Sun World set for big grape growthLENEXA, Kan. — Sun World International LLC has big plans for grapes.

In a March 5 meeting at The Packer’s headquarters, Natalie Erlendson, marketing manager for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World, discussed new varieties and category growth for the company, one of California’s largest grape shippers.

Sun World grows grapes and peppers on about 10,000 acres in California’s Riverside and Kern counties, and also sources from Mexico, Erlendson said.

More and more of that acreage is dedicated to grapes.

“Our product mix has changed substantially in the past two years,” she said.

Two years ago, about 60% of Sun World’s production was grapes, she said. Now, grapes account for about 73%, and the company expects significant growth in the next several years.

Much of that growth will be focused on new varieties — some already on the market, others slated for 2015 and 2016.

“We’re going through a major portfolio optimization plan,” replacing old varieties with new ones that taste, store and size better, Erlendson said.

Sun World’s AutumnCrisp, for instance, a seedless green variety in its second season of commercial production, is one the company has high hopes for, Erlendson said.

Sun World also is bullish on new black varieties. One, yet to be named or rolled out on a commercial scale, is a very early variety with a true black color and high brix. It will ship at a time when there are no California black grapes on the market, Erlendson said.

“Consumer acceptance of black varieties is growing,” she said. “They’re sweeter than some of the other colors.”

To find buyers for all those new grapes, Sun World increasingly is looking overseas, Erlendson said. Exports account for a growing percentage of the company’s volumes.

“We’re getting very strong demand out of Asia and other emerging markets,” she said.