manager
Q: What does Sun World do to achieve sustainability?
Currently we’re working on a sustainability project not only to focus on innovation in our breeding program, but also to set up sustainable practices with our growers worldwide. We are aiming to launch a pilot for it this year.
Sun World Breeding program takes a holistic perspective and strives to deliver varieties with strong agronomic traits so as to withstand climate changes, socio economic challenges, supply chain issues to reduce cost and waste. Sun World’s latest varieties in the pipeline have powdery mildew resistant traits, a disease affecting most growers worldwide. The innovation will play a critical role for growers, minimizing the amount of spray applications and input cost to control this disease. Working hand in hand with Sun world’s Breeding team, Sun World’s Global Technical Services team is the boots on the ground providing support to growers to implement the best growing practices to grow Sun World’s varieties sustainably.
Q: What are some of the challenges currently being faced by the table grape industry?
From a breeding-marketing perspective, in the past 10-15 years we have seen an overload of table grape varieties coming to market. To simplify the category, proprietary grapes have been sold using generic packaging, with little or no consumer recognition for varietal brands due to lack of exposure to varietal brands on packaging.This is very different from other leading produce categories where consumers are aware of brands. Look at Pink Lady, Chiquita bananas, Zespri, Halos. Although consumers today have access to better table grapes than ever before, they know less about grapes. AUTUMNCRISP is a great example, here we have a great product, the grower and retailer know the brand but the consumer has no to little recognition of it. We need to improve the consumer grape experience, while improving growers returns through consistent branding, continuous availability and superb quality.
From a grower perspective, we see growers are facing various challenges including climate change, inflation, shipping, labor shortage, market demand, unfavorable pricing and more.
Q: How important is data for you as a company?
Data is very important to our decision making process. Our decisions around breeding, commercialization, licensing, IP, and marketing are supported by data.
In our ‘Interviews’ series, we work to tell impactful stories by collaborating with leaders in the industry. Feel free to take a look at the other articles by clicking here.
All pricing for domestic US produce represents the spot market at Shipping Point (i.e. packing house/climate controlled warehouse, etc.). For imported fruit, the pricing data represents the spot market at Port of Entry.
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Written by: Sarah Ilyas