• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

BUILDING INDUSTRY COOPERATION

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Aug 15, 2022

Rupert Maude has worked for a major grower and breeder, lived and worked in producing and consuming countries, and sold a variety of fresh produce including lettuce, almonds, garlic, and more recently, stone fruits and table grapes.

Last year, Sun World International named Maude its brand ambassador. This new role is one that Maude says she unofficially held for many years. Maude will share her experiences from both the grower and breeder side at the World Grape Summit, explaining how key issues can be addressed for the good of the entire industry: grower, licensor, retailer and the global grape industry.

Pundit readers were first introduced to Maude in 2019 when he participated in a panel discussion at the first World Grape Summitheld in London as part of the London Commodity Show. Then commercial director of El Ciruelo in Spain, Maude spoke about the future of the industry in the coming decade.

Fast forward to this week, we asked Carol Bareuther, RD, editor of sister publication Perishable Pundit, PRODUCE BUSINESSto speak with Maude to get a “taste” of her presentation:

Rupert F. Maude
brand ambassador
Sun World International, LLC
Murcia, Spain

PP: How and when did you first become interested in grapes?

RM: I’ve been involved in the grape industry for 20 years now, but I’ve had an interest in grapes for 40 years. At the time, I was working in New Zealand with kiwifruit. There was a Japanese gentleman who lived in the local town. He grew grapes in a greenhouse and shipped them to Japan in a wooden crate. There they were placed in fruit baskets and given as gifts to be displayed, respected and admired.

The idea that he put so much time and effort into producing a few bunches of these very expensive and fantastic fruits was incredible. I remember being fascinated by his company.

PP: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years?

RM: The supply chain has changed dramatically. Originally you would have a producer, a packer, an agent for the exporter, then the exporter, a receiving agent for the importer, then the importer for the packer and the packer for the retailer.

There were so many people who made very little but made a lot of money from grapes and other products. Over time, the supply chain came under pressure and these people disappeared. It’s for the good of the company, I think. Producers get a better return. They get a realistic return whereas before the bite taken out before they got a return was very important.

Another big change is the way fruit is sold. Previously, in most markets, you had a loose supply. In other words, an open or unsealed bag of fruit. In this way, the waste and damage to the product was quite considerable. Europe has now moved to 90% baskets or trays in units of 400, 500 or 700 grams. The fruit is sealed, either with heat sealing, vacuum packaging or clamshell packaging. There are still bags and bulk fruit being sold in places like the US and Asia, but I would say that overall the biggest sale in the world is baskets and trays. This is because it is the most efficient and cost effective way to move the grapes and it protects the grapes.

Then another change over the past 40 years, of course, is the introduction of different varieties, flavors, textures, and colors. We see a situation where not so long ago there were very few varieties. I mean, maybe 30 or 40 varieties in the known world. I’m not talking about obscure varieties that never leave their country of origin. I’m talking about varieties grown in the United States, Europe and Asia. Many of these varieties came from the United States, from California.

Pome varieties have become obsolete in many markets due to the cost of growing them and consumer preference – although there are still many pome grapes sold in Eastern and Central Europe. But overall, the preference is definitely without glitches.

As a general rule, all breeding must be consumer-oriented. But then any variety that is going to work commercially has to work for the grower, packer, receiver and retailer as well as the consumer. If the whole chain is not satisfied, this variety will fail.

PP: Where are the vine selection programs concentrated today?

RM: Well, as a general rule, all breeding should be consumer driven. But then any variety that is going to work commercially has to work for the grower, packer, receiver and retailer as well as the consumer. If the whole chain is not satisfied, this variety will fail.

It may be because the fruit breaks up, or doesn’t have a good shelf life, or doesn’t taste good, or has seed tags. Thus, a variety must satisfy all actors in the supply chain, and this is the goal of any breeding program.

PP: Will we see really interesting flavored grapes looking for these programs?

RM: Work is underway to examine different colored flesh grapes and supposedly the benefits they may have. But in the current business situation, certainly in Europe as in the United States, the cheap is the winner. The product doesn’t matter. It’s the price of the price of the price, especially with the escalating costs of energy, labor, water and transportation.

There really isn’t room for super premium. This is because there is no real sales volume. Consumers, wealthy or not, are aware of the cost of what they buy and would prefer a good solid product to something super fancy. So special grapes are good, but it’s a very small market. It’s a niche market.

In today’s economic climate where you have phrases like “heat or eat”, the cost of living is a real concern, and it keeps rising. Thus, for fruits like grapes, it is going to be necessary to offer much more than a small difference in color for consumers to pay higher prices.

PP: How do we see licensed varieties and breeding programs developing rather than the old way of public university varieties? What does this mean for the industry?

RM: The idea is to improve what already exists. A car is a good analogy. You could buy the same basic model and size of car ten years ago that you can buy now, but today it would be much more advanced. It will have more features and will be more efficient. Well, that’s the idea with the new varietals. Maybe they will be more resistant to problems like disease. Maybe offer better shelf life, flavor or production uniformity, consistent sugar. You want a variety that your growers and key stakeholders can plant with confidence knowing that customers will see it, eat it, and consider it a must-have variety.

PP: Finally, what is the best way to increase consumption?

RM: I think it will be a combination of things. The introduction of more consistent varieties will be more welcomed by retailers, and retailers are the gateway to market for varieties and ultimately the consumer. We want retailers to put varieties in front of consumers, so consumers have the opportunity to try and vote if they like it by buying it or not.

Another thing is promotion. As an industry, it hasn’t been done well or at scale. There have been a few promotions over the years that I have participated in. For example, Food from Spain had an office in London, and they promoted products throughout the season with a budget of around £6 million.

The French are pretty good at spending money on promotion, whether it’s cauliflower or apples. Years ago, New Zealand represented and promoted the kiwi quite well. But I think it’s essential to find a way for the industry to better promote grapes. This, and making sure that the product arrives in the best possible condition at the supermarket, is absolutely essential to increase consumption.

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Rupert has an unusual pedigree. He comes from a consumer country, the United Kingdom. However, he lived and worked mainly in a producing country, Spain. He worked on the production side with a grower/packer/shipper and now works on the licensing side with a breeder.

We asked Rupert to speak because we felt that in these intersections there is a unique vision and, indeed, a great presentation.

After all, the challenges are clear. As a producer, we would like exclusivity. Yet, as a breeder, one would value the revenue from a larger market share.

Yet, in the end, the only way anyone can win is if they find a way to increase per capita consumption of grapes.

Since Chilean fruit became common and grapes became a year-round product, per capita consumption in the United States has remained virtually flat.

While it is true that in the short term most retailers are focused on price and most growers are focused on high yields and low cost of production, it is not 100% clear that this is the way to increase per capita consumption.

We have seen rampant demand and high prices in the apple industry for Honeycrisp. These were sold by the same retailers demanding low prices on the grapes.

When we were looking for suitable retailers to come to the Global Grape Summit, we actually had a hard time identifying retailers with deep knowledge of the grape varieties. It is also uncertain that many consumers know much about them.

It is therefore not surprising that in the absence of varietal knowledge, the industry falls back on traditional product marketing strategies such as price.

One wonders if Driscoll’s in the berry industry has taken a path that the grape industry may still have to take. Few retailers, let alone consumers, can identify which strawberry varieties they prefer. But many will tell you they prefer Driscoll’s – even paying a premium for it.

Either way, Rupert is both expert and honest and will help us think through these questions at the Global Grape Summit.

Any questions, let us know here.

Get a discounted hotel room at the conference venue here.

And, of course, register for the Global Grape Summit here.

Let’s get involved and find the way that will increase the consumption of grapes and thus help the whole supply chain!


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