“There has been a lot written about how healthy pomegranates are for you because of the antioxidants and all that. The future looks good for the crop. I had 40 acres of open ground and decided to plant pomegranates,” said Atkins. “I have known Greg for many years and decided to take a shot at it.

“I doubt that pomegranates will be as big as walnuts and citrus in this valley, but you never know,” he said.

Key factors in the Angel Red deal? The fruit is early, big and very red. “It actually becomes redder in the box after it is picked,” said Smith.

Smith is a veteran pomegranate grower. His family purchased the Lulu Packing pomegranate business and orchards in the early 1980s.

Angel Red came from a chance seedling Smith discovered on one of his farms in 2006. It ripens about Labor Day, which is 30 days earlier than the most popular variety in the state, Wonderful. He tested the rogue tree’s DNA and found it different than other varieties, dissimilar enough to win a patent on it.

While most Angel Red acreage is in the Central Valley, there is acreage on the Central Coast, in Southern California and Arizona. Angel Red trees have also been shipped to Peru, Chile and South Africa.

“We have a grower with 50 acres in Bowie, Ariz. Those should come off earlier than any other pomegranate. If we can get the market with an early, big, red piece of fruit, it would be to our advantage,” said Fjeld.

Smith said growers can expect to get 1.5 boxes of fresh market Angel Reds off four-year-old trees and eventually as many as two boxes per tree.

Fjeld said 200 boxes of the Angel Red were shipped to Japan last season to test the demanding market and were well received. That is why the majority of this year’s crop is earmarked for Asia. However, a specialty crop food wholesaler is distributing Angel Red in Southern California. Whole Foods in the Los Angeles area is one of the retailers handling Angel Red.