(June 7) SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — Buyers looking for organic grapes this summer can get them from one of the biggest suppliers of organic salads.

Natural Selection Foods LLC expanded its organic summer fruit program in June to include organic perlettes, flame red seedless and thompson seedless grapes.

Available through September, Natural Selection’s organic grapes will be marketed under the Earthbound Farm label and will come in corrugated cartons containing nine open, gusseted zip-close consumer bags. All varieties come from certified organic farmland in Arizona and California.

“We’ve been asked by our customers a lot for a one-stop shopping experience,” said Tonya Antle, vice president of organic sales for Natural Selection.

“Grapes, besides bananas, are a really powerful item in organics, and they are a natural addition to our organic product line.”

This is the first year Natural Selection has had the opportunity to partner with a top organic grape grower, Antle said.

“We feel this adds another exciting item and creates some exciting possibilities for promotions,” Antle said.

Antle did not say how many cartons of grapes she expects Natural Selection to sell this year, but she said the goal was to provide the company’s customers with “multiple load volumes and promotable volumes every week.”

COMPLEMENTS PROGRAM

The addition of organic grapes comes as Natural Selection also expands its supply of organic strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, peaches, plums and nectarines this summer. The expansion complements Natural Selection’s year-round fruit program, which includes apples, citrus and kiwifruit.

Antle said retailers have already signed on to promote the organic grapes, berries and tree fruit this summer.

“The organic berries started as a nice rotation crop for vegetable ground, but they’ve become a staple item for spring and summer,” Antle said. “Our grower is now looking at doing it year-round. We hope to offer year-round organic berries in 2003.”

Natural Selection continues to find success throughout the entire organic category, and the addition of grapes should boost that more, said Larry Hamwey, vice president of marketing.

“Overall organic produce sales are up 30% for the year to date,” Hamwey said.

THREE FACTORS

Hamwey said three factors have driven the success. First, Natural Selection introduced its clamshells of organic spring mix, baby spinach and baby romaine last year, to which consumers have responded enthusiastically, Hamwey said.

Second, Natural Selection continues to see increased interest in miniature peeled carrots.

Sales for that product are up 150% for the year to date, Hamwey said.

Third, Natural Selection’s flagship products, Earthbound Farm bagged salads, also continue to attract consumers.

“The trend toward organic is continuing,” Hamwey said. “We’ll continue to support it with aggressive consumer marketing.”

The company is running full-page, color ads in magazines such as Martha Stewart Living and Cooking Light.

“It’s an investment on our part, but it’s paying off,” Hamwey said.