As California's table grape farmers prepare their vineyards for the 2001 season, the final numbers for last year's crop show that 2000 was a record-breaking year for exports.

Nearly twenty million 21-pound boxes of California table grape were sent overseas and to Mexico. The total value was $240,766,903. The 2000 export numbers are a 29 percent increase in volume and a 28 percent increase in value over the previous year.

“California's table grape farmers have good reason to be proud of these numbers,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “Despite increased competition worldwide, they grow an excellent product that is in high demand all over the world.”

The commission assisted export sales with promotion programs in 21 countries and generated substantial increases in exports as a result. The targeted markets, including Hong Kong, Mexico, China and the Central American region, increased 29 percent in volume and 28 percent in value compared to only an 11 percent increase in volume and no increase in value for foreign markets that were not targeted with commission promotions.

Promotions ranged from advertising and extensive public relations campaigns to California table grape health fairs and point-of-purchase materials for retailers.

“Our international promotions are customized for each region of the world,” said Nave. “We work hard to create promotional programs that fit in with how people in different countries eat and shop. And we make sure we're budgeting so the programs have the greatest impact for the least amount of money. Obviously, these numbers show that promotion works.”

The commission spends approximately $1 million of grower funds and $2 million in federal market access funds on international marketing.

Hong Kong lower

Only one major market showed a decline in 2000. Hong Kong exports declined by $4.8 million. However that decline was caused largely by the elimination of Hong Kong as the sole export route to China. Direct shipments to China were valued at $10.9 million. China opened its borders to California table grapes in 1997 after a five-year effort by the commission and the federal government.

California table grapes were the first fresh fruit allowed access to China from the United States.

“Last year's results are gratifying,” said Nave. “But we're not planning to coast. We have aggressive plans in the works to continue opening and expanding worldwide markets and to promote the crop. California grows the finest table grapes in the world and those grapes deserve the best promotion program possible.”

The California Table Grape Commission is the promotional arm of the state's table grape industry and its more than 600 farmers. The commission promotes table grapes in the United States and in approximately 21 countries worldwide. Each year, California farmers produce upwards of 85 million boxes of table grapes.