As the 10th International Table Grape Symposium got underway in Cape Town, David Hughes highlighted the challenges facing the world’s growers, and implored the category to make its offering stand out from the crowd

The table grape industry needs to spread the good news about its products to move out of what is increasingly becoming a commodity business.

Professor David Hughes

Professor David Hughes

David Hughes, Emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College London and visiting professor at Royal Agricultural University in the UK, had this clear message when he delivered the keynote address at the 10th International Table Grape Symposium in Cape Town.

“You need to do something about your category to bring a compelling message to consumers or else you will just be meandering along with no real growth in consumption,” he told delegates.

The symposium is attended by growers, industry leaders, plant breeders and scientists from all over the world, with key issues on the agenda being new cultivars and dealing with climate change.

Hughes compared the grape category to the other major produce lines and stated that somehow, the table grape industry had not seized the opportunity to convey a health message to consumers.

“Modern shopping trends, with online shopping being at the forefront, and aggressive pricing in price wars as traditional retailers and cost cutters struggle for control of the retail sector, have taken much of the ‘theatre” out of shopping,” he said.

Hughes singled out worldwide cooperation in the avocado industry and the introduction of brands such as Pink Lady apples as good examples of lifting fresh produce out of the commodity game and earning better value for growers.

“While the apple category is generally in trouble, Pink Lady sells at five times the price compared with run-of-the-mill apples. There are good examples of special positioning of kiwifruit from New Zealand and special branding of mandarins – all there to create theatre and add value to the product.

“Somehow I cannot understand why the grape industry has not engaged with the health issue – and position table grapes as a fashionable and healthy product in a world where consumers are normally focused on healthy living,” he continued.

Without new initiatives grapes would strongly trend towards a commodity business, he warned. “And we all know what happens with commodities – there is no room to distinguish yourself from those around you.”

An interesting new development is the announcement of two new brands, AutumnCrisp and Ruby Rush.

However, much more needs to be done by the entire table grape sector to prevent the product being sold as merely red, white or black, and in most cases, the choice of consumers comes down to paying the lowest price.

“The challenge for the industry is to do things differently and present its products in such a way that it is viewed as different, with consumers being willing to pay a higher price for it,” said Hughes. “How can you get your grapes onto the breakfast, lunch, and supper menu – pursuing this will bring new opportunities in future.”