Opportunity In The Muscadine Industry
The following are where I see opportunities for growers to take advantage of the increasing demand for the muscadine grape.
Most of the larger vineyard operations with acreage over 30 acres are focusing on the wholesale distribution of clamshell containers in national chains. The clamshell holds about a pound of fruit and allows growers to make more money per pound than in larger wholesale containers. The result has been a lack of available fruit in the traditional 20 lb. muscadine box or the ½ bushel peach basket. Until the late 1990’s, most grocers would buy bulk fruit in larger containers from state farmers markets and then redistribute to their own stores. Currently, large growers are selling straight to the grocer’s distribution chain and bypassing the farmers markets completely. This has led to an increase demand for the 20 lb. box or the peach basket needed by smaller grocers or consumers looking to buy in bulk. This demand would allow a smaller grower, 10 acres or less to sell directly to a farmer’s market or partner with a produce buyer to supply the need of bulk fruit.
Smaller, independently owned grocery stores allow growers the opportunity to sell direct without having the burden of having the acreage to support a distribution center. Smaller stores can move as much as 400-500 pounds of fruit per week. These grocers prefer to buy locally and would be willing to partner with local growers. The fruit could be sold in clamshell quart containers or the 20 lb. box depending on the preference of the stores. A small acreage grower, less than 5 acres could establish relationships with multiple stores and be able to supply fruit direct. Larger vineyard operations overlook these opportunities because of the logistics of delivering fruit, the smaller order size, and the difficulty in finding these operations.
U-Pick: A grower with one to three acres can do quite well with a u-pick operation. The key components are having a good location, a clean operation, good marketing efforts, and the ability to promote oneself on social media. The important considerations are having a location that is easy to access and having a large enough population within 30 miles to provide the demand for the fruit. There seems to be fewer and fewer u-pick operations primarily because of the generation change. Many of the u-pick operations that previously existed have gone by the way side due to the age of the owners or the inability to keep the vineyard in good working order. We have many customers who run successful operations and are amazed of the distance customers are willing to travel.
Wine: Muscadine wine is getting better. Winemakers are taking the quality of the wines to a higher level. In the past muscadine wine in my opinion was too sweet and had a thick syrupy feel. As the quality has improved so has the demand. There has been an increase in muscadine wineries over the last 10 years and I believe this trend will continue.
Wedding Venues: There has been an increase in farm weddings. Many of today’s wedding ceremonies are taking place on farms where there is a rustic barn and pastureland. Many wineries also offer their facilities to host events and weddings. In my opinion, there is not a more beautiful backdrop for a wedding location than a vineyard.
We believe these opportunities will allow growers the ability to capitalize their efforts in making nice profits by selling muscadine grapes. This is an exciting time for the muscadine industry, and I look forward to the continued growth and expansion of the markets of this fruit.
We are here not only to provide plants, but also assist in the development of a strategy that will work for each individual grower.