Created February 2006 by Hayley Boriss, Henrich Brunke, and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Updated February 2012 by Greg McKee, North Dakota State University and J.S. Isaacs.
Wine may represent the most expensive and creative use of grapes, but it is not the only use. Eaten fresh as table grapes, dried as raisins or processed into jams, jellies and juices, grapes are thought to have been first cultivated more than 7,000 years ago near present-day Iran.
Spanish friars are credited with bringing European varieties to the United States to serve at the missions they settled across California and the southwest beginning in the 1700s. California’s climate provided ideal grape-growing conditions, and consequently it became the leading grape-growing state. During 2010, nearly 6.9 million tons of grapes were grown commercially in the United States. California accounted for nearly 6.2 million tons, or 90 percent, of these grapes. Other top grape-growing states include Washington and New York (NASS 2011).
The fresh grape industry only accounts for a small portion of the total grapes grown. In 2010 more than 965,000 tons of fresh grapes were produced, with a value of $490.7 million. Due to poor growing conditions in California last year, the 2011 crop was forecast at 851 million tons (NASS 2011).
Most of these grapes produced on a large scale are marketed to supermarkets or exported. However, other marketing opportunities are available to smaller-scale producers of varieties that do not travel well such as Reliance or Marquis; local farmers markets, small artisanal food stores, white tablecloth restaurants, and direct sales though u-pick and the internet.
The decline in U.S. grapes processed into juice continued in 2010, with 400,000 tons of grapes being processed. The average price was $277 per ton, and the total value of the crop was approximately $110.8 million. Washington was the major producer of grapes used for juice; the state produced 176,000 tons, or 44 percent, of all juice grapes. Other states producing significant quantities of juice grapes include (in order): New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan (NASS 2011).
Demand and Marketing
Consumption of fresh grapes has increased from 2.9 pounds per person in 1970 to 7.9 pounds in 2009. U.S. consumption of grape juice totaled 4.1 pounds per person that year (ERS 2009). The promotion of fruits and vegetables as a healthy dietary choice has helped to increase consumption.
U.S. fresh grapes are marketed mainly from May through December, with Southern California accounting for much of the early season crop and central California accounting for the later supply. Demand for U.S. fresh grapes remains strong because of their high, consistent quality.
Two grape products coming into the public awareness are upscale grape juices (often made from wine grapes and selling at wine prices) and verjus, the juice from green grapes which is used in cooking in place of vinegar or lemon juice. Both are currently marketed on the internet as well as in specialty stores.
The dominant variety of fresh grape used for commercial production in the U.S. has been the Thompson Seedless, created in 1876 from a Mediterranean variety. The green Thompson Seedless is used primarily for the fresh grape market but also for raisin production, and in some cases, wine production. Other popular table grape varieties include the red varieties of Red Globe and Emperor.
China retained its status as the leading producer of fresh grapes, accounting for nearly 40 percent of global production. Turkey was the second largest producer, followed by the EU-27 (FAS 2010).
In the grape industry, only about 7 percent of total production each year during 2004-08 went to making juice. However, the increase in demand for fruit juice beverages (beverages containing fruit juice but generally not a pure juice) has helped boost demand for grape juice, which is among the most popular juices used for blending. Grape juice is also used to make other processed products, such as jams and jellies, pie fillings and some confectionaries (ERS 2010).
Concord grapes are the leading variety of grapes used for juice, followed by Niagara grapes. In 2010 more than 373,000 tons of Concord grapes were processed, while only about 55,000 tons of Concord grapes were processed. For these grape growers, about 90 percent of their crop goes to making juice (NASS 2011).
Prices for fresh grapes are typically higher than those for grapes used for processing, reflecting higher production costs. Much of the high production costs are attributable to a significant dependence on manual labor. Typically, prices for table grapes are lowest in August, when the U.S. domestic grape supply is at its peak, and prices begin to rise in November as supplies decrease.
Prices for fresh grapes last peaked at $986 per ton in 2006. After tumbling to $512 per ton in 2008, prices climbed to $592 per ton in 2009 before falling to $508 in 2010 (NASS 2011).
Prices for all processing grapes remain lower than fresh grape prices. However, prices for canned and juice grapes have steadily climbed in the last few years while the price for wine grapes has varied. In 2010 canned grapes were valued at $340 per ton, up $3 per ton; juice grapes at $277 per ton, up $19 per ton; and wine grapes at $594 per ton, down $5 per ton from the previous year (NASS 2011).
In 2010, more than 328,000 metric tons (MT) of fresh grapes, an 8 percent increase from 2009, were exported from the U.S. to more than 80 different countries. Canada was the most important destination, purchasing nearly 96,700 MT of fresh grapes, a slight decline from the previous year. Hong Kong purchased nearly 35,600 MT, a 15 percent increase. Other significant markets included Indonesia and Mexico (FAS 2010).
The United States exported $86.7 million of grape juice in 2010, primarily to Canada and Japan (FAS 2010).
The United States is a net importer of fresh grapes (imports minus exports), importing more than 588,000 MT of grapes in 2010, a slight decrease from 2009 (FAS 2010). While the value of U.S. exports has increased substantially since 1989, the value of imports has increased at a greater rate, widening the trade gap between imports and exports of fresh grapes. Through imports, the United States is able to maintain a supply of fresh grapes year-round.
The most important supplier of grapes to the United States is, by far, Chile. During 2010, more than 406,000 MT of grapes were imported from Chile and more than 148,000 MT from Mexico. The fresh grapes from this country are generally imported during the off-season months, mainly from January through April.
The United States is also a net importer of grape juice. The country imported $96.4 million of grape juice in 2010, mainly from Argentina (FAS 2010).
U.S. exports of fresh grapes are forecast to remain unchanged due to slightly lower supplies and higher prices. In August 2010, Mexico reduced the retaliatory tariff on U.S. grapes from 45 percent to 20 percent (FAS 2010).
Fresh Deciduous Fruit (Apples, Pears, & Grapes): World Markets and Trade, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA, 2010.
Fresh Table Grapes: World Markets & Trade, FAS, USDA, 2008.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2011.
Fruits and Tree Nuts, ERS, USDA.
Global Agricultural Trade System GATS, FAS, USDA, 2010.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts, National Ag Statistics Service, USDA, 2011.
U.S. per capita food availability, ERS, USDA, 2009.