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Grapeman Farms adds Stephen Harmer to sales team

grapemansWith more than 40 years of proven experience in table grapes, Grapeman Farms, the Los Angeles-based company that originally operated as Stevco Inc., is not letting the COVID-19 pandemic get in its way of doing what it always has — growing and marketing premium quality table grapes 52 weeks a year.

Looking at the early San Joaquin Valley grape crop, the company expects to be up in volume for production in 2020, and projects a quality crop.

“The bunch counts look to be normal, and there’s maybe one or two varieties showing shortness, but overall it should be fine,” said Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing for Grapeman Farms. “As an industry, we’re going to be down in volume. A lot of the conventional varieties have been taken out or replaced to higher flavor varieties, which I think will help improve consumption.”

Demand for new varieties seems to rise every year, and the company has been a leader in the trend of offering these new flavors year after year. For instance, in 2020 it will be very heavy in Jack’s Salute and Great Green.

“Once consumers have a better piece of fruit to choose from, I think they continuously go back and purchase it,” Lane said. “The secret of success in the grape industry from a marketing standpoint is knowing what you have to sell, explaining what you have to sell to your consumers and making sure you put the right fruit in the right place.”

He added that different areas of the United States like different grape products, and it’s important to have the right grapes for the right customer. That has led to the demand of new varieties.

“Those that stay with the old varieties are not going to be profitable,” Lane said. “You have to move on. You need to constantly replant new vineyards.”

There are some challenges when growing new varieties, such as learning which type of bloom sprays work the best, and dealing with a heavier, vigorous leafing to ensure the maximum flavor.

Because grapes aren’t heavy in the food service industry, the pandemic hasn’t slowed down the grape industry too much, as consumers are continuing to buy them in the stores.

Grapeman Farms has a rich history in the grape category and working in the San Joaquin Valley, the area that produces approximately 99 percent of all table grapes in the U.S.

“It’s a very dry climate and not susceptible to mold or fungal or any of the things that can really effect grapes,” Lane said. “It has very fertile soil and there’s different areas that are heavier and lighter; you’ll find some sandier ground out in Arvin and heavier ground in the Tulare County. That allows fruit to ripen faster because roots become more active.”

The big challenge in the San Joaquin Valley currently is labor, as the state of California has raised the minimum wage, and it’s been tougher to find people to work. But the company has been able to work with many of the same people year after year and looks forward to a productive harvest.

In other news, the company recently hired Stephen Harmer to its sales team. He had previously worked as a commodity trader dealing in cotton for Jess Smith & Sons Cotton and in just two months at Grapeman Farms, is already a big part of the team.

“He is our rookie of the year right now,” Lane said. “We have a great sales team here and he is fitting in perfectly.”

Photo: Grapeman Farms recently added Stephen Harmer to its sales team.

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