OPN Connect Newsletter 347 · November 23, 2023

Sunview Continues Proprietary Variety Development to Enhance Organic Table Grape Program

Sunview, a family-owned fruit company based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, offers a comprehensive organic table grape program—and is set to release some new proprietary organic grape varieties over the next couple of years.

Sunview offers both organic and conventional grapes, with organic representing about 20 percent of its overall grape volume. 

A strong supporter of organic ag, the company has had an organic operation for about four decades. “The owner, the patriarch of the family, started farming organically in the eighties,” said Mitch Wetzel, Sunview’s vice president of sales and marketing. “He was one of the pioneers of the organic grape industry.” 

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Mitch Wetzel, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Sunview

Wetzel said the company’s founding family has always been focused on land stewardship. “They have a drive to reduce chemical use, pesticide use, fumigant use, even synthetic fertilizer use,” he said. “And we have our own integrated pest management system—we grow our own bugs, our own beneficials. We use them not only on the organic side but also in our conventional production.”

Since the 1970s, Sunview has had a proprietary breeding program, which contributes significant volume to both the company’s conventional and organic grape offerings. “Right now, our focus is really trying to integrate as many of our own varieties as we can into our organic program,” Wetzel said.

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The Sunview sales VP highlighted two proprietary varieties that are currently available on the company’s organic side: “We have Stella Bella, which is a green that is a big part of our organic green program. And we have Sparkle, which is a red variety that's a big part of the red organic cycle.”

Both varieties are defined by their superior crispness, Wetzel said, and he shared that there will be a sister variety to Sparkle that is expected to hit the commercial market next year. Within the next two years, he said a sister variety to Stella Bella should also be available.

“The reason that we call them ‘sisters’ is because the crisp texture of both the Stella Bella and the Sparkle is something that we're trying to carry through our whole line of proprietary varieties,” he explained.

Wetzel noted that the grape industry on the whole is rife with great varieties when it comes to the sweet flavor that consumers have come to expect—but where Stella Bella and Sparkle differ is in texture and color. 

“Everybody's got a nice sweet grape, but I would say our crisp texture is what really stands out,” he said. “And frankly the color also stands out. So on the Stella Bella green seedless, it is a very green-colored berry and does not seem to amber or overcolor as much. And on the red Sparkle side, it's a very bright cherry color that we go for instead of that deep red color.”

“Right now, our focus is really trying to integrate as many of our own varieties as we can into our organic program.” - Mitch Wetzel

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Wetzel said Sunview also stands out in terms of its company structure. “All our grape acreage is 100 percent owned and managed by the family. One of the things that we like to state is, we're ‘your single source.’ We've actually trademarked that phrase. And what that single source really means is, one family, one grower, and one-stop shop. So we have a whole great category covered in one location,” he said, noting that Sunview also covers the entire California grape season from start to finish.

Sunview offers a plethora of packaging options for its organic grapes, including multiple configurations of both clamshells and bags. “We even have some very high-end recycled paper baskets,” Wetzel said.

The company’s organic grape customer base spans the US and includes retailers ranging from mom-and-pop stores to national chains, as well as a variety of wholesalers. 

“Today’s grape success revolves around growers developing proprietary varieties that focus on color, size, sugar, and texture—and both the Sunview Sparkle and Stella Bella deliver,” said Jeff Fairchild, produce buyer for Organically Grown Company, a well-known organic produce wholesaler based in Eugene, Oregon. 

 “Everybody's got a nice sweet grape, but I would say our crisp texture is what really stands out. And frankly the color also stands out." - Mitch Wetzel

In terms of the future outlook for Sunview’s organic grape program, Wetzel said the company will continue to release new organic proprietary varieties in the coming years. “We have multiple varieties in different stages of development,” he said. “The two sister varieties I already mentioned are the ones that I know are going to be coming into commercial production within the next couple of years. However, because we have our own breeding program, we have multiple varieties in the cycle.”

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Wetzel noted that the company’s expansion of its organic program will be dictated by consumer demand. “We don’t want to overproduce any grape—and we definitely don't want to overproduce organic,” he said. “We want to limit the amount of organic fruit that could end up in a conventional box.”

When it comes to challenges faced by the San Joaquin grower, Wetzel cited the ever-increasing cost of doing business in California. “Costs keep going up, so we need customers to understand this,” he said. “We want to balance affordability and financial sustainability as a business.” 

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