Oro Loma Ranch increases acreage

Firebaugh, Calif.-based grower packer-shipper Ruby Fresh is planting several thousand acres of fresh pomegranates in South America.

“In three years we’ll be importing steady supplies of our own pomegranates,” said David Anthony, head of North American sales.

Ruby Fresh has imported container loads of fresh pomegranates from Chile for the past two years, Anthony said. Some are sold fresh and some are broken down for arils.

He said the company recently added a 4-ounce rectangular punnet to its line of 5-ounce and 8-ounce packages to appeal to price-sensitive consumers.

Ruby Fresh is the marketing arm for Oro Loma Ranch, which grows mainly the wonderful variety on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, about 50 miles west of Fresno, Calif.

This is the fourth season Ruby Fresh has sold whole pomegranates and arils.

As its trees mature and volumes increase, Anthony expects to have enough fresh pomegranates this year to meet its orders and attract new customers.

Pom Wonderful tests fruit for ripeness

Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful is focusing on the internal ripeness of its fruit to ensure every consumer has a good experience.

“There’s no correlation between the external color of the fruit and its maturity inside,” said vice president and general manager Brad Paris.

“The color, or scarring on the skin is less of a concern,” Paris said.

“A pomegranate can be light pink outside with sweet and beautiful dark red arils inside.”

The only way to determine ripeness is to test the fruit internally before harvesting, he said.

“Somebody may be trying a pomegranate for the first time,” he said.

“If they get one that’s not ripe inside, they may not come back.”

PureFresh Sales brings acreage online

Angel red and smith pomegranate orchards now coming into production are helping Selma, Calif.-based PureFresh Sales enter the market earlier.

President Bill Purewal said PureFresh and its grower partners in Fresno and Madera counties started shipping smiths Aug. 27 and planned to start shipping angels Sept. 3 before moving on to foothill and wonderfuls.

“An early crop helps us get customers going and keeps them with us into February,” Purewal said.

“Every year we have more and more customers staying with us because we’re doing just as good a job marketing and packing as the other grower-shippers,” he said.

Purewal said his aril sales are also increasing.

“They’re a great year-round item to keep customers with us the whole year, and they help us market Chilean and then California pomegranates,” he said.

Simonian Fruit Co. designs mesh bag

Fowler, Calif.-based Simonian Fruit Co. is developing a fixed-weight mesh bag for this year’s fresh pomegranate season.

“We’ve got a prototype and we’re looking for customers,” said vice president of sales and marketing Jeff Simonian.

The red mesh bag would be ideal for medium or small-sized fruit, Simonian said.

The grower-shipper expected to begin harvesting California pomegranates the second week of September. That’s earlier than last season but closer to a normal season, Simonian said.

“We’re estimating about 200,000 packages, but we won’t know until we start packing,” he said.

It’s the second year for Simonian’s 80 acres of organic pomegranates, or about 10% of its crop.

“Pomegranates are close to organic already because we don’t put many sprays on them,” he said.

“Some of the sprays we use are allowed under the organic program.”

“For now, we’re looking at organic as one more thing we can offer customers.”

Slayman Marketing adds early varieties

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Slayman Marketing has pulled all its late-variety pomegranate trees — about 100 acres — and replanted them with early granada and foothill varieties.

“It’s strictly a numbers game,” said president Dee Slayman, who packs under the Slayman and Noble brands.

“There are so many wonderfuls planted, I choose not to be in that deal,” Slayman said.

“I just want to haul early stuff and be out early,” he said.

Slayman’s orchards are located in a microclimate at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, which allows him to harvest about three weeks earlier than other pomegranate growing areas in the state.

He began packing on Aug. 9 this year and plans to finish around Sept. 15.

“We’ll be completely out of production before the wonderful even starts,” said Slayman, one of the smallest grower-shippers in the deal with 700 acres of pomegranates.

Trinity Fruit Sales Co. opens facility for arils

In 2000, David White recalls de-seeding pomegranates by hand and offering arils to several retailers.

“We tried them in a small way then stopped as we focused on other things,” said White, president of Fresno, Calif.-based Trinity Fruit Sales Co. Inc.

“Now we’re going back into them.”

In October, the grower-shipper will begin producing arils from its own fruit in a new facility.

“We’re working on some postharvest techniques and we want to go year-round with California product,” White said.

“We’re excited because we have so many pomegranates and we need to be as vertically integrated as possible.”

White said Trinity’s Juicy Gems retail pack will be available in a variety of sizes, including 4.4 and 5.3 ounces.

World Variety Produce sees aril growth

Robert Schueller, marketing director of Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, said sales of packaged arils have grown about 11% a year since the company found an ideal package offering a 14-day shelf life.

“The Chilean season was fabulous,” Schueller said.

“This was the second season they’ve had the equipment to pack arils.”

Arils are the only form of pomegranate allowed into the U.S. from India, he said.

The company planned to start packing California arils from the wonderful variety in September.

“We pack wonderfuls mostly because you know you’re going to get a consistently sweet seed and get better pulp to seed ratio,” Schueller said.

“The early foothill doesn’t seem to get as sweet as other varieties, and it doesn’t get deep red.”

The company’s 5-ounce package contains the seeds of two pomegranates, he said, and retails for $3.99-4.99.

“It doesn’t have any preservatives, so there’s no difference in taste,” he said.

Youngstown Grape boosts organic

Reedley, Calif.-based Youngstown Grape Distributors Inc. plans to pack organic California pomegranates and arils again this year from late October through December.

About 30% of Youngstown’s pomegranate crop is now organic, said president Mike Forrest.

“We’ve been doing organics for three years, and the demand is growing steadily every year as we’ve increased our product offering,” said Forrest.

Youngstown sells most of its organic fruit to natural food stores, he said, adding that organic arils are only slightly more expensive than their conventional cousins.