Apples may get a lot of the attention in the fresh fruit world when it comes to new and interesting varieties, but grapes are another category where innovation is par for the course.

Robinson Fresh, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide, is currently shipping a combination of legacy and “new age” grapes to complement its customers’ diverse needs, said Andy Kampa, general manager.

Kampa defines new age varieties as those created by breeding programs, and it’s a trend that has exploded in recent years.

“We are now getting new varietal options annually,” he said. “It’s something we’re making sure to stay on top of.”

The trends are often difficult for growers to keep up with, however, because big investments in certain varieties can fall out of favor either from a consumer perspective or because of difficulties associated with farming. 

Today’s retailers are more demanding than ever when it comes to grapes, and Robinson Fresh is raising its game to meet that demand, Kampa said.

“There has been a shift in grape purchasing at the retail level to be more focused on not only size and appearance, but also flavor,” he said. “As we evaluate our crop this season, we are focused on having that diversified supply base to meet three different segments: legacy, new age and high flavor varieties.”

One standout for Robinson Fresh, which sources grapes from Brazil, Peru, Chile, Mexico and California, has been its Welch’s Candy line, which taps into the brand power of the iconic grape brand.

The line, created in collaboration with Illume Agriculture, features four different products: Candy Hearts, Candy Snaps, Berry Snaps and Candy Dreams. Product ships in random weight bags and in 1-, 2- and 3-pound packs.

When it comes to packaging of grapes in general, Robinson Fresh has seen a shift towards more fixed weight purchases, specifically in the COVID era. The growth of eCommerce has accelerated that shift, and Kampa said it’s now much easier to sell fixed weight grapes online.

An evolving strategy

Robinson Fresh has transitioned from selling just red, green and black seedless grapes to a “much more evolved strategy,” Kampa said.

“We’re being very technical in our sales approach based on the variety, timing, and packaging due to today’s market and the diversified consumer demand across all segments of our business,” he said. “We are always looking for new and different opportunities to present to our customers, and this evolution is based on high customer demand.”

To make sure its grapes are merchandised correctly, Robinson Fresh works closely with its retail partners. One example is seasonal promotions.

“Back to school and holiday packaging such as the 4th of July and Halloween are some of the top promotional campaigns,” Kampa said. “We strive to create a lot of compelling exhibits and events that draw attention to our produce.”

Supply chain headaches have become an unfortunate reality in the COVE Age, but fortunately for Robinson Fresh, having C.H. Robinson as its parent company gives it a huge advantage.

“C.H. Robinson is the mover of more truckload freight than anyone else in North America, and as such, we have an unmatched carrier network that allows us to not only offer high-quality grapes, but also provide transportation capacity assurance so we can successfully deliver them on time to our consumers,” Kampa said. “This is something that really sets us apart.”